Fussy Eaters, or, The Plants in My Garden

You know how some people are fussy eaters? The ones you hesitate to invite to your table because you’ll end up making three dinners instead of one? Well, I’m learning that plants are worse, much worse. At least some are. Very picky. Very. As a neophyte gardener, for that is essentially how I must describe…

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The Enchanted Bamboo Forest

Standing still, as would a hunter viewing its prey, I let the moment absorb me. On another day, in another time, I might say “I absorb the moment.” But not this day. A sheer green canopy sways above my head. Tiny glimmers of light shining through the laciness recall cloudless nights in the Sahara Desert,…

“Nothing is More the Child of Art than a Garden”*

In the dead of a winter night, I dreamt of a green, sun-filled garden, filled with the thick fat leaves of a jade plant, the feathery tendrils of ferns. I stood in a glassed-walled room, misty with gauzy air, as many dreams are wont to be. Before me, on the other side of the glass,…

With Time and Frost, Things Fall Apart

Fall can be a bittersweet time, a time to look forward to cool-crisp nights, hearty meat-and root-vegetable stews, and the smell of burning leaves, that is, you're allowed to burn them where you live. On the other hand, the coming of fall and frost signifies the end of the growing season, and the beginning of…

Waiting for Pears

I bought four very green, very hard pears four days ago. Waiting for them to ripen made me think about how quickly everything happens in our lives today. There’s something soothing about watching the ripening process, something profound actually, because no matter how much I might have wanted to make a pear cake, I just…

Lavender Fields Forever

No smell of cow patties flitted through the air, thank goodness. After all, just before lunch who wants to contemplate biting into a sandwich perfumed with the stench of manure? We  stood on the knoll about the Maison Beliveau and watched the black-furred cattle, including two hefty bulls, running down the hill, hell-bent on cozying…

The Random Herbalist: Charlemagne, St. Gall, and the History of Medicine

The history of medicine, a fascinating subject, shows how people began to understand more and more about the corporeal body. Herbs played a big role in the evolution of this understanding, and medieval monasteries encapsulated this knowledge: The curriculum of these cathedral schools embraced originally the Trivium, (arithmetic, grammar, music), and the Quadrivium (dialectics, rhetoric,…

The Random Herbalist: Monks and Plant Migration

Along with dill, which we've briefly brushed by, other plants also traveled with the monks as they made their way across Europe: To the monks, who in their way were great gardeners, we are indebted for the introduction of several plants ; and since in many cases the ancient monastery has disappeared, the flowers which…

The Random Herbalist: The Roman Influence on Monastic Gardens

With this post, I celebrate a year of writing "Gherkins & Tomatoes!" Thank you so much to everyone who visits the blog. I look forward to the coming year! The Romans wielded profound influence on the architecture and organization of monasteries ... and, hence, on us ... centuries later. According to Viollet-le-Duc : —* "…

The Random Herbalist: St. Gall, A Model Garden Plan?

[NOTE: I'd like to thank the readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes for their patience this summer --- in the last few weeks I've moved from a house where I've lived for fourteen years, my favorite cat died, and I've been writing under deadline for an article for an encyclopedia as well as for a local…

The Random Herbalist: The Hortus Eremitje

Charlemagne had a shovel in every monastic garden, or so it seems:* As early as the days of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) the cloister owned outside property, and just as at Canterbury we must conclude that the plan of St. Gall meant the orchards and vineyards to be outside. The whole time of Charles the…

The Random Herbalist: Books About Monastic and Medieval Gardens

I find the following books enlightening, soothing, and motivating. My plan is to create/design a medieval/monastic herb garden over the upcoming winter and plant it starting next spring.* Monastic Gardens, by Mick Hales (2000) Private worlds glimpsed by a privileged few, monasteries have long maintained an aura of mystery. Outsiders imagine the silent seclusion, the…

The Random Herbalist: Gregor Mendel

Medieval monks knew a great deal about plants and their characteristics. And so did monks of later times. Take the example of Gregor Mendel, as does this article discussed in a March 2009 Journal of Biology article: Why Didn’t Darwin Discover Mendel’s Laws? Mendel solved the logic of inheritance in his monastery garden with no…

The Random Herbalist: The Monastic Physic Garden

Most of the gardens originally associated with monasteries contained numerous plants used for medicinal purposes. And, if nothing else,  at least these gardens provided the background for mystery novelist Ellis Peters's sailor-turned monk and herbalist, Brother Cadfael. The cloister-garth was a square, planted with grass and possibly shrubs, divided by two intersecting paths into four…

The Random Herbalist: An Introduction to Early Monastic Gardens

A series on monastery cooks ("At the Tables of the Monks")*, and a recent comment on the impact of medieval monks on the spread of dill throughout Europe, led me to reflect in more detail on the influence of monks on early European agricultural practices. For the next several days, I will be sharing notes…

The Garden of Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Sometimes I close my eyes and just remember, remember being in ___ [name of place] and then it was just (pause) sit at the table, and I got a lot of brothers and sisters, you know. My dad’s there and I just sit at the table and it’s like, eat and laugh and talk and…