Lavender, France’s Balm for the Soul

The lavender lingers on my sloping hillside, autumn rain running in rivulets between the dying leaves. At summer's peak, the purple flowers tantalized the bees and butterflies and me, the glorious scent perfuming the air of evening and morning both. No lambs frolicked in the lavender this year, but maybe someday a friend's weanlings will…

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The Herbs in Spain Grow Mainly on the Plain

Many times when I walk through the nearby woods, I marvel at all the plants hiding under rotting logs and peeking out from the boulders. These plants, sharing the same earth and respiring the same air as we do, live and die nameless to most of us. How far away we've traveled from the days…

Of Herbs and Other Country Messes

When the  sage comes to life again, after its long, lonely slumber in the freezing winter, I always just stop for a moment and marvel. How could this happen? Left outside the kitchen door, the sage bows before the relentless blasts of icy winds and heavy snow. Its leaves and branches shrivel to skeletal silhouettes,…

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: The Church as Farmer

The Catholic Church influenced many things, even (especially?) agriculture, as this passage from History of the English Landed Interest: Its Customs, Laws, and Agriculture, by Russell Montague Garnier (1908) 2nd. ed, vol. 1, implies. The monastery libraries also held much treasure, opening up the monks to the wonders of old knowledge and enabling them to…

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: Dill

“I think pickles are cucumbers that sold out. They sold their soul to the devil, and the devil is dill...” Unknown Ethel always grabbed the dill plants by the lower stems and yanked hard, shaking off the clumps of dirt clinging to the roots. "You need the seedy kind," she'd say, intent on making those…