Archive for the ‘Gardening at The Cloisters’ Category

Friday, August 31, 2012

Adventures with Buckwheat

Trie Garden before Renovation

A view of Trie garden before the renovation began.

Many years ago, due to a failed drainage system, Trie garden began to show signs of decline. Medieval species struggled to grow within this tucked-away space, which remained untamed until the issue could be addressed. Although when I first encountered Trie it was in visible need of repair, I saw it as a magical, secret garden, whose wild arrangement only added to its allure. Like Bonnefont and Cuxa, Trie is intimate and beautiful, but of the three it is more often stumbled upon rather than sought out. Perhaps what drew me to Trie was its enormous hidden potential.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Dangerous Beauty

D. metel D. metel

Downy thorn apple (Datura metel) growing in a bed in Bonnefont garden devoted to plants used in medieval magic. The common name “thorn apple,” shared with other members of the genus, is derived from the character of the spiny seed capsule. Above: D. metel in bud (left) and bloom (right). This handsome, heat-loving plant flowers profusely from late July until October. Below: Semi-ripe capsule of the downy thorn apple, broken open to show the developing seeds.

D. metel Seed Capsules

The beautiful but sinister thorn apple (Datura metel) is a powerfully hallucinogenic plant employed in medieval magic as well as medicine.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Come to the Bower

Jasmine Bower

Arbors covered with vining or climbing plants, also called bowers, were a common feature of medieval pleasure gardens, and women are often shown seated in their shade. Maggie Fitzpatrick, summer intern in the gardens, rests from her labors under a fragrant jasmine bower in Bonnefont garden. The jasmine, grown in terra cotta pots, twines up and around a structure of birch poles and birch brush, lashed together with copper wire and finished with barked wire.  Photograph by Carly Still

Arbour, arbor, n. A bower or shady retreat, of which the sides and roof are formed by trees and shrubs closely planted or intertwined, or of lattice-work covered with climbing shrubs and plants, as ivy, vine, etc. Forms: ME–15 erber (e, herber(e, ME herbier, erbor, arbre, ME–15 arber, 15 herbor, harber, herbour, arboure (all obs.), 15– arbour, arbor. (The original characteristic of the ‘arbour’ seems to have been the floor and ‘benches’ of herbage; in the modern idea (since 16th c. at least) the leafy covering is the prominent feature.)

—OED Online. June 2012. Oxford University Press: http://0-oed.com.library.metmuseum.org/view/Entry/10234 (accessed August 9, 2012).

Arbors covered with vines or roses are frequently depicted in medieval garden representations, often in conjunction with a turf bench or garden seat. Elegant ladies are shown taking their ease, or the Virgin and Child are shown seated in state, as in Stefan Lochner’s famous Madonna of the Rose Bower in Cologne. (For more on turf benches, see “A Green Place to Rest,” March 15, 2010.) Read more »

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Tree Grows in the Courtyard

The courtyard, as seen from the portcullis gate entrance in 1938 The courtyard, as seen from the portcullis gate entrance in 2012

The courtyard, as seen from the portcullis gate entrance in 1938, at left, and in 2012, at right. Photograph on right by Andrew Winslow

Visitors to The Cloisters may have spied the top of a large oak tree just above the wall at the postern gate entrance. This white oak grows in a courtyard enclosed by the ramparts, which also include maintenance passages, storage, an education workshop area, and garden workspaces.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Garden Days

The Cloisters offered its annual Garden Days program on June 2 and 3. We had splendid weather and a great turnout. Deirdre Larkin, familiar to all of our regular readers, led garden tours in which she explored the theme of wild and cultivated plants in the Middle Ages. Instructors from our Education Office led workshops for children and their families.

Deirdre Larkin in Bonnefont herb garden

Deirdre Larkin, at center, discussed wild and cultivated plants in the Bonnefont herb garden. Some of the plants in the garden are considered weeds today but were highly valued in the medieval world. Most of the beds in Bonnefont are planted according to use; nearly every bed was completely replanted this spring. Photograph by Nancy Wu

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Love Apples

Mandrake in Heavy Fruit

The mandrake above, which flowered in March, now bears a bumper crop of no less than twenty fruits, the largest number we’ve ever seen on a single plant here in Bonnefont garden. The fruits do not always ripen fully for us.  Photograph by Carly Still

The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

Song of Solomon, 7:13

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lesser Celandine

Colony of Lesser Celandine

A colony of lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) growing in the orchard below the south wall of Bonnefont garden.

The shining yellow flowers of lesser celandine star the grounds below Bonnefont garden in March and April, but the blossoms and the heart-shaped leaves of this spring ephemeral will disappear altogether by summer. The tuberous roots, which lie just beneath the surface of the soil, will remain dormant until the following spring. This invasive medieval species is not grown within the walls of The Cloisters, but has long been at home throughout the northeastern United States. (See the Ranunculus ficaria page of the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England website.)

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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Mandrakes Bloom Again…

mandrake_in_bloom_detail_225 mandrake-flowers_detail_225

The mandrake, credited with both medicinal and magical powers over the course of many centuries, has accumulated more lore than any other plant in the Western tradition. Above: One of a colony of five spring-blooming mandrakes in Bonnefont garden. In March, this famous member of the nightshade family produces tight clusters of short-stemmed bell-shaped flowers.

Mandrake (mandragora) is hot and a little bit watery. It grew from the same earth which formed Adam, and resembles the human a bit. Because of its similarity to the human, the influence of the devil appears in it and stays with it, more than with other plants. Thus a person’s good or bad desires are accomplished by means of it, just as happened formerly with idols he made. When mandrake is dug from the earth, it should be placed in a spring immediately, for a day and a night, so that every evil and contrary humor is expelled from it, and it has no more power for magic or phantasms.

—Hildegard of Bingen, Physica (translated by Patricia Throop)

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Evergray

Santolina foliage Dwarf Santolina Topiary

The ‘evergray’ santolina is cold hardy in our climate, but dislikes our wet winters. We prefer to grow this aromatic herb in pots and bring it indoors in autumn. Above, left: Santolina is also known as cotton lavender, because of its dense, whitish-gray foliage and strong fragrance; Right: A santolina topiary made from a dwarf form of the species.

A compact, woody plant of dry ground and stony banks, the Mediterranean santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is cold hardy in our USDA Zone 7 gardens, but dislikes wintering over in wet soil; we prefer to grow it in pots and bring it indoors in autumn. Santolina’s slender stems are densely covered with short, thick, cottony leaves. This low-growing evergray species lends itself to shaping and shearing, and was widely used as an ornamental edging plant in Renaissance knot gardens. It’s also an excellent subject for topiary work, especially the dwarf form of the species, S. chamaecyparissus ‘Nana.’

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Green Victory

Laurus nobilis Madonna and Child with Saints

The evergreen bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), a symbol of victory and eternal life, is not as tender as some other Mediterranean species, but it must be grown in pots and wintered over indoors at The Cloisters. Above, left: Bay laurel topiaries like this one spend the winter in the glassed-in arcades of Cuxa cloister and return to Bonnefont herb garden in May. Right: The magnificent bay tree that flourishes at the center of Girolamo dai Libri’s Madonna and Child with Saints represents Resurrection, and is juxtaposed with the naked limbs of a dead tree.

The laurel itself is a bringer of peace, inasmuch as to hold a branch of it out even between enemy armies is a token of cessation of hostilities. With the Romans especially it is used as a harbinger of rejoicing and of victory, accompanying despatches and decorating the spears and javelins of the soldiery and adorning the generals’ rods of office. From this tree a branch is deposited in the lap of Jupiter the All-good and All-great whenever a fresh victory has brought rejoicing, and this is not because the laurel is continually green, nor yet because it is an emblem of peace, as the olive is to be preferred in both respects, but because it flourishes in the greatest beauty on Mount Parnassus, and consequently is thought to be also dear to Apollo, to whose shrine even the kings of Rome at that early date were in the custom of sending gifts and asking for oracles in return.

—Pliny, Historia Naturalis, Book XV, 133

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