08 July 2024

Medieval gardens and turfed benches

I recently enjoyed browsing this book.   It has chapters on monastery gardens, abbess gardens (medicinal plants), pilgrimage-related gardens, cook's gardens (edibles), orchard gardens, and alchemist's gardens, and one on "Mary gardens."  Since I was raised Protestant, I have never been taught the extreme degrees of reverence for the Virgin Mary, or known that Mary gardens were a thing.  The book chapter details the history beginning in an ecumenical council in 431 at Ephesus and the subsequent rise of a "cult of Mary."  By the late medieval period there was an outpouring of relevant music, literature, and art, including garden design.  I was amazed by how many common garden plants were not only dedicated to Mary, but named after her.  The "lady" in the many plants named "lady-x" refers to the Virgin Mary. Here is a partial list of plants incorporated in a Mary garden:

"Eyes of Mary" is one common name for forget-me-nots.
Soapwort (Bouncing Bett) is also known as Lady-by-the-gate
The wooly mullein is also "Lady's candle."
English Primrose = Lady's Frills
Sweet Violet = Lady's Modesty
Ground Ivy = Madonna's Herb
Maidenhair Fern = Maria's Hair
Bachelor's Button = Mary's Crown
Meadowsweet = Mary's Girdle
Marigold = Mary's Gold
Bleeding Heart - Mary's Heart
Lungwort = Virgin Mary's Tears
Spearmint = Menthe de Notre Dame
Iris = Mary's Sword
Cowslip = Mary's Tears
Bedstraw = Lady's Tresses
Solomon's Seal = Lady's Seal
Pansy = Our Lady's Delight
honeysuckle = Lady's Fingers
Hweet Woodruff = Lady's Lace
Columbine = Our Lady's Shoes
Lily-of-the-Vally = Our Lady's Tears

And many more.  However "Rosemary" is not a corruption of "Rose of Mary", but of the Latin ros marinus ("dew of the sea").

One more interesting item from the book.  Herb gardens typically incorporate benches, some of which in medieval times were "turfed":
"The turfed seat drained quickly after rain and provided the sensation of sitting on a dry and fragrant meadow.  It consisted of a raised bench seat with the sides constructed of stoneor brick or, less permanently, wattle, almost filled with compacted stone and rubble to provide good drainage and topped with a layer of soil.  The seat was then turfed with soft fine grass or fragrant creeping herbs, such as apple-scented chamomole and thymes, to form a dense mat."
What a great idea.  I've been unable to find a suitable photo of a turfed bench other a few partially depicted in stained glass windows.

Here's the Wikipedia page on medieval gardens.

1 comment:

  1. I highly recommend Mont Don's various documentaries on the history of gardens, which include French, Italian, British and Islamic gardens (amongst many more). They are freely available on YouTube.


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