. . . If you do not let laziness clog
Your labor, if you do not insult with misguided efforts
The gardener’s multifarious wealth, and if you do not
Refuse to harden or dirty your hands in the open air
Or to spread whole baskets of dung on the sun-parched soil—
Then, you may rest assured, your soil will not fail you.
—Walahfrid Strabo, Hortulus, translated by Raef Payne.
Here, the month of March is represented by two sturdy figures tending to the grapevines, the first agricultural task of the year. Unlike the prosperous and well-dressed men featured in January and February, these men are peasants. One man’s bare feet are planted on the ground as he bends with a mattock to cultivate the earth around the naked vine stock, while the other spills a load of dark brown manure from a basket hoisted on his shoulder (Timothy B. Husband, The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 2008). Manures were an important element in the agrarian systems of the Middle Ages (Marcel Mazoyer & Laurence Roudart, A History of World Agriculture, 2006).
Walahfrid Strabo, the author of the most famous garden poem of the Middle Ages, quoted above, was a Benedictine. Although he was a scholar and the abbot of his monastery at Reichenau, he worked in his garden with his own hands, according to the precepts of the order.