Thursday, September 8, 2011
The lovely Venus maidenhair is not quite hardy for us at The Cloisters, and is grown in pots in the medieval gardens. The pinnules of this graceful fern, which flourishes in moist and rocky situations in many parts of the world, repel water. Photographs by Carly Still
The southern or Venus maidenhair (Adiantum capillis-veneris) belongs to a large genus of ferns that includes two hundred species. The botanical name given to the genus Adiantum is from the Greek for “unwetted,” since any water falling on the foliage of these ferns beads up, leaving the leaf surfaces dry. This species was already known by that name in classical antiquity; the Roman natural historian Pliny marveled that a plant that grew in moist places exhibited such a marked antipathy to water. According to Pliny, the plant was known to some as “beautiful hair” or “thick hair.” A decoction of the fern, made by simmering it with celery seed in wine and oil, was used both to dye the hair and to prevent it from falling out (Historia naturalis, Book XXII, 62–65). Read more »
Friday, September 2, 2011
Plantagenet. Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak,
In dumb significants proclaim your thoughts:
Let him that is a true-born gentleman
And stands upon the honour of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.
Somerset. Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.
—Henry VI, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4
After the fleur-de-lis, the rose is probably the second most common floral charge to appear on heraldic shields. That’s quite understandable, since the rose’s emblematic associations ranged from the Virgin Mary to the Five Wounds of Christ to romantic love. In the military context of knights and noble families, the rose also suggested the fierce and often impenetrable thicket of prickled branches in which it grows. The white roses strewn around the fearsomely armed lion rampant that occurs on the shield of Finland might have raised just such an association in the minds of beholders. Alternately, roses might also have been chosen as a play on a name—the arms of the German town of Rosenberg in Baden-Württemberg, for example, or the Baltic baronial family von Rosen.
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Friday, August 5, 2011
Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, live in burrows but can and do climb trees. They’re particularly fond of apples. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Woodchucks don’t chuck wood, except in tongue twisters and insurance commercials.
Woodchucks (Marmota monax), also known as groundhogs or whistle pigs, are rodents, as are more than half of the world’s mammalian species. They belong to the same family as the squirrel, although woodchucks live underground and squirrels nest in trees. The English name of this common North American mammal derives from the Alogonquian wuchak.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011
Left: A severe infestation of two-spotted mites on a calendula growing in Bonnefont garden. Right: A detail of the damage done by this common hot-weather garden pest, which sucks the chlorophyll from the leaves of the host plant. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt
The hot, dry weather that has us struggling to keep the gardens watered is all too welcome to the two-spotted mite, Tetranychus urticae, a worldwide pest of crop plants, ornamentals, and houseplants that is as much at home in greenhouses and apartments as it is outdoors. Two-spotted mites, along with other members of the Tetranychus family, are commonly known as spider mites. They are arachnids but are more closely related to ticks than to spiders.
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Friday, July 8, 2011
Hops (Humulus lupulus), considered today to be crucial to beer brewing, were not commonly used until the fifteenth century. Before that time, brewers added different herbs, such as alecost (Tanacetum balsamita), to their beer to improve its flavor. Several of these medieval brewing herbs can be found in Bonnefont garden.
Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale then is rehersed, except yest, barme, or godesgood, doth sofystical theyr ale.
—Andrew Borde, The fyrst boke of the introduction of knowledge, 1452
Beer was a staple drink for medieval Europeans, as it provided much-needed calories to the often undernourished population and was cleaner and safer to drink than water. Then, as now, beer was made by brewing malted barley in boiling water to make sugars more available for yeasts to consume (see an image of Jorg Prewmaister tending his brew in a page from a fifteenth-century German manuscript, Amb. 317.2). This sugary, malty potion, known as “wort,” eventually becomes beer after the yeasts eat the sugars, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol as byproducts of fermentation. On its own, wort is fairly flat in flavor, so brewers add additional ingredients, such as hops and spices, to enliven a beer’s taste.
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Friday, June 24, 2011
Wood betony (Stachys officinalis) enjoyed a considerable reputation in antiquity and the Middle Ages as both a medicinal and a magical herb, and was believed to have many virtues. Photograph by Nathan Heavers.
In the mountains and woods, in the meadows and depths of the valleys—
Almost everywhere, far and wide, grows the precious abundance
Of betony. Yet I have it too in my garden, and there
It learns a softer way of life in the tended soil.
So great is the honor this genus has won for its name
That if my Muse wished to add to it she would find herself
Defeated at last, overwhelmed; and soon she would see
She could add nothing more to the value it has already.
Perhaps you pick it to use it green, perhaps
To dry and store away for the sluggish winter.
Do you like to drink it from cloudy goblets? Or do you
Prefer to enjoy what it gives after long and careful
Refining? Whatever your fancy, the wonderful powers
Which this herb has will supply all your needs.
—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.
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Thursday, May 26, 2011
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.
The theme of this year’s Garden Days at The Cloisters is the relationship between women and gardens, real or imaginary, in the Middle Ages. Please join me at noon on Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5, for enticing views into the hortus conclusus of the Virgin Mary, the convent cloister garth, and the delightful pleasure grounds of medieval romance, inhabited by elegant ladies. In Bonnefont garden, we’ll focus on women’s role in practical horticulture and on plants in medieval health, healing, beauty, and housekeeping, especially herbs mentioned in the works produced by the brilliant twelfth-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen and those attributed to the legendary Dame Trotula of Salerno.
In addition to this special gallery/garden talk, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the gardeners, enjoy tours of the gardens, hear readings from the Romance of the Rose, participate in a family workshop, and see a demonstration of medieval embroidery techniques.
Learn more about the programs scheduled for June 5 and 6.
I’ll post again after the event and a short break.