Archive for April, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grasping the Nettle


Handling Nettles (detail)
Nettles' Stinging Hairs

Leather gauntlets are required when handling the stinging nettles grown in Bonnefont garden. The nettles grow in the middle of a raised bed, where visitors won’t brush against them inadvertently, and are caged with willow and labeled as an additional safeguard (see full image). Photographs by Corey Eilhardt

But this little patch which lies facing east
In the small open courtyard before my door
Was full — of nettles! All over
My small piece of land they grew, their barbs
Tipped with a spear of tingling poison.
What should I do? So thick were the ranks
That grew from the tangle of roots below,
They were like the green hurdles a stableman skillfully
Weaves of pliant osiers when the horses hooves
Rot in the standing puddles and go soft as fungus.
So I put it off no longer. I set to with my mattock
And dug up the sluggish ground. From their embraces
I tore those nettles though they grew and grew again.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

The stinging nettles in Walahfrid’s monastery garden were clearly unwanted, but Urtica dioica is carefully cultivated in Bonnefont Cloister garden. A common perennial weed of moist soil and disturbed ground, stinging nettle is widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, having crossed the ocean with the earliest English settlers. (See the U.S.D.A. database for more information). Nettles thrive on the phosphates that are a product of human habitation and animal husbandry, and are often found near long-abandoned settlements and waste dumps. Read more »

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Gardener’s Perseverance and the Fruits of His Labor

Working in the Garden

Above: Carly Still, who joined the staff as a part-time gardener just last week, tending to the woodland plants under the quince. Photograph by Corey Eilhardt

Then come the showers of Spring, from time to time
Watering our tiny crop, and in its turn
The gentle moon caresses the delicate leaves.
Should a dry spell rob the plants of the moisture they need,
My gardening zeal and the fear that the slender shoots
May die of thirst make me scurry to bring fresh water
In brimming buckets. With my own hands I pour it
Drop by drop, taking care not to shift the seeds
By too sudden or lavish a soaking. Sure enough,
In a little while the garden is carpeted over
With tiny young shoots. True, that part there
Below the high roof is dry and rough from the lack
Of rain and the heaven’s benison; true, this
Part here is always in shade, for the high wall’s
Solid rampart forbids the sun to enter.
Yet of all that was lately entrusted to it, the garden
Has held nothing enclosed in its sluggish soil
Without hope of growth. What is more, those plants that were moved,
More dead than alive, to the newly dug furrows are now
Green again; our garden has brought them back
To life, making them good with abundant growth.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

The ninth-century Benedictine abbot Walahfrid Strabo was a gardener as well as a scholar and a poet, and worked hard in his monastery garden. We, too, are hard at work bringing the gardens of The Cloisters back to life after a long winter. Much remains to be done, but the hellebores, violets, daffodils, lungworts, and fritillaries are in bloom. The hops are climbing, the pear tree is blossoming, and the quince are putting out tiny, silvery leaves.

—Deirdre Larkin

Friday, April 15, 2011

Our Pear

Espaliered Pear Pear Blossom

The veteran espaliered pear just coming into bloom in Bonnefont Cloister garden has grown there since the 1940s. The tree is responding well to a program of rejuvenatory pruning. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt

The espaliered pear is one of the most beloved trees at The Cloisters, and has graced Bonnefont garden for more than sixty years. This method of training fruit trees against a wall is a Renaissance development, rather than a medieval technique. The heat and light that radiate from the wall help to ripen the fruit.

—Deirdre Larkin

Friday, April 8, 2011

Checkered History

fritillaria-meleagris_detail

Guinea-hen flower (Fritillaria meleagris) blooming in Bonnefont garden; both the common name and the botanical name of this European flowering bulb refer to the fancied resemblance of the checkered bell to the plumage of the African guineafowl (Numidia meleagris). Photograph by Corey Eilhardt. See full image.

Of the facultie of these pleasant floures there is nothing set down in antient or later Writers, but [they] are greatly esteemed for the beautifying of our gardens, and the bosoms of the beautifull.

—”Of Turkie or Ginnie-Hen Floure” from The Herbal or Generall Historie of Plants

The English names of this curious flowering bulb were derived from the resemblance of its distinctive markings to those of the African guineafowl, imported into Europe from Turkey. John Gerard’s remarks clearly indicate that he knew the plant only as a rare and choice ornamental introduced into English flower gardens, including his own. He considered their native country to be France, where he knew them to grow wild near Orleans and Lyons. Read more »

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sweet and Low

Sweet Violet under Quince

The sweet-smelling, short-stemmed garden violet (Viola odorata) blooms from late March into April. Prized in medieval pleasure gardens for its color and scent, this violet was also at home in kitchen and physic gardens. Photograph by Corey Eilhardt

Native to woodland margins and damp and shady places throughout Europe, the early blooming Viola odorata was prized for its fragrance as well as its rich purple color. The sweet violet is included in Albertus Magnus’ list of desirable flowers for the pleasure garden, along with the lily and the rose. These three flowers are often linked symbolically as well as horticulturally in medieval sources, as flowers of Paradise and as emblems of the Virgin—the low-growing but beautiful and sweet-scented violet was equated with Mary’s humility. Read more »