Posts Tagged ‘iris’

Friday, May 25, 2012

Inside and Outside the Garden Walls

Unicorn in Captivity

The Unicorn in Captivity, 1495–1505. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6). The profusion of flowering plants that springs from the millefleurs meadow on which the unicorn rests includes both garden plants and wildflowers. An iris and a clove pink are prominently placed outside the unicorn’s enclosure; both were intensively cultivated in the Middle Ages, but the purple orchis silhouetted against the unicorn’s body depends on a special relationship with microorganisms in its native soil and would not have grown in gardens.

Roses, lilies, iris, violet, fennel, sage, rosemary, and many other aromatic herbs and flowers were prized for their beauty and fragrance, as well as their culinary and medicinal value, and were as much at home in the medieval pleasure garden as in the kitchen or physic garden. These plants were carefully cultivated, but many useful plants of the Middle Ages were found outside the garden walls, or admitted on sufferance.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Orris and Iris

Iris species Iris germanica Iris pallida

Above, left and center: Blue-white orris and deep purple iris blooming simultaneously in Bonnefont Cloister garden. In the Middle Ages, the aromatic rhizomes of orris (Iris germanica var. florentina) were exploited for their fragrance. The purplish juice squeezed from the flowers of Iris germanica was mixed with alum to make a green used in manuscript illumination. Right: The beautiful and sweetly scented Iris pallida blooming in Trie Cloister garden.

And I must not pass you by, my iris, in silence.
Latin, that rich and eloquent tongue, has given you
The name Gladiola, made from its word for a sword.
For me at the start of summer you put forth
The beauty of your purple flower. . . .

. . . With your help too
The laundryman can stiffen his shining linen
And scent it sweetly.

—Excerpts trom the Hortulus of Walahfrid Strabo (ca. 808–849), translated by Raef Payne.

Due to the extraordinarily warm temperatures in early April, many plants bloomed as much as a month early this spring, and out of their usual sequence. Some plants that ordinarily bloom in succession bloomed simultaneously, including our beautiful bearded iris. Read more »