Archive for April, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Keeping it Green

The Lawn at Cuxa Cloister Clover in the Cuxa Cloister Lawn

Left: A bird’s-eye view of Cuxa Cloister. Each quadrant of the garden contains a grass plot bordered with herbs and flowers. Right: Clover is planted in the lawn to provide several horticultural and ecological benefits.

In the spring of 2008, we began renovating the lawns in Cuxa Cloister by thoroughly removing the old grass with a thatch rake. We then added three inches of a mixture of topsoil and compost and raked them evenly. This was followed with a seeding of grass mixed with white clover (Trifolium repens). A thin layer of salt hay was then laid down to help retain water and protect the seed from birds. During this early stage, it is of the utmost importance to keep the soil evenly moist at all times. (Salt hay is preferable to hay as a mulch because it is free of weeds.) Once a lawn is established, however, it is best to water it as infrequently as possible. Most turf professionals recommend infrequent but deep irrigation to ensure the roots are thoroughly watered. There are many ways to conserve water in the maintenance of lawns. The most effective way is to choose the proper grass for your environment. Read more »

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Medieval Lawn

Cuxa lawn with English daisies (2003) Virgin and Child with Four Angels, ca. 1510-15 Bellis perennis

Above, from left to right: English daisies introduced into the garth garden in Cuxa Cloister some years ago; a realistic representation of the garth of a Carthusian monastery by Gerard David; the English daisy, Bellis perennis.

The sight is in no way so pleasantly refreshed as by fine and close grass kept short. It is impossible to produce this except with rich and firm soil; so it behoves the man who would prepare the site . . . first to clear it well from the roots of weeds, which can scarcely be done unless the roots are first dug out and the site levelled, and the whole well-flooded with boiling water, so that the fragments of roots and seeds remaining . . . may not by any means sprout forth. Then the whole plot is to be covered with rich turf of flourishing grass, the turves beaten down with broad wooden mallets and the plants of grass trodden into the ground . . . . For then little by little they may spring forth closely and cover the surface like a green cloth.

Albertus Magnus, De Vegetalibus, translated by John Harvey in Medieval Gardens, 1981.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Daffodil, Affodil

In Bonnefont Cloister garden Detail from The Hunters Enter the Woods Narcissus poeticus

Above, from left to right: Rain-drenched daffodils in Bonnefont Cloister garden; a detail from The Hunters Enter the Woods; the later-blooming pheasant’s eye narcissus.

The daffodil now flourishing in Bonnefont Garden is not the wild Lent lily, Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, but a subspecies, N. pseudo-narcissus obvallaris, known as the Tenby daffodil. The parent species, N. pseudonarcissus, the daffodil of the Middle Ages, was not available to us at planting time last fall, but we will obtain stock this year. We had long believed the bulbs that we obtained every year from a Dutch bulb company to be the wild Lent lily. When that particular company ceased to stock the bulbs, we began to look for other sources. I had a conversation with Scott Kunst, a noted expert on historical bulbs, who doubted that what we had been planting had been the true N. pseudonarcissus. Read more »

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sumer Is Icumen In

April page from the Belles Heures April Activity: The Spirit of Spring The Zodiacal Sign of Taurus

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for April, from The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Taurus. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Sumer is icumen in, Summer has come in,
Lhude sing cuccu! Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And springþ þe wde nu, And the wood springs anew,
Sing cuccu! Sing, Cuckoo!
Awe bleteþ after lomb, The ewe bleats after the lamb
Lhouþ after calue cu. The cow lows after the calf.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ, The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Murie sing cuccu! Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu; Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Ne swik þu nauer nu. Don’t you ever stop now,
Pes: Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu. Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu! Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

—From the Middle English round “Sumer is Icumen in.”

The outdoor pleasures of April depicted in medieval calendars were a prelude to the amours of May, and April is the month in which the cuckoo begins to call. Cuculus canorus is a summer migrant that winters in Africa and returns to Europe in the spring. Throughout medieval and Renaissance literature, the song of the cuckoo heralds both the return of spring and of the season of love, as in the famous round “Sumer is Icumen In.” (View the musical notation for “Sumer is Icumen In.”) Read more »