Hortus Conclusus - The History and Symbolic Meaning of Enclosed “Secret” Gardens

Garden Gate

The name Hortus Conclusus, romantic title of our Hortus Conclusus Medaillon Quilt, is a Latin term an literally means “enclosed garden,” carefully laid out hidden sanctuaries which were often enclosed by fences, walls or impenetrable hedges protecting the privacy of their (noble) owners from the public or stray animals.

In the centre, they typically had a fountain or a well surrounded by accurately trimmed flower beds and borders displaying highly symbolic flowers like thornless roses, violets, iris, Madonna lilies and wild strawberries. 

Walled Garden

Hortus Conclusus gardens are known in various cultures and can be found in cloisters and monasteries across Europe, in Roman villas as well as in Constantinople and North African courtyards leading back to the traditional Persian garden culture.

Garden Gate

Enclosed secret gardens served mainly as private retreats for contemplation, meditation and communication. With their inner beauty and perfect divine order, secluded gardens were sanctuaries of peace and quiet offering protection from the unknown world outside and nourishing body and soul at the same time. In late medieval iconographic images, the Virgin Mary was often displayed with her child in an enclosed hortus conclusus, which could be interpreted as metaphoric paradise garden or Garden of Eden.


Last but not least, “The Secret Garden” is also the title of a famous English Children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, inspired by the Great Maytham Hall Garden in Kent, England. Also Herbert George "H. G." Wells, the well known English writer, used the motif of a hortus conclusus in his short story “A Door in the Wall”.


Pictures and text appear with friendly permission of Anke B. Calzada

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Anke B. Calzada