Archive for the ‘The Medieval Garden’ Category

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Transplanting the Medieval Garden

Rosemary Thorn Apple

While rosemary was a familiar herb of the Mediterranean littoral in antiquity, the date of its introduction into Northern Europe is uncertain, and it was not grown in England until the fourteenth century. The thorn apple, Datura metel, did not reach Europe from India until the fifteenth century, although it is mentioned in Islamic sources at an earlier date.

Much as architectural elements from different periods and locales in medieval Europe were transported to New York and integrated into a single modern building, the herbs, fruits, and flowers growing in the gardens were transplanted, traveling across time and space to their home at The Cloisters.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Greatness of Green

Cloister Garth Garden

Leila Osmani, a security guard who has worked at The Cloisters for six years, gazes out into Cuxa cloister garth garden in the morning before the Museum opens. In the Middle Ages, this garden would have provided the monks with refreshment and nourishment.

In the Middle Ages the color green symbolized rebirth, life, everlasting life, nature, and spring. I think it is fair to say that these attributions hold true to this day.

The twelfth-century mystic and theologian Hugh of St. Victor believed that green was the “most beautiful of all the colours” and a “symbol of Spring and an image of rebirth.” His theory was supported by William of Auvergne, who said the color “lies halfway between white, which dilates the eye, and black, which makes it contract,” creating a calm sensation, especially when viewed in great expanse.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare

Unlike many of its relatives in the Asteraceae, or daisy family, the golden disk flower of tansy is not surrounded by ray petals. Although both the flowers and leaves are intensely bitter, tansy has a long history as a culinary herb. 

Tansy (reynfan) is hot and a bit moist, and is effective against all over-abundant humors which flow out. Whosoever has catarrh, and coughs because of it, should eat tansy, taken either in broth or small tarts, or with meat, or any other way. It checks the increase of the humors, and they vanish . . . .

—Hildegard of Bingen, Physica, Chapter CXI

The old German name reynfan used by Hildegard refers to the effect of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) on the “reins,” or kidneys. The fifteenth-century herbal Der Gart der Gesundheit differs from Hildegard in classifying tansy as hot and dry in the first degree, rather than moist; it recommends tansy as a diuretic and vermifuge, as well as a treatment for gout and fever. (For more on Hildegard of Bingen, see “Mutter Natur,” October 15, 2010. For more on the humoral theory on which her prescription is based, see “Cool, Cooler, Coolest,” July 27, 2012.) Read more »

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Virtues of Rosemary

Rosemary

In the later Middle Ages, the leaves, stems, and flowers of this aromatic member of the mint family were used to effect cures for many ills, and provide protection from both spiritual and bodily harm. Photograph by Nathan Heavers

Libanotis which the Romans call Rosmarinus & they which plait crowns use it: the shoots are slender, about which are leaves, small, thick, and somewhat long, thin, on the inside white, but on the outside green, of a strong scent. It hath a warming facultie . . .

—Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book III: 89

It is an holy tree and with folk that hath been rightful and just gladly it groweth and thriveth. In growing it passeth not commonly in height the height of our Lord Jesu Christ while he walked as a man on earth, that is man’s height and half, as man is now; nor, after it is 33 years old, it growth not in height but waxeth in breadth and that but little. It never seareth all but if some of the aforesaid four weathers make it.

—Friar Henry Daniel, “little book of the virtues of rosemary,” ca. 1440

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Monday, March 15, 2010

A Green Place to Rest

Between the level turf and the herbs let there be a higher piece of turf made in the fashion of a seat, suitable for flowers and amenities; the grass in the sun’s path should be planted with trees or vines, whose branches will protect the turf with shade and cast a pleasant refreshing shadow.

—Book VIII, Chapter I: “On small gardens of herbs.” Piero de’ Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum (1305-09). (See Catena, the Bard Graduate Center’s Digital Archive of Historic Gardens and Landscapes for more information.)

lady_honor_400

Above: Honor Making a Chaplet of Roses, ca. 1425–1450. South Netherlandish. Wool warp, wool wefts; 93 x 108 in. (236.2 x 274.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1959 (59.85). See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Turf benches were among the most distinctive features of medieval gardens, and are depicted in many paintings and tapestries. Such benches may be rectangular, circular, L-shaped, or U-shaped; the U-shaped type is known as an exedra. Regardless of their shape, the benches were usually constructed with low-walled frames made out of brick, wood, stone, or wattle (woven willow). The frames were then filled with soil and the surfaces were topped with turf. Turf seats were placed in the middle of the garden or against one of its walls, and were sometimes incorporated into the enclosure. Arbors or trellises were sometimes built into the seat to provide shade and shelter, while circular benches were constructed around single trees. 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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Friday, September 19, 2008

Jasmine Goes West

Angels offer a basket of jasmine and roses to the Virgin and Child.Jasmine and roses.

Left: Angels offer a basket of jasmine and roses to the Madonna and Child; right: detail of a basket of jasmine flowers and single-petaled white roses.

Jasmine’s significance as a symbolic flower blossoms in the art of the Italian Renaissance, where it appears as a symbol of divine love and heavenly happiness.  In combination with roses and lilies, which have a much longer iconographic history in Western art, it often appears in representations of the Madonna and Child.  Attendant angels offer jasmine to the infant Christ, or are wreathed with crowns of jasmine themselves. (Mirella D’Ancona Levi, The Garden of the Renaissance:  Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting, 1977.)

Although it was grown in the Islamic gardens of southern Europe as early as the twelfth century, jasmine was not established in northern European gardens until the close of the Middle Ages.  Jasmine and roses scented the garden walks of the mid-fourteenth-century villa (believed to be the Villa Palmieri, two miles southeast of Florence) described by Bocaccio in the Decameron, but the earliest conclusive proof of jasmine’s presence in France is an illuminated border produced by Jean Bourdichon for the Great Hours of Anne of Brittany, c. 1501–1507. (John Harvey, Medieval Gardens, 1981.) Jasmine is intensively cultivated to this day at Grasse, which has been the center of the French fragrance industry since the Middle Ages. The English herbalist William Turner reported that jasmine grew abundantly in gardens around London by 1548. Read more »

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yasimin, Jessamine

<em>Jasminum officinale</em> <em>Jasminum officinale</em> in the Trie Garden

The potted jasmines that perfume the gardens, and make a paradise of Trie Cloister, are in full flush and will flower for many weeks to come. The jasmines sold as house plants by nurseries and garden centers in the Northeast are often not the true or poet’s jasmine, Jasminum officinale, but a more frost-tender species, Jasminum polyanthum. Sometimes called winter jasmine, it is very heavily scented, but not so sweetly fragrant as the poet’s jasmine.

Jasminum officinale has been at home in a sheltered, sunny position in the bed under the parapet wall in Bonnefont Garden and has wintered over there for some years. The plants grown in terra rossa pots are the same species, but are a distinct form, J. officinale forma affine.

The color of the buds on these beautiful plants is a deep pink, although the flowers, slightly larger than the species, open pure white.  The fragrance is delightful even during the day. (Jasmines are most fragrant in the evening. ) Long prized for its scent, jasmine is still grown in great quantities at Grasse, which was already a center for perfumery in the Middle Ages.

Native to the Himalayas of western China and introduced into European gardens from the East, jasmine was a relative latecomer to those regions not in close contact with the Arab world.  Read more »