Member Login

Garden Terminology Gleaned from Words Past but Inspiring Gardens to Come

Muiderslot Gardens
HPSO Board Member & Owner of Thicket Nursery
When my garden shop, Thicket, closes up for the winter months, I explore gardens for inspiration whenever possible. Last year I visited the Netherlands, and while researching historic gardens there I stumbled upon a fantastic website. They have an exhaustive list of fascinating historic garden terminology.

I include here a few of my favorites, but please visit to get the whole shebang, as well as links to fabulous gardens, tips on growing, and purveyors of all things ‘gardeny.’

The images below are some lovely examples of vintage garden design elements taken at Muiderslot, a castle in the Netherlands, located at the mouth of the Vecht river. The castle was built by Count Floris in 1280, and is beautifully preserved and a fascinating trip back in time. But the seventeenth century restored gardens were the main attraction for me. You enter via a covered walk (berceau), which divides the grounds into a vegetable garden (Warmoeshof) featuring heirloom vegetables, an herb garden, a medicinal garden, a pollinator garden, and even plantings intended for making dyes.

If you would like to learn more about the Muiderslot’s historic gardens or work as a volunteer in these fantastic gardens, contact the head gardener Henk Boers via their website:

Some Favorite Historic Garden Terminology:
  • Abreuvoir – A drinking place for animals and often treated as a garden ornament.
  • Adonis Gardens – Adonis was the nourisher of seeds in Greek mythology. This led to the making of ‘Adonis gardens’ which were small gardens in terra-cotta pots. They were placed outside Adonis temples during festivals.
  • Allée – A walk bordered with trees or clipped hedges.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Belvedere – The word Belvedere derives from Italian roots (bel, beautiful and vedere, see) and describes a place from which one can see a beautiful view. This place can be a building, usually with open sides.
  • Bosquet – A French word, used for a block of trees and shrubs pierced by paths that may contain elaborate features such as sculpture or fountains hidden in the trees.
  • Bower – A garden seat protected by foliage.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Cascade – From the Latin cascare, to fall, the word Cascade came into use for a small waterfall in a garden.
  • Chadar – A water chute or cascade in an Indian garden (the word means ‘sheet’ or ‘shawl’)
  • Clairvoie – A gate, fence or grille placed in an otherwise solid barrier to provide a ‘clear view’ of the outside scenery.
  • Cloister – Derives from the Latin clostrum, meaning lock. It described the part of a monastery to which the public had no access and then became used to describe a rectangular lawn surrounded by a covered walk.
  • Clump – A group of trees (or shrubs) planted together to form a group. The word ‘clumping’ was used in the eighteenth century to describe the practice of converting an avenue into clumps.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Conceit – The noun Conceit is derived from the verb ‘to conceive’ and used for a fanciful idea or an ornamental structure with little or no use.
  • Conservatory – A glazed structure for conserving (i.e. protecting) plants from cold weather. Originally the term was also used for non-glazed structures used for keeping food such as apples.
  • Coppice – From a French word meaning ‘to cut’, a coppice is a wood maintained by periodical cutting. It the middle ages this was an important means of growing wood for fencing and kindling.
  • Coronary Garden – A garden used to grow flowers which could be used for wreaths and garlands.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Crinkle-crankle – A serpentine wall – which crinkles and crankles.
  • Dovecote – A building in which doves are kept.
  • Dreamstone – In Chinese garden design, is a a translucent stone in which mineral deposits have formed pictures of woods and water (also known as a Journeying Stone similar to the picture jaspar in the U.S). Dreamstones were hung from pavilion walls or set into the backs of chairs.
  • Eurythmy – Derives the Greek eu (meaning good) and rhuthmos (meaning proportion or rhythm). According to Vitruvius ‘good rhythm’ is one of the aims of design.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Ferme Ornee – From the French, meaning an ornamented farm, and used, mainly in France and England, to describe a farm which is used primarily as an aesthetic ornamentation as opposed to a working farm.
  • Fernery – A collection of ferns, either indoors or outdoors.
  • Flowery Mead – A medieval name for piece of land left un-plouged and so overtaken with wild flowers.
  • Genius of the Place – Italian ‘genius locii’,  i.e. ‘the spirit of the place’. ‘Consult the genius of the place’ is one of the most widely-supported principles in garden and landscape design.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Giardino Segreto – The Italian for ‘secret garden’. During the renaissance this described a secret enclosure within a garden.
  • Gloriette – In medieval gardens a gloriette was a summerhouse, often in the woods near a castle. It might be used by the ladies to take a meal while watching a hunt.
  • Ha-ha – A sunken wall with a ditch outside, used so that the garden boundary is not visible from within.
  • Hermitage – A garden building which looks suited to use by a hermit, usually with a rustic appearance.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Karesansui – A Japanese Dry Garden, with water represented by sand or gravel. Dry Gardena are increasingly described as a Zen Garden.
  • Labyrinth – A network of paths designed as a puzzle to entertain visitors
  • Maze – A network of paths designed as a puzzle. Garden mazes can be designed using turf, paving, hedges or other materials. The idea is ancient.
  • Moon Gate – A circular aperture in a wall. The idea comes from Chinese gardens.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Mossery – A collection of mosses.
  • Moss House – A garden building with moss pressed between the wall slats.
  • Natural – The Platonic axiom that ‘art should imitate nature’, which comes from Plato’s Theory of Forms, has had a profound influence on garden design. But the meaning of the term ‘nature’ has varied. Sometimes it has meant ‘the world of the forms’ and sometimes it has meant ‘the everyday world’.
  • Niche – A shallow recess in a wall or hedge, for placing a sculpture or for decorative effect.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Niwa – The Japanese word for garden. The word derives derives from ni, clay, and ha, place. In the Chronicle of Japan a niwa was a place purified for worship of the gods.
  • Nymphaeum – A place for nymphs. A nymph was a semi-divine maiden. They were believed to like water, caves, rivers and fountains.
  • Orangery – A conservatory made for the cultivation of oranges. They were common in renaissance and baroque gardens.
  • Pall-mall – From the French Paille-maille, and originally from the Italian pallamaglio, palla, ball, and maglio, mallet. A game, rather like croquet, which led to the making of ‘malls’ in parks and gardens. This was the original use of The Mall in London.
  • Paradise – Paradise was originally a Persian name (paradeisos) for a park stocked with exotic animals, the word Paradise was used by the Greeks to mean ‘an ideal place’.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Parterre – From the French par, on, and terre, ground. A level space, usually rectangular and on a terrace near a house, laid out in decorative pattern using plants and gravels.
  • Patio – A Spanish word for an arcaded or colonnaded courtyard. It is now applied to any small paved area in a garden.
  • Pavilion – The word Pavilion derives from the Latin papilio, butterfly. Originally the word meant a tent, in gardens it is used for an airy and light building.
  • Penjing – The Chinese word for a tray garden (the word came into Japanese as ‘bonsai’).
  • Physic Garden – A special garden used for growing medicinal plants.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Pinery – A conservatory for growing pineapples.
  • Pinetum – A collection of coniferous trees.
  • Piscina – A stone basin used as a fish-pond or a bathing-pond.
  • Pleasance (or Pleasuance) – A pleasure ground attached to a castle or mansion, usually outside the fortifications.
  • Pomarium – A medieval term for an apple orchard.
  • Potager – The French word for a vegetable garden.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Privy Garden – Privy means ‘private’ and thus a private garden, usually made for the sole use of a king or queen.
  • Rill – A small water course.
  • Rocaille – Rockwork, shellwork or pebblework.
  • Rock Garden – A place for growing alpine plants.
  • Roji – A ‘dewy path’ to a tea house in a Japanese garden
  • Root House – A garden building made with roots, trunks, stumps, branches and other parts of trees.
  • Rosarium – A rose garden, often circular.
  • Sacred Grove – In Ancient Egypt, Sacred Groves were placed within temple compounds. In Homeric Greece they were places of resort, outside citadels, often dedicated to specific gods and associated with a fresh spring or grotto. In Classical Greece, sacred groves were used for physical and intellectual exercise. They became academies, lyceums and gymnasia.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Shakkei – Borrowed scenery (as in a mountain) in a Japanese garden.
  • Stroll Garden – A Japanese garden planned to reveal a sequence of views as the the visitor strolls along the path.
  • Theatre – Derives from the Greek theaomai, to behold. In gardens a theatre can be an a place see a theatrical performance or place which is like the set for a play.
  • Topiary – Describes a shape made by clipping plants. The practice was popular in Roman gardens and revived with the renaissance.
    Muiderslot Gardens
  • Torii – A gateway at the entrance to a Japanese Shinto shrine, and in other derivative locations, sometimes in gardens.
  • Tortoise Island – The tale of islands supported by tortorises (the Isles of the Immortals) came from China and led to the making of islands with rocks representing tortorises in Japanese gardens
  • Treillage – Elaborate trellis-work, used to support plants in gardens.
  • Wilderness – A Wilderness is a wood, kept for pleasure, with walks.
  • Winter garden – An outdoor area used for winter-flowering plants.
  • Yuan – The Chinese word for ‘garden’. Originally, a yuan was an imperial hunting park, bounded by a mud wall.


Join one of the West Coast's largest gardening communities and meet other gardeners who share your passion.

Categories: Garden Travel
Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *