Thus, most of the castles were heavily fortified, built on the tops of small mountains or big rocks. Many of them were on the sites of former Roman fortresses.
Security measures included being surrounded by multiple stone walls or moats, with gun turrets in the towers, heavily protected entryways, and iron-reinforced doors.
Having toured a castle or two this week, I can tell you that conditions can be pretty dismal inside in the spring, let alone in fall and winter. Chilly and damp even when the sun is shining hot and bright outside. Dark and dreary, with few openings for natural light. Hard on the feet--all that stone.
The warlords--or lords and ladies, depending on the century and nature of the court--could gaze down on the roofs of their subjects, or whatever population happened to rely on the protection of the local landholder in any given era, in return for being taxed with a share of the crop, or, in some cases, the whole darn harvest along with their firstborn.
Most of all, the wealthy owners loved their gardens, especially as time went on and Europe enjoyed its cultural Renaissance. Deep inside the walls of the fiercest-looking buildings one often finds formal French gardens, at their prettiest when gazing from a chateau's upper floors.
Order and symmetry are well represented. (Who wants to be bothered with disorderly untamed nature?) Sometimes the design includes symbols from the family's coat of arms, such as the windmill and "scissors" shapes here.
Some chateau owners took the perfect-garden competition to an extreme, and to this day descendants of the same historic shrubbery are clipped and pruned and tamed to ostentatious perfectionism.
The plants, though mostly green in color, come in many shapes and sizes. One of our favorites is what Pope and I call the "poodle" tree.
When too many gardeners get too carried away trying to outdo each other, it can result in a whole poodle farm.
Another favorite shape is the boxwood pom-pom, which can cover acres at a time, sometimes spelling out words when viewed from above.
Even a small corner of a castle courtyard is subject to being decked out in a small token of nature--radically managed, of course.
Pope, being constantly challenged to manage the unruly and uncooperative plants and weeds in our community garden plot back home, offered to sacrifice his house, boat, and girlfriend to achieve formal-garden nirvana. It may take some coaxing to get him back down to common-vegetable-garden earth.