Plan for a Historical Garden and Notes from My Visit to the Cloisters Gardens in New York City

We might assume that the every-man commoner has always gardened, but that is not the case. For centuries, only the very wealthy had gardens, but by the time of the Middle Ages, gardening became more widespread.

Image result for medieval peasant house

I think of the Middle Ages as an almost primitive time of history–as the time when wars were fought with catapults and crossbows–as the time of the Black Plague. But it was at about this time–the time of the Black Plague–that commoners began to grow gardens. The earliest cottage gardens were established primarily to supply the commoners with medicines and a bit of food. Flower gardening came a bit later.

This past week, I visited the medieval gardens at The Cloisters in New York City, and I loved examining the way that people gardened over 1,000 years ago.

Fort Tyron Park New York City

One thing that I love about living where I do now is that some of the roads and the oldest bridges in Philadelphia and in NYC were built by people who were essentially Europeans. After all, there was no United States of America when people began building its structures in the 1600s, and there is an immense feeling of Old Europe in parts of New York City and Philadelphia.

“New York City traces its origin to its 1624 founding in Lower Manhattan as a trading post by colonists of the Dutch Republic and was named New Amsterdam in 1626.[43] The city and its surroundings came under English control in 1664[43] and were renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York.[44] New York served as the capital of the United States from 1785 until 1790.[45] It has been the country’s largest city since 1790.[46]” Wikipedia

The above image is a road running along  Fort Tyron Park in New York City. That is where the Cloisters is located.

The above photo is a series of arches in Fort Tyron Park.

The above is another photo of a different view of that series of arches in Fort Tyron Park.

The above photo is another spot in Fort Tyron Park

The above photo is of the Entrance to the Cloisters. You can see that the Cloisters is very much like the oldest part of this country. Our formerly European-born forefathers began building the USA in the manner of their European homeland. Saturday, May 20, 2017, I visited the Cloisters, which is in the part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is not in the same Central Park location as the main museum on Fifth Avenue [i.e. Saks Fifth Avenue]. The Cloisters was recreated to overlook the Hudson River and to bring the look and feel of old Europe to America.

By definition, a cloisters area us an open hallway that surrounds a protected garden area or natural area where monks and nuns might retreat into nature. At the Cloisters in New York City, there are several gardens.

The Bonnefont Cloister Garden

“The Bonnefont Cloister garden, on the lower level, contains one of the most specialized plant collections in the world: all of its approximately 300 species were grown and used during the Middle Ages for purposes as varied as food, medicine, magic, and artist materials. The raised beds, wattle fences, and wellhead are all features depicted frequently in medieval sources. Seeds of species not available locally were obtained from European sources.” See the Full Article Here

The herbs in the Bonnefont Cloister Garden are all grouped according to their uses.

  • The first group is Household Plants, including Scotch Broom, Absinthe, Cotton Thistle, Stemless Carline Thistle, Hop, Soapwort, Common Mullein, Southernwood, Fuller’s Teasel, and Juniper.
  • The second group of plants are those used for Medicinal purposes, as previously described. These include Avens, St. John’s – Wort, Hollyhock, Birthwort, MarshMallow, Meadow Clary, Liquorice, Common Valerian, mallow, Comfrey, and Feverfew.
  • The third category of herbs found in the garden is the Aromatic Plants, which consist of Lavender, Orris, Meadowsweet, Vervain, Cupid’s Dart, Costmary, and Lemon Balm. Vervain in particular, because it was thought to promote happiness, was strewn around the room in Old England.
  • The fourth category is [?]
  • The fifth category of plants are Kitchen and Seasoning Plants, which include Winter Savory, Leek, Cardoon, Samphire, Chive, Small – Leaved Basil, and Red Valerian.
  • The sixth category are Plants Used by Medieval Artists, consisting of golden Marguerite, Weld, Agrimony, Greater Celandine, Our – Lady’s Bedstraw, Madder, Woad, Dyer’s Greenweed, Alkanet, and Boxwood (still used extensively by horticulture artists today – illustrated.)
  • The seventh group is Plants Associated with Love and Marriage, including the Chaste Tree, Meadow Rue, and Wild Strawberry.
  • The eighth group of plants is Magic Plants, consisting of Bear’s Foot, Ragged – Robin, English Ivy, Cornelian Cherry, and Herb Robert.
  • The ninth group of is of Vegetable and Salad Plants, including Caraway, Black Mustard, Fennel, Common Tansey, Clary, Orpine, Horseradish, Skirret, Garden Sorrel, French Sorrel, Sea Holly, Borage, and Parsley. Borage was alleged to relieve and cure the mind and the body. Parsley, in particular, was thrown into fishponds in medieval times because it was thought to heal the sick fishes. Parsley is used today (in a different way), mostly for culinary purposes as a garnish, and to enhance the flavor of fish, meats and to stuff tomatoes.  See Full Article Here

Medieval Plants for Medicinal Purposes

Avens

“Geum urbanum, also known as wood avens, herb Bennet, colewort and St. Benedict’s herb (Latin herba benedicta), is a perennial plant in the rose family (Rosaceae), which grows in shady places (such as woodland edges and near hedgerows) in Europe and the Middle East.

“Usually reaching a height between 20 and 60 cm, wood avens blooms between May and August, and its flowers are 1 – 2 cm in diameter, having five bright yellow petals. The hermaphrodite flowers are scented and pollinated by bees. The fruits have burrs, which are used for dispersal by getting caught in the fur of rabbits and other animals. The root is used as a spice in soups and also for flavouring ale.

Avens in Folklore

“In folklore, wood avens is credited with the power to drive away evil spirits, and to protect against rabid dogs and venomous snakes. It was associated with Christianity because its leaves grew in threes and its petals in fives (reminiscent of, respectively, the Holy Trinity and the Five Wounds). Astrologically, it was said to be ruled by Jupiter.

Avens in herbal medicine

“Wood avens was stated to be a treatment for poison and dog bites. Paracelsus suggested its use against liver disease, catarrh and stomach upsets.” Wikipedia

Image result for water avens Image result for water avens

Water Avens

Water avens is a hairy perennial plant; its woody rootstock produces a simple, erect stem from 1-3 feet high with small, sessile, simple or three-cleft leaves. From the rootstock also grow long-petioled, hairy, pinnate leaves with three large terminal, coarsely double-toothed leaflets and one or two pairs of small lower leaflets. At the top of the stem grow from 3-5 purplish flowers on short pedicels, blooming from May to July. Some varieties have purplish sepals but rose-colored to yellow petals. Blossoms are followed by hooked fruits. See the full article Here

Birthwort or Dutchman’s Pipe

The species Aristolochia clematitis [BIrthwort or Dutchman’s Pipe] was highly regarded as a medicinal plant since the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and on to until the Early Modern era; it also plays a role in traditional Chinese medicine. Due to its resemblance to the uterus, the doctrine of signatures held that “birthwort” was useful in childbirth. A preparation was given to women upon delivery to expel the placenta, as noted by the herbalist Dioscurides in the first century CE. Despite its presence in ancient medicine, Aristolochia is known to contain the lethal toxin aristolochic acid.

. . .

In traditional Chinese medicine Aristolochia species are used for certain forms of acute arthritis and edema.[8][9][10]

Despite the toxic properties of aristolochic acid, naturopaths claim that a decoction of birthwort stimulates the production and increases the activity of white blood cells, or that pipevines contain a disinfectant which assists in wound healing.[citation needed] Also, Aristolochia bracteolata is colloquially known as “worm killer” due to supposed antihelminthic activity.[citation needed]

Aristolochia taxa have also been used as reptile repellents. A. serpentaria (Virginia snakeroot) is thus named because the root was used to treat snakebite, as “so offensive to these reptiles, that they not only avoid the places where it grows, but even flee from the traveler who carries a piece of it in his hand”.[11] Wikipedia

[More recently, this plant has been noted as having caused renal failure and as having been carcinogenic]

Swallowtail butterflies
Many species of Aristolochia are eaten by the caterpillar larvae of swallowtail butterflies, thus making themselves unpalatable to most predators.Wikipedia continued

Image result for comfrey plant

Comfrey

“Comfrey was historically used to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin conditions. It was reputed to have bone and teeth building properties in children, and have value in treating “many female disorders”. Wikipedia

[More recently, this plant has been noted as having caused having caused health problems, especially when it is taken orally]

Feverfew

Tanacetum parthenium, feverfew,[1] is a flowering plant in the daisy family Asteraceae. It is a traditional medicinal herb which is commonly used to prevent migraine headaches, and is also occasionally grown for ornament.

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The word “feverfew” derives from the Latin word febrifugia, meaning “fever reducer”.[15] although it is no longer considered useful for that purpose. Though its earliest medicinal use is unknown, it was documented in the first century (AD) as an anti-inflammatory by the Greek herbalist physician Dioscorides.[18]Wikipedia

Hollyhock

“Hollyhocks have an ancient pedigree for healing and you’re hard pressed to find a malevolent use for the plant. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the pollen which drips onto the petals, spreading fertility to the witch’s garden.

“The name Alcea comes from the ancient Greek word for healing, altho, hence the translation in some quarters to Althea. It’s a form of wild marshmallow, from which it draws its Christian name of Hollyhock, meaning holy hoc, with hoc being an alternate word for mallow.

. . .

“What is known for certain however, is that the ancient Egyptians made wreaths of Hollyhock which were buried with mummies, indicating that in that culture, the plant had connotations with the circle of life, leading the dead into their new lives.

In fact, during the Tudor era, Hollyhocks were used to prevent miscarriages, by steeping the blooms in wine. Difficult labors were soothed by ingesting Hollyhock shoots, and continuing with the rebirth theme, babies used to chew on them to sooth the teething process.

“The Hollyhock likely came to Europe from the Middle East by crusaders returning from the holy wars, around the year 1500, and quickly became a staple of medieval gardens. The black version, similar if not identical to the ones grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello were known in Europe by 1629.

“Eventually, Hollyhocks became well known as a staple of the English cottage gardens, as their overwhelming height made a bold statement, along with their expansive blooms.

“Fairies were believed to use the blooms as skirts, and Hollyhock seedpods were known as fairy cheese because they resembled a cheese wheel. There is even a recipe dating from 1660 that recommends combining Hollyhock, Marigolds, Wild Thyme and Hazel buds in order to allow mortals to see the fairy folk.

“In pagan and Wiccan circles, Hollyhock is associated with Lammas because of its tendency to reproduce in abundance. In fact, it is said that one reason why it used to be grown so close to English cottages was to promote abundance in the household, both in power and wealth, but also in fertility.

“In addition to funerary rites, the ancient Egyptians, as well as Romans used to eat the roots, which is rich in sugars, boiling it as well as frying it. In the 1Hollyhocks were also used for a plethora of medicinal uses. In the middle ages, a tea made from Hollyhocks was used to fight lung and bladder disease. It’s still believed that the plant is useful for those purposes, as well as treating constipation, ulcers and inflammation of the skin (Hollyhock is a frequent ingredient in skin lotions), and bleeding. It is also thought that Hollyhocks can be used to break up and help pass kidney stones.800s, Hollyhock sap was whipped, sugar added and then poured into molds and sold as candy.

“Hollyhocks were also used for a plethora of medicinal uses. In the middle ages, a tea made from Hollyhocks was used to fight lung and bladder disease. It’s still believed that the plant is useful for those purposes, as well as treating constipation, ulcers and inflammation of the skin (Hollyhock is a frequent ingredient in skin lotions), and bleeding. It is also thought that Hollyhocks can be used to break up and help pass kidney stones.” Full Article Here

Liquorice

Mallow or Zebra Mallow

“This plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. The third century BC physician Diphilus of Siphnus wrote that “[mallow] juice lubricates the windpipe, nourishes, and is easily digested.”[6] Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “Me pascunt olivae, / me cichorea levesque malvae” (“As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance”).[7] Lord Monboddo describes his translation of an ancient epigram that demonstrates malva was planted upon the graves of the ancients, stemming from the belief that the dead could feed on such perfect plants.[8]” Wikipedia

Marshmallow

“Marshmallow is traditionally used for irritation of mucous membranes,[7] including use as a gargle for mouth and throat ulcers and gastric ulcers.[8] The root was used in the Middle Ages for sore throat.[3]” Wikipedia

The root extract (halawa extract) is sometimes used as flavoring in the making of a Middle Eastern snack called halva. The flowers and young leaves can be eaten, and are often added to salads or are boiled and fried. The later French version of the recipe, called pâte de guimauve (or guimauve for short), included an egg whitemeringue and was often flavored with rose water. Pâte de guimauve more closely resembles contemporary commercially available marshmallows, which no longer contain Althaea officinalis. WIkipedia

Meadow Clary [A Type of Salvia That Can Be Invasive]

“The name of the plant ‘clary’ is derived from ‘clear-eye’ and the plant seeds were formerly used as a paste to remove particles from the eyes and to reduce inflammation or redness. It was also used as a gargle for sore throats, and to clean teeth . It has also been used as a flavouring for beers and wines.[8]” WIkipedia

St. John’s-Wort

History

“St. John’s Wort’s Latin name is Hypericum perforatum, which derives from Greek, meaning “over an apparition,” referring to the belief that the herb was so offensive to evil spirits that the merest whiff of it caused spirits to depart.  The legends surrounding this herb share a common theme. One legend based in folklore has it that red spots appeared on the leaves of the plant on the anniversary of John the Baptist’s beheading, the spots being symbolic of his blood.

“In medieval times, it was believed that if a person placed a piece of St. John’s Wort under his pillow on St. John’s Eve, St. John would appear in that person’s dreams to bless him or her and prevent that person from dying in the year to come.

Historical Use

References to the use of St. John’s wort can be found in the last 2,000 years, dating back to the early Greeks.  For centuries people have successfully used St. John’s Wort for the treatment of ailments such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, viral infections, wounds, menstrual cramping and kidney and lung ailments.

In folk and traditional systems of medicine, various species of Hypericum have been used orally to treat anxiety, bedwetting, dyspepsia, excitability, exhaustion, fibrositis, gastritis, gout, hemorrhage, pulmonary complaints, rheumatism, sciatica, and swelling.

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“St. John’s Wort also has been used orally as an anthelmintic, an anti-diarrheal and a diuretic.” Full Article Here

Various dosage forms of Hypericum have been used topically as an astringent and to treat injuries or conditions such as blisters, burns, cuts, hemorrhoids, inflammation, insect bites, itching, redness, sunburns and wounds.

Hypericum perforatum, known as perforate St John’s-wort,[1]common Saint John’s wort and St John’s wort (/ˈsɪnənzwɜːrt/sin-jənz-wurt),[note 1] is a flowering plant in the family Hypericaceae.The common name “St John’s wort” may be used to refer to any species of the genus Hypericum. Therefore, Hypericum perforatumis sometimes called “common St John’s wort” or “perforate St John’s wort” in order to differentiate it. It is a medicinal herb with antidepressant activity and potent anti-inflammatory properties as an arachidonate 5-lipoxygenase inhibitor and COX-1 inhibitor.[3][4][5]” ‘

. . .

“In combination with other drugs that may elevate 5-HT (serotonin) levels in the central nervous system (CNS), St John’s wort may contribute to serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening adverse drug reaction.[38]Wikipedia

Valerian

Garden of the Cruxa Cloister

“In the Judy Black Garden at the Cuxa Cloister, on the museum’s main level, arcaded walkways surround a garth, or enclosed courtyard, that is open to the sky. Here, medieval European species and modern garden plants from Asia and the Americas combine to provide color and scent from early spring until late fall.” See the full article Here

Better Homes and Gardens has a plan for a very small Heirloom Garden Here

Most of the gardens at the cloisters have a formal structure, with a criss-crossing path and a focal point in the center. Better Homes and Gardens also has several plans for formal gardens. Here is a simple plan using daylilies, hostas, impatiens, and tickseed.

I love the plans for this Geometric Pocket Garden from Better Homes and Gardens Here

If you look carefully, you will see that the center area of the garden is built by waddle fencing, and tee pee supports are in each corner.

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Tee pee and Waddle from the Cloisters ©Jacki Kellum May 23, 2017

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Waddle fencing close ©Jacki Kellum

Penn State has an extensive online site that focuses on heirloom and medieval gardening and plants Here

©Jacki Kellum May 23, 2017

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, this post was interesting. Thank you for going to all of the trouble to post this. I have always been super cautious about using herbs for medicinal purposes, but very recently I had to do just that because I was cut off from a prescribed medicine I’d used for years. And guess what? The herbal replacement worked!!!! I don’t just *think* it worked, I have daily documentation of it. I think I need to study herbal usage in more depth. FYI – I absolutely love the stone and architecture in these photos.

    1. jackikellum says:

      again, thanks for reading

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