Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Welcome to The Medieval Garden Enclosed

The covered arcades of the Cuxa Cloister surround a garth, or enclosed yard, open to the sky.

Welcome to The Medieval Garden Enclosed, a blog dedicated to the plants and gardens of The Cloisters, a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enter and explore the role of plants and gardens in medieval life and art, learn how to find and grow medieval herbs and flowers, discuss the long histories of many familiar garden plants, discover which roadside weeds were once valued medicinals, and encounter legendary plants like the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum.)

Medieval gardens were enclosed for practical purposes???to keep out animals and intruders, for one???but the enclosure might also have had a religious function or a symbolic significance. The literal meaning of the Latin term hortus conclusus is “garden enclosed.” It was both an epithet given to the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages, and one of her most important attributes. The Virgin was often depicted and described in such a garden setting. Nowadays, the term is more loosely used to describe all small enclosed gardens of the Middle Ages, or is even applied to modern gardens of the medieval type.

The Gardens of The Cloisters

A cloister is a square or rectangular open-air courtyard surrounded by covered passageways. The word “cloister” derives from the Latin claustrum, “a closed, barred, or bolted place.” The yard enclosed within the arcades is known as a garth. “Garth” is a Middle English dialect word for the fenced ground around a dwelling. Thus “cloister garth” is a doubling of the sense of enclosure. In a medieval religious establishment, the cloister garth provided a sunny, sheltered space where the monks or nuns, who lived apart from the world, could enjoy nature without leaving the confines of the monastery or convent.

Each of the three gardens planted in the reconstructed Romanesque and Gothic cloisters of the Museum has its own character. Cuxa Cloister Garth Garden is the main ornamental garden at the Museum, and is planted with a combination of modern garden plants and medieval herbs. Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden is the main teaching garden, and is home to the greater part of the medieval plant collection; the herbs growing there are assigned to their beds by use. Trie Cloister Garden is planted as a single field of herbs and flowers, and evokes the verdant grounds of medieval millefleurs tapestries.

The Medieval Gardens Blog

The gardens of the Middle Ages included both real and ideal gardens: the kitchen garden and the Garden of Love, the cloister garth and the Garden of Eden. We look forward to including discussions of both the practical and the allegorical here in The Medieval Garden Enclosed. We welcome your participation as a reader, commenter, and frequent visitor to this hortus conclusus.

???Deirdre Larkin

Tags: , , , ,

Comments (54)

  1. Tom Groves Says:

    Congratulations to all!

  2. Marianne Giacalone Says:

    Suggest larger print. Hard to read but an intriguing idea

  3. Maria Clemente Says:

    Great ideia!

  4. Rachel Stuart Says:

    Writing from Scotland on this rather wet and windy morning I can tell you that my own ‘hortus conclusus’ is looking somewhat weather-beaten. I am delighted to read of your project and look forward to picking up any horticultural tips on medieval gardens from the blog!

  5. Mary M Says:

    I recently moved to a new garden space and making plans to install a small medieval medicinal garden. I look forward to sharing that project’s progress with all. Congratulations!

  6. Ross Day Says:

    Welcome aboard, fellow MMA blog! We wish you every success.

  7. Matt Morgan Says:

    Marianne, you can change the type size on this website. See


    for instructions.

  8. Mike Cole Says:

    This is a fine project. Congratulations! One more reason to love the Met. Maybe you will provide recipes that make use of some of the herbs.

  9. Rocio Zurutuza Says:

    Thanks to the MMA for publishing this information. It completes our culture on medieval times. It is very interesting to know about gardens and plants use for health purposes.

  10. Linda A. Hutchings Says:

    What a great source this will be. I will be studying European gardens from the Renaissance to 20th century during Fall Semester 08. This source will provide great background information for studying the influence of the medieval garden on the 18th - 20th centuries.
    Linda Hutchings

  11. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Many thanks to you all for your warm reception of The Medieval Garden Enclosed. It is exciting and encouraging to be in contact with other people who are growing medieval plants, making medieval gardens, and exploring the profound influence medieval gardens have had on modern ones. I look forward to further conversation when we return from the 4th of July holiday weekend.

  12. Carol Stoneman Says:

    Marianne—-You can change type size on anything by holding down the control key, while you turn the little wheel on your mouse—–forward for larger & backward for smaller. Great for older eyes like mine. Not sure how this would be done on a laptop, but it would be similar. ~C.S.~

  13. Nicole DeRushie Says:

    As a graduate student writing a thesis on medieval gardens, I am thrilled by the start of this new blog. Though perhaps I’m a bit biased, as an avid gardener and a medievalist, I am surprised that this is a subject that has not received more attention. Few things have touched the lives of people more at every social level, in every region and at every time through history than gardens. I will be a regular reader! — N.D.

  14. Margo Scott Says:

    I have loved the cloisters since I was 10 years old and went for the first time. Stuck by life in Hawaii, I still dream of it in all seasons- been back 3x in 30 years plus but intend to change availability soon. What a wonderful site. I hope to see a lot of news about whats in bloom, but haven’t found that yet. Thank you so much!

  15. Jim Alimena Says:

    For several years I have tried to grow lavendar in northern NJ , about 15 miles west of The Cloisters. Some years ago I planted three small plants. Within a year or two they grew nicely and looked great. However, they soon died, basically not makeing it throught the winter. Also, they didn???t grow into a bushy shape, but were more leggy. Last summer I tried something different. I bought a large plant in the spring, planted it in a clay pot and left it on the patio for the summer. It looked great. In the winter I kept it indoors in an enclosed, sunny porch with no heat. It looked good all winter and has bloomed OK this summer. However, the plant is not a nice bush; it???s leggy. Please let me know how to grow lavendar in northern NJ. Should I prune or even shear the plant I have? Thank you. I look forward to this blog.

  16. larkid Says:


    There are many handbooks and references on growing lavender, which does need good drainage to survive winters in our climate. You can shape your bushes, but conventional wisdom dictates that any pruning should be very lightly done, and that you ought not to cut back into the old wood when you do prune. It is also recommended that you leave any shaping until later in the spring, as the old growth helps to insulate the plant from winter winds. Some cultivars are shapelier than others, and you might want to look into which ones would be best for you.

    The lavandins growing in Cuxa garden, featured in today’s post, had quite a bit of apparent dieback this spring, even as late as early June. I was very cautious about removing what appeared to be deadwood, and my patience was rewarded: new growth did emerge.

  17. Wayne Brunt Says:

    On a recent visit, I noticed you have an Asafoetida plant in your garden. Many Pennsylvania Germans used to wear a small bag of asafoetida root around their neck to ward off evil spirits. Asafoetida is sometimes referred to as ‘devils dung’ because of the strong sulphur aroma.

    I have searched the internet looking for asafoetia seeds or plants without any success. Could you direct me to a source?

  18. Steve B Says:

    I recently visited the Cloisters for the first time and have a question about a plant in the garden. The tag read “Magic Plants” so I would like to learn more. can any one assist. Here is a link to the picture I took. Thanks.


  19. Denny Says:

    Ilove the idea of this site. Iam really interested in starting a medievalguarden. Does the Cloisters ever sell plants? What are some other sources? I live in CT.

  20. Anthony Says:

    Hi Wayne,

    We get our Assafoetida seed from Horizon in Oregon.

    I run a nursery in the UK specialising in Medieval and early Renaissance plants. Re Steve B’s question, I may be a bit blind but the plants in the picture look suspiciously like somewhat dehydrated Alchemilla (aka Xanthochlora) vulgaris to me. You could stir them into your cauldron all night and still not turn them into frogs (or gold)

  21. Deirdre Larkin Says:


    We do not sell plants at the Museum, but we do have a list of sources for medieval plants and seeds. I can e-mail you a source list, as well as a plant list for Bonnefont Herb Garden, and a reading list on medieval plants and gardens.

  22. Deirdre Larkin Says:


    The plant you photographed is the common lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris or A. xanthochlora.) It is growing in a bed devoted to plants used in medieval magic and witchcraft. Some of the species were used amuletically to avert evil, like fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and rue (Ruta graveolens.) Others, especially those in the Nightshade family, such as the mandrakes (Mandragora sps.) and the thornapple (Datura metel) were used by witches.

    If you are familiar with lady’s mantle as a garden plant, you will know that beads of rainwater or dew remain on the pleated leaves when all the other plants in the garden appear quite dry. Dew was believed to have magical properties in the Middle Ages, and the plant’s dewiness was a sign of its occult power. The name ‘alchemilla,’ i.e. ‘the little alchemical one,’ was given to this plant in the early 16th century by the German herbalist Hieronymus Bock, presumably because alchemists gathered the dew from this plant for use in their work.

  23. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello Anthony,

    Are you in Somerset? (A favorite county of mine.) I have had some conversations about the archaeology of medieval gardens and landscapes with Professor Mark Horton of Bristol University, and he told me about a nursery that I think must be yours. I’d like to visit your place the next time I’m in the U.K.

  24. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello, Wayne

    I’m glad you found the asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida) in the Culinary Bed; it was partly hidden by a large stand of tansy nearby that has now been cut back, along with a number of other kitchen plants that have been attacked by whitefly. (The asafoetida has not succumbed.) Asafoetida was used as a condiment in the Middle Ages, as it had been in Roman times. It also had medicinal uses as a diuretic, a costive, and a wart cure, but I don’t know of any apotropaic use of asafoetida in medieval Europe. Our plant has been in the collection for some years, and I will have to look into possible sources for you.

  25. Anthony Says:

    Hi Deidre

    I think this must be the nursery referred to by Mark Horton, he came out here and took photographs of our Mandrake, which sadly failed to survive the wet Somerset climate.

    Medieval Ferula a-f is a bit of a problem in that “assa” is just Latin for sweat and so the medievals were inclined to apply it to any plant with a resinous exudate. Rufinus (c 1280) devotes a lot of space to it but quotes Circa instans in saying that it is the gum of a tree found across the seas so presumably he hadn’t seen the actual growing plants. The British Library “Tractatus” says much the same but also without an illustration. This is a problem which has occupied me through much of this summer in that a prestigious London garden ordered one and so I was anxious not to look a complete fool by giving them the wrong one. However when I got there, there was a large umbellifer in the order beds labelled Ferula assa-foetida” but adjoining the label was another plant closely resembling a Meum. This seemed identical to one of my seed raised plants from a packet also labelled “Ferula Assa-foetida” from a reputable English seed company. I haven’t had a chance yet to get back to my customer to ask why, if she had the real thing, she should order more; presumably she had her doubts too. All this makes me think that there are two completely different plants in Europe masquerading as the real thing.

    I am fairly confident that the seeds from Horizon are genuine, though whether any of the medieval population could tell the preserved material from the far-easier Ferula communis is open to doubt.

  26. Michele Says:

    Congratulations, Deirdre, what a beautiful site!

  27. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello again, Anthony

    I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, and look forward to sharing further investigations into medieval plant identification and cultivation. I’m going to take a closer look at what I’ve got growing out in Bonnefont Garden. Frank Anderson noted that the text on the medicinal properties of asafoetida in the Hortus Sanitatis seems to be drawn principally from Dioscorides, Book III, Chapter 94. The herb described but not illustrated there was identified, rightly or wrongly, as Ferula tingitana (native from Asia Minor to North Africa) in the Oxford edition of the De Materia Medica ‘englished’ by Goodyer. While several other Ferula species are discussed in Book III, none are identified as Ferula assa-foetida.

    As to mandrakes, we have finally established both Mandragora officinarum and M. autumnalis in the Magic Bed in Bonnefont Garden, but it took many years to do so. They are now flowering profusely, but fruiting sparsely. I understand from several successful growers that we ought to hand-pollinate them next year.

  28. Karen Reeds Says:

    This blog is yet another reason to renew my membership in the Museum and make the trek from mid-NJ to the Cloisters more often. Thank you!

    But I agree with Margaret about the web design–the gray and screened yellow type on white background (and yellow on dark gray at the bottom) is hard to read, even when the typesize is pumped up.

    PS I just learned about this site
    http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/institute/fak9/mlat/neupub.html which describes new studies of Walafrid Strabo’s Hortulus and Petrus de Crescentiis on agriculture (in German).

  29. Jack Putnam Says:

    We visit the garden regularly, and have always wanted to ask questions. This is a great idea!

  30. Jeannie Says:

    Deirdre~ I read your interview with Eti Bonn-Muller and was particularly intrigued when you said that you would like to grow the orchid that is next to the body of the Unicorn in Captivity tapestry. Do you know what alliance that orchid comes from? I tried to zoom in on the tapestry depicted on the MMA website and couldn’t get it in close enough to see what species it is.

    I grow orchids in the Southern United States and have had quite a lot of experience in getting certain of the cooler species to grow in my sub-tropical region that are not really meant to grow here. Getting soil specimens from the particular area of Europe that it grows in is the first way to start cultivation of this species. Getting the mix right, if you can’t get the actual specimens is another way. If you can get enough of the soil that is natural to the orchid, then you should have no problem growing orchids in your area - as long as you have a greenhouse for the winter months. If you know the alliance, maybe you could work with Anthony (Nursery owner in U.K. - Somerset?) on getting some soil specimens. It would be a shame for the Cloisters to miss out on the medieval orchids!

    By the way, awesome website and I am looking forward to more blogs on medieval and medicinal plants and herbs that you are using in your beds around the Cloisters. Thank you so much for bringing this to all of us.

  31. Deirdre Larkin Says:


    The orchid in the tapestry is the Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula.) The plant is found in woodlands and open pastures across Europe and Britain. As an orchid expert, you are probably aware that our word orchid is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘orchis,’ which means testicle. The plant has two tubers at the base of the flowering stem—a large, firm one in which food is stored for the coming growing season, and a smaller, slacker one off which the plants feeds in the current growing season. The orchid’s suggestive form was associated with sexuality and fertility in the Middle Ages, as it was in antiquity, when it was believed to be the food of satyrs. Tubers boiled in the milk of a goat, a highly sexed animal, were said to be aphrodisiac. A nourishing food called salep was made from the boiled tubers, and was thought to aid in conception. It was also believed that if a man ate of the larger tuber, a male child would be engendered; if a woman ate of the smaller tuber, a girl would be produced. I very much doubt that this orchid was cultivated in the Middle Ages, as it is still extremely difficult to grow under garden conditions. As you point out, the orchid has a symbiotic relationship with a fungus growing in its native earth, and the only way to grow it would be to transplant an orchid complete with soil. Although The Cloisters has a plant importation permit, and I have long had access to seed for Orchis mascula through European botanic gardens, the USDA does not permit the importation of plants with soil clinging to ther roots. Perhaps some day this particular fungus will be available in powdered form!

  32. Anthony Says:

    Hi Jeannie,

    Sorry can???t help, it???s an international convention that all plants crossing frontiers have to have their roots washed clean of all soil particles, so I hate to think what USDA would make of a parcel of soil particles without plants. The English journal ???Herbs??? has recently had articles on orchids by Professor Henry Oakeley who may be able to assist. He is in charge of the Royal College of Physicians’ Physic Garden, (www.rcplondon.ac.uk/garden/) claimed to be the most comprehensive collection of medicinal plants put together for several centuries and definitely worth a visit on-line even if you can’t make it across the Atlantic.
    . Brodin identifies the ???Saturion maior??? in ???Agnus Castus??? as either Orchis maculata or Platanthera bifolia and Celia Fisher in her new book for the British Library suggests those in the Bourdichon borders as Early Purple, The Pyramid and a bee orchid. We have three sorts flourishing in our field but I have to admit that the whole business of orchids is so specialised that I leave it to the experts. My favourite source of information is Mabey???s ???Flora Britannica??? which has a lavishly illustrated chapter on orchids and a lot of informative text, - worth getting to see if you can match it up with the plant by the unicorn. Presumably juxtaposing the symbol of chastity with that of sex has an iconographic significance, but shouldn???t the beast be trampling the naughty flower?

  33. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello, Anthony—

    Thank you for the link to the website for the Royal College of Physicians medicinal garden. There is more emphasis on the 16th and 17th centuries than on the Middle Ages in the Green Pharmacy online exhibition, but I did come across an interesting anecdote about a monastery where henbane roots were mistakenly eaten for supper by the whole community, having been confused with chicory root. The monks were delirious for that night and all of the following day. I’ll contact the RCP and ask for the source of the story. Did you see the piece in the London Times a few weeks ago, about the celebrity chef who recommended henbane to his readers as a salad green? He meant to say Fat Hen.

    As to the orchids, I have seen many species growing wild in Crete, but never in the U.K. Your meadow sounds delightful. My impression is that it is difficult to distinguish between orchid species mentioned in medieval herbals, but Orchis mascula was great and famous even in antiquity for its venereal qualities. I too very much enjoy both Mabey’s Flora Brittanica and Celia Fisher’s books. In The Medieval Flower Book, she includes an image from the Belluno Herbal, a 15th century Venetian production which contains many very naturalistic plant portraits. However, I’m not convinced that her identification of the orchid labeled Satureion in that manuscript is correct. Although Orchis mascula was known by that name, the orchid so labeled does not have the strap-like leaves of O. mascula, nor does it have the characteristic dark spotting on the leaves. Geoffrey Grigson has a wonderful discussion of Orchis mascula in The Englishman’s Flora, one of my favorite sources for plant lore, as it is very well-documented. He also discusses the other venereal plants that appear in close conjunction with the body of the unicorn in The Unicorn in Captivity tapestry here at The Cloisters.

  34. Anthony Lyman-Dixon Says:

    Hi Deidre,

    It would be interesting to know whether the RCP obtained their monkish story directly from Grieve where it appears on page 399 (Grieve M ???A Modern Herbal??? Cape 1931) or whether The RCP and Grieve versions have a common origin.

    What makes it particularly fascinating is that whilst Mrs G normally copied out great chunks of Fernie unaltered and unattributed, and did so in her chapter on Henbane, the paragraph describing the monastic supper differs significantly so Fernie writes
    ???An instance is narrated where the roots of Henbane were cooked by mistake at a monastery for the supper of the inmates, and produced most strange results. One monk would insist on ringing the large bell at midnight, to the alarm of the neighbourhood; whilst of those who came to prayers at the summons, several could not read at all, and others read anything but what was contained in their breviaries??? ( page 255 Fernie, W.T. ???Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure??? Wright, Bristol 1897). No mention of chicory in his version.
    Were there really two communities each so dumb as to have Henbane for dinner?, - after all we are always told that monks were the herbal experts of history ??? or are Grieve and Fernie describing the same incident?
    Where Fernie got his ideas from, I have no idea and wish someone would tell me. Through Mrs Grieve, he still has considerable influence, but remains a shadowy figure even beyond the reaches of ???google??? He was Irish, wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century and that???s about it.

    The suggestion by the one-time ???celebrity??? chef that henbane would be a good way to enliven a salad certainly got the nation???s media jumping up and down. However as the original remark appeared in an obscure ???life-style??? magazine with a circulation of 40,000, his comment later reported in ???The Times??? ???I was thinking of a wild plant with a similar name, not this herb, but of course I???ve ended up killing half the nation instead??? seems somewhat hubristic to say the least.

    This of course is not without precedent. A television gardening ???personality??? more at home amongst the patio slabs than garden history, misquoted Gerard a few years ago in suggesting that Colchicums being a source of saffron, would be a useful and unusual asset in the kitchen garden. Apparently just three people rang the TV company to complain, giving rise to the question ???Do people avoid watching celebrity presenters or are they indifferent to any food that doesn???t come in a plastic bag????

  35. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello again, Anthony—Grieve is still much relied upon on both sides of the ocean, and A Modern Herbal is a remarkable work, but I have never had a sense of which secondary sources she drew on, and Fernie’s work is altogether unfamiliar to me. I see that he is cited in Grigson’s bibliography for The Englishman’s Flora, another valuable work, although it is not very well-known in the United States. Grigson includes quite a bit of Irish plant lore, much of which, I now realize, may originate with Fernie.

    It does seem likely that the RCP is taking their story from Grieve, and that Mrs. Grieve had it from Fernie. I am disappointed, because I had hoped for some historical detail. I suppose that henbane roots could have been mistaken for chicory roots, as they are both taproots, but since Hyoscyamus niger and Cichorium intybus bear no other resemblance to one another it is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which the confusion could have occurred. (Anderson cites Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World and maintains that the wild forms of Cichorium intybus and C. endivia were eaten in ancient and medieval times, and that the cultivated form is not recorded until 1616.)

    Thank you for the colchicum story, which demonstrates yet again the necessity for botanical Latin nomenclature and a modicum of fact-checking!

  36. Jeannie Says:


    Thank you for the information regarding the history of the medievil orchid, Orchis mascula. As an orchid grower, I am most familiar with more of the generic growing conditions of orchids and general importation and cultivation history, rather than the herbal attachments that peoples of the past have added to them in the name of health. In retrospect, and after reading your blog, I can now see how they associated these meanings to orchids and used them to help with sexuality and fertility. It is interesting to know that they mixed several different types of fertility remedies together to make one uber aphrodisiac. Thank you, again for the bounty of this historical information.

    Yes, I understand now why the USDA wouldn’t give permission to transport plants with soil clinging to the roots. I can definitely see how this would make it easier to transport insects and plant disease, among other things. Such a shame that this particular alliance may not be grown at The Cloisters for quite some time. From aseptic seed germination to polyploid breeding and even meristem propogation, new advances in Orchidaceae are found all the time. Let’s just hope that someone, somewhere can now find a way to cultivate this species so that we may all be able to enjoy the beauty of it one day. I’ll keep hoping anyway. Thank you again!


  37. Jeannie Says:


    Thank you so much for the tip on the articles in the English journal ???Herbs??? by Professor Henry Oakeley of the Royal College of Physicians??? Physic Garden. My interest in medicinal plants is quite intense, but I’m not planning a trip abroad for quite some time, so this is definitely a website that I plan to peruse. Also, the Celia Fisher book for the British Library is a definite must for my library, along with the Flora Britannica by Mabry. You are just a wealth of information and I appreciate you being so forthcoming with it.

    The truth is that orchids are not really that specialized though, as much as they are temperamental to their surroundings and the grower must get the surroundings in absolute perfect tempo with the needs of the orchid or success will be severly limited. Most of them enjoy cool, moist environments with very little in the way of substructure around the roots, with regular, balanced fertilization that is quite diluted. A lot of them can grow a majority of the time with exposed aerial roots as they often enjoy just catching their nutrition and moisture from the air and being the epiphytes that they are, with no medium on the roots at all. Growing them is the easy part… making sure they are content is the difficult part.

    The species’ in your pasture are probably doing so well because they are wild and are already in sync with their surroundings from the point of germination. To take them out of their natural surroundings and place them into a manufactured state and to expect them to reproduce would probably end up being a most futile project anyway. Better to leave them in the field and visit them on their own turf than to try any sort of intervention at this point in their growth. Enjoy a visit to the field and consider yourself lucky to have these most important orchids at the tips of your feet, rather than in a sterile test tube in the greenhouse. Besides, if you were to take them out of the field, then you would miss the whole unicorn-orchid union altogether and what kind of fun is that? Thanks again for spreading around your valuable medicinal plant information.

  38. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Dear Jeannie—

    Reading your remarks on orchid cultivation is a humbling experience for a horticultural generalist like me. I don’t think I’ll be taking on the Orchidaceae until a specialist like yourself has made it easy, but I do hope that it may be possible to have Orchis mascula at The Cloisters someday.

  39. Jeannie Says:


    Most of my “specialist” experience comes from my failures, the knowledge they afford me, and my overt attempts to try try again. I’m probably the same type of horticultural generalist as you are, but I do love to see the occassional victory that nature offers me in compensation for my attempts. With you, I will hope for the possiblity of Orchis mascula at The Cloisters someday… and even better… the possibility of me being able to visit and see it. Thanks so much for the interesting conversation and I look forward to seeing you there one day too.


  40. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello, Jeannie—

    I will definitely keep you posted on any interesting medieval orchid-lore I come across. Please do let me know if you are coming to New York. I’d be very happy to show you around the Gardens, and you could get a good look at the Orchis mascula in The Unicorn in Captivity.

  41. Jeannie Says:


    Please excuse me for not posting this sooner, but I have been involved in trying to get my nephew home from the war in Iraq and getting my child through his first year of school. Orchidaceae has been the last thing on my mind, other than trying to keep my own orchids watered through the summer heat. Luckily, we have had a wetter than normal year this summer and even that has not been a daunting task, but a very fruitful one with the abundant blooming that I have had.

    Thank you for offering to show me around the Gardens, should I visit New York in the future. I would absolutely love to have you give me a tour one day. I am not planning a visit any time soon, although I dearly love and miss my grand New York City and it’s museums. I will definitely let you know if I should plan a trip in the future though. Do keep me posted on anything interesting in medieval orchid-lore that you may find. Thank you so much for your comments.

    Jeannie Clifton
    Little Rock, AR

  42. Deirdre Larkin Says:


    It’s good to hear from you, and interesting to learn that you have had a wetter-than-normal summer in Arizona, to the benefit of your orchids. We have had one of the coolest, wettest summers in the history of New York City. This has been a blessing, since we are understaffed at present, and a droughty summer might have been disastrous for our trees and shrubs. Of course, it isn’t an unmixed blessing, as it is far too wet for some of our Mediterranean species. Our northern European species are thriving.

  43. judith Says:

    Hello -

    I’ve been enjoying this website and blog. I especially liked the recent entry on the fruit of the quince tree. I am going to forward it to my French teacher who hails from Switzerland. She goes to the farmer’s market in late fall especially to find quinces for jam or sauce. The quinces are so plentiful where she comes from that they lie on the ground. I didn’t know the Cloisters’ quince trees were almost 60 years old.

    I was wondering if you have anything to say about Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)? Was it used in medieval gardens? I grew it from seed once because it was described as fragrant and indeed it had a very lovely fragrance. I was sorry to read, though, that it is considered invasive in Connecticut.

    Thanks for this site. It’s inspiring.


  44. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello, Judith—

    We are doing our best for our quince trees, but they are showing their years.

    Dame’s rocket is on our medieval plant list—it appears in the first of the Unicorn Tapestries, The Hunters Enter The Woods, and we grow it in Trie Cloister garden, along with many other plants represented in medieval tapestry. Since the Museum closes to the public fairly early in the evening, not many visitors get to enjoy the scent. I don’t have much information about specific uses of Hesperis matronalis in the Middle Ages, or any other period. I haven’t found it listed in any medieval herbals as yet—Maude Grieve, author of A Modern Herbal and ordinarily a fount of knowledge, simply says that it formerly had many medicinal virtues, without specifying anything other than it’s anti-scorbutic properties. Nor do I know of a medieval symbolism or significance, although dame’s rocket did come to be a symbol of deceit in Victorian flower language. It is very widespread in open shade in New York State, and forms large colonies. These are particularly pretty because there is so much variation in the color of the flowers growing side by side, from nearly white to a medium purple.

  45. Terri Andrews Says:

    What a spectacular idea. I have experience growing orchids in the Western USA but this is the first time I have been introduced to the idea of a medieval garden. I would love to learn more…does anyone have a list of sources for medieval plants and seeds? Or maybe a reading list on medieval plants and gardens?

    Thanks :)

  46. Roger Garth Says:

    I now know a little more about another meaning associated with my name - a feel enlightened!

  47. Matt Derosa Says:

    Wow! This entire world of gardening is very new to me. I had no idea how much detail goes into planning out these gardens.

    They are truly a hidden gem. I can spend hours in a garden like these, and just lose myself in thought.

    I like to imagine that I’m actually living in that time period and what it would be like.

    I think as we become more modernized many of us have lost our sensitivity to the innate beauty of nature.

    I’m happy to see that a lot of architects now add in plant life as part of their building designs.

    How great would it be if we could have miniature Medieval Gardens all over the city in little nooks and crannies. I’d love it!

    Thank you to all the people here that appreciate this art and keep it spreading it.

  48. Pat Says:

    Hi Deirdre,
    In 2008 you offered to send a source list for medieval plants and seeds, as well as the plant list for the Bonnefont Herb garden, along with a reading list on medieval plants and gardens to Denny.

    I was wondering if it would be possible to receive the same.

    It has been nearly 20 years since my last visit to the gardens, having moved to Maryland then Wisconsin. The gardens were, and remain, beautiful teaching tools for all to enjoy. Many thanks to you and your staff for your all of your efforts.

  49. Elizabeth Says:

    I’ve searched this site for the type of the two trees in the Medieval Garden by the fountain, just outside the Unicorn tapestries room, but cannot find a reference to them here. They look a little like young mulberry or cherry trees. Can anyone tell me what they are?

  50. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Elizabeth—I am a little puzzled by your reference to two trees just outside the Unicorn Tapestries gallery. This gallery opens onto the garth garden in Cuxa cloister, which has a fountain at its center. The four trees, one in each quadrant, are Sargent crabapples; the name of the variety is ‘Donald Wyman.’ Although this is not a medieval species of crab apple, the trees have been pruned using a medieval technique known as pollarding.

  51. Dan Says:

    This is a wonderful resource, and I’m wondering if a new thread could be added to the site. There is a section in the Bonnefont garden for plants used by artists, and I’d love to have an ongoing conversation on that topic. Can it be done?

  52. Dan Says:

    I should have added that this would be different from the category of plants depicted in art; rather it would be plants used for pigments etc.

  53. Mary Dateo Says:

    This site is truly enjoyable. I, too, would be interested in a reading list if that is possible; I’m especially interested in plant combinations, and other techniques used to increase productivity and discourage pests.


    Mary Dateo

  54. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Dear Mary,

    I’m very glad you enjoy the site. I don’t have a reading list that would cover the topics you’ve expressed interest in, but if you visit the Timber Press website http://www.timberpress.com/books/ , you can browse their list by subject. It’s an excellent horticultural press, and you would doubtless find many things of interest to you. I’d suggest taking a look at Perennial Companions: 100 Dazzling Plant Combinations for Every Season, by Tom Fisher.


Comments are closed.