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Cēsis Medieval Castle
Kitchen Garden

By Līga Eglīte, Gardener in Cesis Castle Museum

Testimonies about the garden in the territory of Cēsis Castle can be found in inventories of the end of the 16th century and maps of the end of the 17th century. The city plan drawn by Swedish surveyor Johan Palmstruch in 1685 shows both the Cēsis castle and the city's fortifications, terrain and waters. The area enclosed by the blue circle contains the inscription 'Garten' and, according to the topography, there was an orchard where apple trees and cherries grew behind the palisade fence. According to the 1590 audit of the castle: “There is a garden in the castle that is maintained by one gardener.” Also in 1590, a gardener was mentioned in the list of professions of the castle ministers living near the castle.

All photos  by Līga Eglīte

The plan of Cēsis castle and city drawn by Johann Abraham Ulrich in 1693 features an ornamental orchard of fruit trees and roots arranged in bosquettes. There is no data whether it was just a glorious idea or a plan, because at that time the castle was quite ruined. In the first half of the 19th century, there was a kitchen garden, later a landscaped park and a heated greenhouse. 

In 2011 and 2012, the project “Krustakaru ecology” funded by European Council of Science was carried out in Cesis Castle, analysing environmental changes after the conquest of the Eastern Baltic by the German Order. Small-scale archaeological excavations were carried out in the castle's moat and the first foreland, obtaining samples of plant macro-residues and pollen. The analyses provided important evidence about the environment of Cēsis castle, the function of certain parts of the castle, as well as the use of plants in food, agriculture and trade in the 14th-16th century.


A significant amount of pollen from cereal plants, weeds and grasses was found in soil samples, indicating arable land, meadows and pastures close to the castle. Parts of commercially used plants were found – rye, wheat, buckwheat, oats, as well as seeds of black mustard, hemp, hops, turnips, forest strawberries and evidence of trade relations - fig seed.

Sketch of the architect Arturs Lapiņš for the idea to build a medieval farm with a garden and artisan chalets in the forecourt. Originally, it was planned to have the garden in bosquets, the filling of which would chronologically represent two periods – the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Kitchen garden with tall beds, up to 0.9 m high, bordered with hazelnut braid, filled with a mixture of black earth and compost, mowed and unmowed lawn.

Establishing the garden

The place dedicated to the future medieval kitchen garden has not been archaeologically studied, the testimonies of the medieval period are covered with 1.5-2 meters thick crop layer. Perhaps the historic kitchen garden was located right here, in the sunniest part of the forecourt, because from spring to autumn the territory is the least affected by the shade of the surrounding buildings (nowadays trees). In the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the manor house was located here.

9 beds have been created, each 5 meters long, 1.50m wide. The height of the bed corresponds to the “depth of the shovel” or the thickness of a layer of fertile soil or more, i.e. 30-50 centimeters Dimensions according to Sylvia Landsberg's research on medieval kitchen gardens (The Medieval Garden). The distances between adjacent beds in the Middle Ages varied: narrow, only for weeding, watering, or the width of two-wheeled garden carriage for harvesting, as well as for two people with baskets and tools being able to pass. Depending on the style and location, the paths in the middle can be mown lawn, gravel, chipping, tiling or paving. Grassy paths have one drawback – they must be mown regularly, as wild plants try to settle into the edges of the bed and the hazelnut braid.

Examples of how high beds should look, tools and gardener's clothing can be found in medieval drawings and engravings. In addition to the braiding of hazelnuts or other pliable trees/shrubs around the beds, there were also the edges of wide planks. 


In 2015, when preparing the filling for the high beds, the ingredients corresponding to 16th century farming were sought and at that time could be found in the territory of the castle. The proportions of the ingredients were approximate, but the soil mixture was of high quality and yielded 2 seasons without replenishment.

In the Middle Ages, the gardener had to maintain not only the garden, but also many other duties: to maintain the house that was next to the garden, to build or renovate fences, to provide stakes for plant supports and hops, as well as to take care of bees. Cēsis medieval castle garden maintenance has not been provided with all the above mentioned historical tools and accessories. For example, the gloves have five fingers, but the chicken hawk scarecrow is replaced by a mole scarecrow. Part of the items are replicas only and are intended for viewing and not for everyday use. Outside the museum's opening hours, when visitors cannot see, modern tools are also used.


Management of the garden

The medieval garden is managed only by biological methods. To reduce the impact of different pests, attract more pollinating insects, plants are planted in a way that protects each other from diseases. Calendula is sown in several beds, creating bright accents in the garden, flowers are collected for medicinal teas, while the leaves are used for soil improvement and disinfection at the end of the season.

When choosing plants for the Cēsis Castle Garden, medieval cultural studies in Riga, Cēsis, Tallinn and other Livonian cities were used. The list includes plants mentioned in the Livonian Seed Trade List, food recipes, bought for celebrations.

Seeds and plants for the kitchen garden of Cēsis Castle are also obtained from the territory of historical manor gardens in Priekuli Parish, Dukurmuiža (motherwort, mint, chives, garlic "Lademaher", coriander, oregano, rhubarb, currant), from the Institute of Agricultural Resources (horse beans "Lielplatone"), from Oleru Manor (Costmary), from private collectors and others.

Every season, when tending the garden, a lot of green mass is created for composting: weeds, plant leaves and stems, mowed grass from the paths between the beds and the area around the garden fence. The foliage of the surrounding trees was also composted during the first 4 seasons, but this does not correspond to the composition of the historical compost, because in the Middle Ages there was no compost in the territory of the castle. Since 2019, the compost has been supplemented with some more authentic ingredients - deciduous wood chips from craftsmen's workshops, ashes from the names. Pond sludge, horse manure, as well as straw for mulching are brought from elsewhere.


Kitchen garden reconstruction conditions

  • The garden has the status of a Cesis History and Art Museum exposition;

  • It is subject to all provisions for the maintenance of historical exposition of the museum;

  • Visitors can view the garden from outside walking around the fence;

  • From inside the garden can be visited individually (not in groups) on separate occasions with prior announcement and only with the responsible gardener;

  • The garden must contain explanatory information on the content and purpose of the exposition;

  • In the autumn, garden has to be prepared for winter, then cleaned up in the spring time, and on May 1 at the beginning of the season, the exposure must be open;

  • By the end of the active tourism season on September 30 and by the beginning of the following season, the garden and the surrounding area must be visually attractive and organised;

  • In the presence of visitors, tools and vessels appropriate for that time should be used and exposed as much as possible;

  • The work in the garden is not a theatrical activity  - the garden works (watering, weed pulling, seeds collection etc.) must be carried out when it is necessary;

  • The gardener must prepare an exhibition next to the garden: samples of plants, seeds, flowers or roots for viewing, demonstration or tasting;

  • Maintenance of the surrounding area by technical means, mowing in summer and collecting leaves in autumn must be done before or after visitation time in the museum.

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