Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Women of Kew – Workers

Marianne North (1830-1890)

Marianne North  is known at Kew for her botanical oil paintings. She traveled the globe twice,  once in each direction, with a purpose. She intended to paint as many flowering tropical species as she could and any others she saw along the way. Her travels  eventually made her sick and she died before the age of 60. Her collection of 832 oil paintings of over 900 species of plants, resides in a studio space in Kew Gallery that Marianne had constructed and paid for herself.
Born in Hastings, England, to an aristocratic family, Marianne was educated as a gentlewoman. She had a fine singing voice and took music lessons. She could draw and paint well but did not receive any formal training. When she was 25 years of age her mother died of a long illness. As a promise to her mother Marianne spent the next years taking care of her father and being his companion. Marianne and her father settled in London where she met Sir William Hooker (botanist and director of Royal Botanical Gardens Kew) and where she could visit Kew and Chiswick Gardens and develop her painting skills. With her father she made many journeys and traveled to Hungary, Italy, Greece and Egypt.  At the age of 40 her father died and Marianne found herself alone. 

Agapanthus umbellatus (source)

 She traveled some on her own but it wasn’t  until she was invited to the United States that Marianne had found a renewed purpose  to her life: to paint all the flowering species in all the tropical countries in the world.  Armed with letters of introduction she began her first trip around the world. Her modus operandi  was to either stay with someone she knew or met through her letters of introduction or rent a small house from which to do day trips.  There she would walk the area alone or with a hired guide and spend the day painting. She frequently encountered people who thought it dangerous and shocking for her to be traveling on her own.  Marianne would first sketch her subjects in pen and ink on paper and then finish it by squeezing the paint right out of the tube onto paper. She had developed a quick way of painting and is known to complete a picture a day. She was never considered a professional botanical painter as her paintings often lacked details due to the speed of her work. They are however, considered accurate. The result was bright, bold paintings of tropical plants in their natural settings.
Marianne’s travels were not without incident, however she certainly did not encounter difficulties or life threatening situations compared with other early travelers of the period. She did develop rheumatism which plagued her on her return trips home or in cool, high altitudes. It would be rheumatism that hastened her early death.
Four species and one genus are named after Marianne North; Northia seychellana a tree in the Seychelles, Crinium northianium a relative of the Amaryllis, Areca northiana a Feather Palm, and Kniphofia northiana the African Torch Lily.

Margaret Meen (fl.1775-1824)

Strelitzia reginae (link)

Born in Suffolk, England, Margaret moved to London to teach painting of flowers and insects. She exhibited her work as a botanist at the Royal Academy and the Watercolour Society.
Margaret Meen‘s output of floral paintings is considerable. She made  many hundreds of paintings of exotic plants at Kew Gardens and elsewhere. Her collection is now part of the Kew Herbarium. The Victoria and Albert Museum houses  a handful of her watercolours. Although prolific, her work is considered amateur by botanical standards. Margaret did publish “Exotic plants from the Royal Gardens at Kew” (1790), which is dedicated to Queen Charlotte. Her intention was to publish two parts a year but that never materialized.

Alice Hutchings, Gertrude Cope, Eleanor Morland

‘They gardened in bloomers the newspapers said,
So to Kew without waiting all Londoners sped;
From the tops of the buses they had a fine view,
Of the ladies in bloomers who gardened at Kew.’
 Punch, 1896

In 1896 the director at Kew decided to hire three women gardeners. It was a bold move and one it seemed he was hesitant to make. The Horticultural College for Women at Swanley in Kent approached Mr. Thiselton-Dyer to hire two of their qualified students as improvers. Alice Hutchings and Gertrude Cope were the first to be admitted and later in the year they were joined by Eleanor Morland. However Thiselton-Dyer allowed their admittance on the condition that they wore clothing that would not arouse their fellow workers.
Our ladies wore brown knickerbocker suits (bloomers), thick woolen stockings and brown cloth peaked caps – just like the men. Over this uniform they wore long mackintoshes when walking to and from work. Apparently the caps caused some discomfort as the ladies wore their hair long and it was difficult to keep it under the cap. According to the Journal of Horticulture the wearing of knickerbockers was preferred as ‘ the need to avoid potential damage to plants by voluminous skirts in crowded glasshouses.’ Perhaps that is so as the ladies did on occasion work in the orchid glass house, but also worked outdoors in the ‘pit’, the Rock Garden, and the Locked Garden.

Eleanor, Gertrude, Alice

The ladies did cause a stir in the village of Kew. The Daily Telegraph wrote articles on them and commented that ‘Mrs. Grundy will, no doubt, raise her hands in horror at the idea; but, after all lady -gardeners in trousers are much better equipped for the work than was the first gardeneress, Eve, when she showed Adam how to gather fruit, and afterwards eat it.” The Gardener’s Chronicle did not approve of the idea of women ‘ digging in manures and tramping over the fields’,  and the Journal of the Kew Guild admitted ‘The experiment has so far proved satisfactory…’ however qualified with but  ‘…they can scarcely hope to become all-round gardeners capable of managing a garden single-handed’.   
The Horticultural College for Women at Swanley in Kent opened in 1889, teaching a two and three year program for both men and women. In 1895 it became a college for women only. It existed until 1945 when the property was bombed. Later the college became part of Wye College, Ashford, Kent.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Women of Kew - Royalty

Kew Gardens in England is one of the world’s most renowned botanical gardens. Kew has a very long history and has seen and undergone many changes in its time.  It is a place that has been farmed on, built upon, designed, land added to and removed, re-designed, re-built, over and over again by its various owners. It has been graced by the designs of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and others of equally great import and reputation.  While men deservedly bear the majority of the honors there are many women in Kew’s history that deserve more recognition. I will present this in two parts. The list is long, so let us begin.

Queen Caroline

Caroline's Hermitage
Following the Jacobean Rebellion of 1715, the owner of Richmond Lodge was forced to flee and abandon his lands. Soon after, the lands reverted to the crown and became the new home of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Prince George II of Hanover married Caroline, Princess of Brandenburg-Anspach in 1705. 
Caroline was an intellectual and very much interested in the arts. She was acting regent while George was in Hanover and appeared to be the one who really ruled. After a quarrel with George I, the two moved into Richmond Lodge with its extensive grounds.
Caroline was an avid gardener. She knew the formal gardens of Herrenhausen in Hanover and Charlottenburgh near Berlin.  She was also quite aware of the gardens of Versailles with their avenues, parterres, fountains and statuary. Caroline did not want the formality so popular everywhere. She is known to have said that she wanted to set about “helping Nature, not losing it in art”. And so a patron of the early English Landscape movement was born. She added houses and garden buildings such as the Hermitage, the Queen’s Pavilion, and Merlin’s Cave, although none survive today. When George was crowned king in 1727 he gave the grounds of Richmond to Caroline as a gift.  Two years later the estate covered 400 acres. By the time of her death in 1737 she left debts of £20,000 for all her gardening activities.

Princess Augusta

The Orangery
In 1736 Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha married Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II and Caroline. They lived at the White House (renamed from the former ‘Kew Farm’ property) next door to Richmond Lodge.
Both Frederick and Augusta were avid garden enthusiasts. Frederick had many plans for the White House gardens. He added 75 acres of land and various  trees, shrubs, water features, temples, and some Italian statuary. He wanted to include an aqueduct  and a “mound to be adorned with the statues or busts of all these philosophers and to represent the Mount of Parnassus”. Unfortunately he died before implementing these plans. 
Augusta took up Frederick’s plans with great speed and with the help of Lord Bute and Reverand Stephen Hales, botanists. With the mound and the aqueduct finished by 1754, she added the House of Confucius  and the Chinese Arch. These were some of the earliest examples of chinoiserie that was influencing Europe at this time. William Chambers, architect, was hired to add even more buildings such as The Orangery, the Great Stove (the largest known hothouse),  Alhambra, Domed Mosque  and the Pagoda. 
Princess Augusta had a keen interest in plant collecting. She was fortunate to belong to a time when the accessibility of species from new worlds was peaking. Comprised of both tender and hardy exotics she labelled them according to the new Linnaean system. The collection contained over 2,700 species and formed the basis of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory was named for Princess Augusta, and opened by Princess Diana on July 28, 1987.

Queen Charlotte

Charlotte's Cottage
Augusta’s son George III married Charlotte-Sophia, Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz  in 1761. After the death of Princess Augusta in 1772, Richmond Gardens, Kew Gardens and other properties came under single ownership for the first time. George III had been deeply influenced by Augusta and was  involved in all aspects of the gardens. He was nicknamed ‘Farmer’ George for his interest in agriculture. 
His wife Queen Charlotte shared his enthusiasm but she leaned towards botany. Along with four of her daughters, Charlotte took lessons in botany and in botanical illustration (in part from Margaret Meen). She increased the collections of new and exotic plants and purchased a herbarium  to assist in their studies. The magnificent Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae, was named in her honour.  She did take pleasure in her cottage ‘ornee’, a thatched cottage near the menagerie created by Augusta. It was not unusual to see kangaroos, various species of cattle and birds from the aviary around the cottage grounds.

Queen Victoria

Giant Amazon Waterlily
Granddaughter of King George III and Queen Charlotte, Queen Victoria added crown lands to the gardens. She opened the grounds to the public in 1898.
The Victoria Medal of Horticulture was established in her honour, and is conferred to 63 of Britain’s horticulturists. The Giant Amazon Waterlily (Victoria regia) is named after her as was the Victoria  Regia House, now the Waterlily House.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Elizabeth Blackwell, Botanical Illustrator

The eighteenth century proved to be the time for budding female botanists. Women were allowed to pursue the study of plants and encouraged in illustration, but any deeper interest such as, a professional career, in the actual science of the field was discouraged. It seems a natural evolution that women who have always been involved in herbal preparations for the sick in their homes would develop such an interest. Those who came from a wealthy family with an education would be the ones to push the boundaries. Elizabeth Blackwell would be one of those women. She was of a later time than Maria Sibylla Marian and more than likely knew of her work.
Elizabeth Blachrie was born into a wealthy merchant family (1707–1758) in Aberdeen, Scotland. She trained as an artist and also studied music and languages. She fell in love with her cousin Alexander Blackwell, a medical practitioner. They eloped, and moved to London. In London, Alexander started out as a proof reader in a printing house, but opened his own printing house in the Strand in 1730. He met opposition from other rival printers. Alexander was charged with not having served an appropriate apprenticeship and sent to prison. 

Elizabeth was now destitute. She had one child to care for, with no income, and in debt from Alexander’s lavish spending and from the court fines. However Elizabeth was quite a resourceful woman. Realizing that there was no up to date reference book for apothecaries on the newly discovered plants from the new world (North and South America), she set out to fill the gap. While Elizabeth held an interest in botany, and could draw very well, she knew that she would need assistance in writing the book. Elizabeth enlisted the help of her husband (while still in prison) for his medical knowledge of plants. She also found the support of the Worshipfull Society of Apothecaries and other leading doctors. She befriended Isaac Rand, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden (a teaching garden established in 1673) and took rooms in Swan Walk next to the gardens to be able to draw and paint the plants from the new world. 

Her book ‘A Curious Herbal, containing five hundred cuts of the most useful plants which are now used in the Practise of Physick, to which is added a short description of ye plants and their common uses in Physick’ was published in several volumes between 1737 and 1739. Elizabeth engraved her own images on copper plates and then hand-coloured the prints herself. The book was a financial success, which allowed the release of Alexander from jail and freed Elizabeth of all debts.
Unfortunately Alexander could not keep himself out of trouble. He  eventually was retained as physician for King Frederick of Sweden., but was soon accused of quackery.  Alexander next published an essay on agriculture and was put in charge of a farm which he mismanaged and again found himself in a delicate position with King Frederick. He was later alleged to have been involved in a plot to dethrone the king, and was sentenced to death in 1747.
Between 1747 and 1773 “A Curious Herbal” was later enlarged and improved by Christoph Jacob Trew, and was published in both English and Latin. It was entitled Herbarium Blackwellium in five volumes, the sixth volume titled Herbarii Blackwelliani auctarium.

Little is known of Elizabeth’s later life. She had three children, all of whom died young. It is said she took up midwifery. She was a devoted wife to her husband, working hard to free him from jail and clear all their debts. She shared loyalties with him from her book and also gave up the copyright of her book to pay his debts. Elizabeth never gained the popularity like others of her time, and has been overlooked by history, however she made great contributions to the science of botany and left behind detailed botanical illustrations.
 Elizabeth Blackwell’s herbal was reprinted once in the 20th century and, in the 1920s.

*Elizabeth should not be confused with another Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), the first woman to be openly recognized as a physician in the USA.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Woman's Work

By Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Chores in the field and garden were often divided between men and women by body strength, a strategy that has been passed down through time. It has its benefits, but truly is unnecessary. Most of the time the basest of garden chores were handed down to women; the weeding. 

In English estates weeding was done almost exclusively by women. English records from Rotherhithe (Surrey) for 1354 list women as weeders. Women employed in the 16 century show rates of pay at 3 d a day to remove convolvulus, dandelions, charlock, cockles, dock, dodder, groundsel, thistles and nettles. The women were paid less than the men, but also seemed to hold less value than many of the garden implements they may have used: wheelbarrow 1 s3 d, a shovel 4 d, a ceramic watering pot 1 d. In France, La Quintinie, head gardener to Louis XIV, preferred hiring married men over single men, as their wives might be available for weeding or scraping of pots. In the Orient women weeded the rice paddies. I am sure countless of other examples can be found.

Queens and their kings, estate owners or nobles from any country in any time period had slaves or paid labourers to do the gardening for them. Often times women were part of the labour force. Wives of garden labourers, widows or other respectable women in need of extra income, peasants from the nearby village,  would all be willing to work as weeders. It was monotonous, labourious work that was little regarded and poorly paid. 

By Pieter Bruegel the Elder

On the other end of the scale were the peasants who farmed the land of the wealthy. Woman, man and child were all involved in the success or failure of the farm. Weeding was part of the women’s work but not limited to it.

“Gentle huswyfes” of the low to middle class, took care of most aspects of the kitchen garden. If they were fortunate to have help, it was a young girl sent out to the garden to weed. If not, they did it themselves.

The question must be asked of times past, why was the woman not allowed to become head gardener? Why  was she not allowed to take care of growing the fruit trees or design a garden? It was only by the 17th century that European upper class women were learning to read. It was only in the 18th century they could travel to distant lands to paint exotic plants, or learn the new and exciting field of botany. It was not until the 20th century that womens names were among those of garden designers. There are names not listed among the lists of great botanists, explorers, designers. Female names. Why was woman’s work not valued?

Of course we know why. The type of work women have done has always been too demeaning for a man to do. Whether in the economy of the 16th century or the 21st century, the pay rates and working conditions for women are lower than those of men. However it is not the actual physical labour but the value given to the labour that is important. The more a particular type of work has been valued the more male dominated it has become. When it is a necessary work it is done by women. 

For a short time at Woburn Abbey in England, in the late 1600’s, there was a stone statue of an old weeding woman. The Duke of Bedford had her made to commemorate the working woman. Alas, she stands no longer.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chinese Flower Goddesses

While researching for another post I came upon this web site from China that lists gods and goddesses and the flowers that they represent. In my attempt to confirm the names and the story behind each one I was only able to find one other listing. This listing had some duplication of goddess and flower but not all. Perhaps there is more than one list, or perhaps it depends where in China you live. It seems that these goddesses were real people, usually of high society and from what I can tell of ancient times. I was able to confirm a couple of the stories, which were quite lengthy, but not all. My lack of Chinese history and culture, and of course language, is obviously a detriment in this case. Modern China does not appear to follow these gods and goddesses. If someone knows differently I would love to hear from you.

The list numbers twelve flower gods and goddesses: five gods and seven goddesses, one for each month. I am copying directly from the web site, omitting some pictures and the male gods. The link to the site will follow at the end of the post. Enjoy. 

Chinese Flower Goddesses

 Goddess of the Daffodil - Ehuang and Nu Ying

Ehuang and Nu Ying, daughters of Yao (the Emperor of China during 2358 – 2258 BC), were the wives of Shun (a 23rd-22nd century BC leader of ancient China). They got along with each other very well. When they heard the death of their husband, both of them throw themselves into the river. Legends said that they became the Goddess of Daffodil after their death.

Goddess of the Laurel Blossom - Xu Hui

Xu Hui was a concubine of Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty. It was said that she was so clever that she was able to speak when she was five months old and when she was at the age of 8, she can even write poems.
Due to her talent, she was selected as one of the concubines for Emperor Taizong. However, such a genius died when she was 24 years old because she could not overcome the grief of the Emperor’s death.
She wrote many poems about Laurel Blossom when she was alive. Therefore, she was chosen as the Goddess of Laurel Blossom because of these poems and her intelligence.

 Goddess of the Hollyhock Blossom - Lady Yi

Lady Li, the favorite concubine of Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty, was a dazzling beauty.
There was a song as the witness of her extraordinary beauty.

In the North there is a beautiful woman,
Unique, Unequal in the world.
With one glance she conquers a city of men,
With another glance a country of men.
Don’t you know? A city and a country conquering
Beauty cannot be found again. (Hans H. Frankel)

However, Lady Li’s physical condition was not so good and she died several years later after she was chosen as a concubine. Her life was just the same as the hollyhock blossom, short but flowery. Therefore, she was regarded as the Goddess of Hollyhock Blossom.

 Goddess of the Lotus Blossom - Xi Shi

Xi Shi, a legendary beauty, was one of the Four Beauties in ancient China. Legends said that in summer she always went to pick lotus on Lake Jinghu. She was so beautiful that no one could rival her beauty. Therefore, she was crowned the Goddess of Lotus Blossom.

Goddess of Peach Blossom - Lady Xi

Lady Xi, renowned for her beauty, was the wife of the ruler for the State of Xi during the Spring and Autumn Period in ancient China. Salivated over her beauty, the King of Chu defeated the ruler of Xi and took lady Xi.
Lady Xi had children with him but never spoke a word to him any more. She killed herself later when she heard the death of her ex-husband. She died in March, when all the peach trees are in blossom. Moved by her firmness, people called her the goddess of peach blossom to show their respect.

 Goddess of Apricot Blossom - Yang Yuhuan

Yang Yuhuan, also called Yang Guifei by most Chinese (Guifei was the highest-ranking imperial concubine at her time), was one of the Four Beauties in ancient China.
During the Anshi Rebellion, she was forced to hang herself. Legend said that after the rebellion, the emperor wanted to locate Yang’s body and rebury her with honor. However, they could not find her body but apricot blossoms. People believed that she was ascended to the heaven and became the Goddess of Apricot Blossom.

Goddess of Plum Blossom - Princess Shouyang

Princess Shouyang, the daughter of Emperor Wu in the Nan Dynasty’s Song Era, was a plum blossom lover. On lunar January 7th, when she slept beneath a tree, a plum blossom fell on her forehead, leaving a floral imprint. With the imprint, she looked much more beautiful. Soon, all the ladies followed her to paste plum blossom shaped ornaments on their foreheads. It was then called Plum Blossom Makeup. Hence, Princess Shouyang was crowned Goddess of Plum Blossom and lunar January 7th was regarded as the birthday of plum blossoms.
Photos and text from :

Friday, November 5, 2010

Magic Carpet Ride : Persian Gardens

Now we turn our thoughts to ancient Iran or Persia. The history of Persia is one of a country invaded many times over. In the 7th century the Arabs invaded and conquered the Persian people. The Moguls with leader Genghiz Khan invaded in the 13th century and again in the 16th century by Tamerlane. Each conqueror brought something to the existing culture and yet the traditions and culture of Persian garden design remained and was absorbed and integrated into the cultures of each occupying force.

As Egypt was a leading influence on garden style and design in the Mediterranean region, (in particular the Romans who brought it to the lands they vanquished) Persian gardens became the ideal from Spain to India. The earliest gardens were most probably influenced by the  Egyptians, with walled enclosed gardens, primarily rectangular in shape, and shallow crossing water channels. Within this formal arrangement would be fragrant flowers such as rose, narcissus, tulip, lilac, jasmine and orange tree, some of which were brought in from China in exchange for grapes and horses as early as the second century. However the greatest influences on Persian gardens were climate and  geography, religion and the love of beauty; their culture.

The majority of the country is high above sea level and is arid desert or steppe. High temperatures with searing sun in the summer, cold temperatures and blizzards in the winter, strong winds, fierce sandstorms and a lack of fresh water created a need for protected areas with ample shade. Enclosed gardens protected against wind, trees for shade and wind barriers, and where possible water was channeled in. Within this difficult terrain are green valleys and lush forests. Recreating this paradise in the more inhospitable areas became a goal.

On the small scale the garden was attached to the house with perhaps a portico as the link. On a grander scale, beyond the palace there were pavilions connecting gardens along with channels of water. Outside of the walls were parks. Parks were just as important, if not more so, than gardens. Persians revered trees and had cults dedicated to trees (as did the Egyptians). Part of every young boys education was to learn to plant and care for trees. Tree planting was a sacred occupation. Parks were planted formally, in rows. The initial intention of the park was a hunting ground but also served as an area for feasts and audiences for great princes to take place.

Court of the Lions, Spain

The gardens were designed in the classic arrangement of the chahar bagh. The chahar bagh, or four gardens, has a fountain in the centre where two channels of water intersect. Channels of water may also follow the perimeter of the garden, along with paths of stone. It is thought that the chahar bagh may represent the four quadrants of the Persian empire. This basic form became the ideal for all Islamic gardens.

To the Persians gardens were like heaven, filled with birdsong, fruit to eat, fragrant flowers, water and cool shade. The Persian word for garden is pairi-daeza; pairi (all around) and daeza or diz (shape) or wall enclosed. They followed the teachings of Zoroaster who spoke of a heaven with paths of gold and pavilions that glittered like diamonds, filled with fruit and fragrant flowers. To the Arabs that arrived later, the gardens looked like the gardens promised in the Koran, with the chahar bagh symbolizing the Four Rivers of Paradise that flowed to the north, east, south and west.  “This is the Paradise which the righteous have been promised. There shall flow in it rivers of unpolluted water, and rivers  of milk forever fresh; rivers of delectable wine and rivers of clearest honey. They shall eat therein of every fruit and receive forgiveness from their lord.”

Persian "Wagner" Garden Carpet

Almost all of the original gardens are gone, in ruins or built upon by later civilizations. It is by the sheer force of the Persian love of beauty that we can know today something of their gardens. It is from their poetry, paintings or miniatures and carpets they we weave together this information. Miniatures give us some examples of how the garden may have looked, what flowers and trees they grew. We know that they built platforms into trees to enjoy the flowering spring time. On the platforms they laid pillows and carpets for comfort. Carpets were also placed on the grass and under trees. The designs on carpets were filled with gardens. Explosions of flowers, birds and other animals filled the interior. Borders of colour or borders with swimming fish may have represented the channels of water typical in gardens. Bare tree branches may symbolize the four rivers of paradise and squares of colour may be the garden beds.

One of the earliest extant accounts of a Persian carpet belonged to the Sassanid prince 
Persian Carpet
Chosroes 1 (531-579). The carpet was woven of the finest materials with coloured stones and threads of gold and silver. It was 60 yards square. It “represented a pleasure- garden,  with streams and paths, trees and beautiful spring flowers.” Unfortunately when the Arabs found the carpet they had it cut up and sold, but not before recording it by their historians.

The Persian garden became the ideal for all Islamic gardens and were taken eastwards to the Taj Mahal in India and westwards to the Alhambra in Spain where wonderful examples live on.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sister Maria Celeste, Italy

Born Virginia Gamba (1600-1634), she was the daughter to Galilieo Galilei the famous Italian scientist who proved that the Earth revolved around the sun. Virginia was the eldest of her siblings sister Livia and her brother Vincezio. The three were all born out of wedlock by Maria Gamba, the life and love of Galileo. The girls were considered unmarriageable by Galileo since he never married their mother. When Virginia turned thirteen years of age Galileo decided to send both girls to the nearest convent, just south of their home in Florence, the Convent of San Matteo in Arcentri. There they both lived out their lives in extreme poverty and seclusion. Maria Celeste died from dysentry at the age of 33.

The Convent of San Matteo belonged to The Order of Saint Clare which was established by Saints Clare of Assissi and Francis of Assissi. The Clares, or Poor Clares dedicated themselves to the strict principles of Saint Francis, never able to leave the grounds of the convent and living in extreme poverty far severer than that of any female order of the time. There, their hair was cut round and they wore rough habits of dark brown with black linen veil and knotted cordbelt. They were always barefoot, slept on wood boards covered with a straw mattress, and were seemingly always fasting and praying. Viginia named herself Maria Celeste honouring both the Virgin Mary and her father with her name.

Maria Celeste proved to be an industrious woman for she had little free time to herself. The day was spent cleaning, cooking, and producing articles for sale on the outside such as fine embroidered handkerchiefs, lace, herbal medicines and bread in the summer when it was too hot for most other people to bother. She directed the choir and taught the novices to sing the Gregorian chant. In her few spare moments at the end of the day she wrote letters to her father. In these letters she enquired after his experiments and his poor health. 

Maria Celeste

The convent did have a farm that was tended by outside labor. They grew wheat, millet and other grains, grape for wine and kept some animals. It is not clear if there was an orchard but fruit trees were grown around a central well at the back of the church. There they grew pears, plums, quince, almond trees, pine trees and olive trees. Rosebushes were plentiful and said to bloom even at Christmas.

At the convent apothecary Maria Celeste assisted the visiting doctor by fabricating remedies in pill or tonic form and nursed the sick nuns. Rosemary was grown for nausea, rhubarb was dried and used as a laxative, and rue to staunch a bloody nose or to drink with wine for headaches. A syrup made of rosebuds was used as a purgative: 'prepared from several hundred roses, picked when the buds were half open, then steeped a full day and night in sugar and hot water.'

Galileo's own garden grew lettuce, bitter oranges, portuguese oranges, lemons, grapes for wine (which was made on the premises). There were white beans, chickpeas, broad beans, capers, plums, pears, an orange tree in a pot, a mule for transportation and a dovecote.

Galileo and his daughter Maria Celeste lives were intertwined in inumerable ways and linked by letters. If you are interested in knowing more please read the book Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel for a fascinating look at both their lives. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Garden in a Nunnery, Part 2 Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) Germany

Much has been written about this remarkable woman. She has been and continues to be studied by scholars in diverse fields that include spirituality, theology, music, medicine, herbalism, and illumination (illustration). She was also a visionary and prophet. Hildegard had the intellect and the opportunity to address her numerous talents to all these fields. I will attempt to give you some idea of her life with an emphasis on her interest in medicine and herbalism.

 Hildegard was the 10th child born to a noble family. Traditionally the 10th child is given to the church as tithe, and so at the age of 8 Hildegard was sent to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenburg in Bingen for her religious upbringing (this was a double monastery with male and female sections). There she was entrusted to the anchoress Jutta for her education.

From a very young age it had been apparent that Hildegard had prophetic visions. These were often recorded by Jutta and later by a scribe Volmar. Today, it is suggested that the visions were caused by migraines. 

Hildegard refered to Jutta as an "unlearned woman" and while Jutta taught the young girl to read and write Hildegard may have taken it upon herself to educate herself. The Benedictines believed that both men and women should have access to learning. They followed a tradition of community where all members were expected to participate in prayer, reading and work. Music was part of their lives as was the making and illustrating of manuscripts. This lifestyle would have been the greatest influence on a young Hildegard.
Upon the death of Jutta, Hildegard then 38, was named Prioress by her fellow sisters. Hildegard moved the convent from Bingen to the St. Rupertsberg monastery in 1150. In 1165 she founded a second convent in Eibingen. 

A major turning point in her life took place at the age of 42 when she received a vision from God (as they all were) to begin writing down her visions.

Opening lines of Causae et Curae
In her lifetime she wrote between 70 and 80 musical compositions, 72 songs, 70 poems, 100 letters and 9 books. Hildegard wrote 2 books on medicine, Physica and Causae et Curae. Physica, written in nine parts, describes the characteristics of elements, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, trees and plants, and precious stones and metals. It details the medicinal uses of more than 200 herbs and plants with some descriptions for identification. Causae et Curae combines the mystical beliefs of the time with early German folklore and Hildegard's own herbal experience. It lists more than 200 diseases with information on their causes, symptoms and treatments. In this same book Hildegard also lists 300 plants, with medical and physiological theory as well as herbal treatments. While both books list herbal treatments, the latter includes actual proportions for the ingredients in the recipe. 

It is believed Hildegard would have read and used older texts on medieval herbs, and presumably worked in the gardens at Disibodenberg and St. Rupertsberg. It is not known if she practiced medicine, but she was well known for her cures, both supernatural and natural. Some are still used today. These two books would have been written for use by the nuns of the convent. Their use would not only be of immense benefit to sick or ailing nuns and monks, but would also provide medical aid to travelers and the people of nearby communities who turned to the monasteries for help.

There are many books and websites devoted to her for those of you who want to delve deeper into certain aspects of her life. This is I'm afraid, only a tiny sliver of the information on Hildegard of Bingen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Garden in a Nunnery, Part 2 Radegund of Poitiers

Radegund of Poitiers, France

Radegund of Poitiers was one of the first Frankish women who founded and ruled over nunneries in France. Her life reads like a soap opera. Born around the year of 520, Radegund was the daughter of a Thuringian King, Berthaire. While just a child, her father was murdered by his brother, Hermanfred, who took Radegund and her brother to raise as his own. But in 531 the Franks invaded Thuringia and defeated and destroyed the Thuringian royal family. The children were captured by the invading Frankish King Clothaire I, who claimed them as spoils of war. Radegund lived with Clothaire in Athies when at the age of 18 he moved her to Soissons to be his queen. She did not want to marry this brute Clothaire but eventually consented to marry him in 540, while apparently goading the man to fury with her austere and devout way of life. She used her revenues from land she received from her wedding to found hospices and was involved in much charitable work on behalf of the poor.

Ten years later, Clothaire murdered Radegund's brother, the last surviving male of the royal family. Radegund fled Clothaire's court, went to Noyon where she managed to be consecrated as a deaconess and eventually made her way to Poitiers. Clothaire tried many times to reclaim his devout wife but failed as now she had the power of the church behind her. In 561 Clothaire died, releasing Radegund from any claims.
During these years Radegund founded the Convent of Our Lady of Poitiers. She laid down the Caesarian Rule in the convent which is that once cloistered, a nun can never ever leave the convent. She further stipulated that the sisters must be able to read and write in addition to the other female tasks of weaving and needlework.
She must have been a powerful woman or perhaps one with a gilded tongue as next she petitioned the Byzantine Emperor for relics from the Holy Land to sanctify her convent. Over time she received the little finger belonging to St. Mamas of Caesarea and a fragment of the True Cross, a large piece of wood from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Radegund renamed the convent the Abbey of the Holy Cross, and it became a destination of pilgrimages throughout Frankish lands. Having accomplished so much Radegund removed herself from the day to day goings-on in the convent, and isolated herself in a walled-up cell where she devoted herself to prayer and meditation. She died on August 13, 587.

Now what does she have to do with gardens or flowers? Well Radegund loved to decorate the church altar with flowers, and 'a profusion' of flowers at that. A great friend of hers was the poet Venantius Fortunatus and he wrote many flowery poems of love to her. He claimed that at one dinner he shared with Radegund at the convent, the table was barely visible as it was strewn with roses, greenery, and flowers.
Violets were sent along with this poem to Radegund :

'If the time of year had given me white lilies,
or had offered me roses laden with perfume,
I had culled them as usual in the open or in the ground of my small garden,
and had sent them, small gifts to great ladies.
But since I am short of the first and wanting in the second, 
he who offers violets must in love be held to bring roses. 
Among the odorous herbs which I send,
these purple violets have a nobleness of their own. 
They shine tinted with purple which is regal, 
and unite in their petals both perfume and beauty.
What they represent may you both exemplify,
that by association a transient gift may gain lasting worth.'

The Garden in a Nunnery, Part 1

"Come, I'll dispose of thee among a sisterhood of holy nuns".
Romeo and Juliet.

Monasteries have been around in many forms. In the East men attracted by the hermits life preferred living in isolated cells (room) to the cloistered community. Early monks depended on the alms collected to survive. If these were insufficient then there would have been a need for a garden. Western monasteries appear to have always been cloistered as a community. Gardens were always part of the plan.

Some of the earliest gardens were found in monasteries all throughout Europe. The monastic gardens served many purposes.  Food for the table, flowers for the altar and herbs for the sick were all grown within the walled grounds of the monastery. Most importantly, from an historic view, was that these gardens along with the techniques of gardening were preserved for the future.  The medieval period ranged from approximately 500 -1500 AD. It was a time of war and a time of crusades. Without the monastic gardens the art of gardening would certainly have been lost to ruin and neglect.  

Most monastic gardens were laid out following the lines of the Roman villa. It formed an atrium and peristyle , surrounded by a colonnade –  this enclosed area was renamed the cloister. Cloisters were sanctuaries where the good and wicked could flee and be safe. In time the simple courtyards grew into extensive buildings and enclosures. Then the outdoors would be divided into four areas; the physic garden, a cloister garth (garden), a vegetable garden and an orchard. The cloister was divided into four parts by paths that intersected in the middle and marked by a fountain, well, or sometimes a tree. The number four had a number of meanings here as it does in Islamic gardens: the four rivers of paradise, the four cardinal virtues, the four evangelists. 

 The medieval period is when monasteries and nunneries were at their highest numbers in the west. Nunneries differed from monasteries in that the women or young girls who joined them were always from noble and wealthy families. The poor needed to keep their girls home to help with the family and house. Nuns also, were never permitted to leave the convent. They were expected to lead a life that strictly followed their vows of chastity, obedience and poverty.

Areas of work attached to the garden include the work of the cellaress (food), sacrist  (for the church flowers and candles), and the infirmaress (hospital). Convent food primarily came from their own resources; the vegetable/kitchen garden, the orchard and a farm. The kitchen garden, orchard and farm was managed by the cellaress and provided most of the bread, meat, vegetables and beer or wine, as well as some dairy produce. Typical crops of the kitchen garden were turnips, parsnips, onions, leeks, various legumes, mint, basil, wormwood, borage, mugwort, nettle and melons.  Fruit trees were grown in the orchard such as pears, apples and cherries, figs and grapes for wine. Whatever else that was lacking was purchased.

 The herbularis or physic garden grew, among others, sage, rue, aloe, rosemary, southernwood, poppy, mint and pennyroyal, parsley, gladioli and marigolds. The infermaress took care of the ailing nuns and was able to make salves, potions, ointments, and pills. Women were not allowed to be physicians and so a male doctor was always brought in when a nun needed greater care. 

The sacrist was in charge of the care of the chapel and flowers were frequently used as offerings and adornment. Flowers grown for the church included roses, lilies, asters, primroses, violets, carnations, marigolds and many others.

The life of the nun is extremely interesting. I would love to keep writing about their lifestyle but instead I will tell you about three nuns from different time periods in part 2 of  The Garden in a Nunnery.

Get thee to a nunn'ry, why woulds't thou be a breeder of

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Hortus Conclusus

I am continuing the theme of the Virgin Mary and the garden because I feel that the idea of the hortus conclusus should not be left out.

The hortus conclusus is a particular type of enclosed garden in the sense that it is tied symbolically to the Virgin Mary. While the hortus conclusus takes the form of a garden in Medieval and Renaissance art it is actually a representation of the Virgin Mary. And yet many of its actual physical attributes are taken from even earlier centuries of garden making. When we look far back to the earliest Oriental gardens of Persia, Egypt, Babylon and Mesopotamia we see walled gardens filled with fruit trees, flowers, water and places to sit. Medieval Europe took these traditions and transformed them to their ways and will.

After the fall of Rome, medieval Europe (500-1500 AD) was a place of transition. It was a time when kings were fighting wars against other rival kings and a time of crusades. Castles and monasteries were built high on hills or mountains and walls were erected to protect against invaders. Erecting barriers became part of the  psyche with the result that virtually all gardens were protected not only against invading armies but also against thieves and marauding livestock.  Monasteries also followed this layout and it is known as the cloister (from Latin  claustrum, "enclosure"). With the number of monasteries at their highest during the medieval period it is significant that the origin of the cult of the virgin and the increase of devotion to Mary may have spurred the revival of the idea of the hortus conclusus

Note Eve with the Tree of Life in the center

"Hortus conclusus soror mea, sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus"

"A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up"

These now famous lines are from the Song of Solomon. Written by King Solomon as a nuptial song for his bride, and quite the sexy one at that, it is a dialogue between bride and bridegroom using the garden as metaphor. In Europe, during the medieval times the main religion was Christianity and they believed the Song of Solomon to be an allegory of the union between the church and Christ. Other religions have found their own interpretations or allegories in the poem. Often, though, the allegory is, the lover is God, the beloved is the Virgin Mary. 

Purity, or the pure woman, is what it seems to distill down to. In paintings of the Virgin Mary it is she that symbolizes purity surrounded by her chastity belt or the wall. The garden is of no actual import other than perhaps from a religious view as a paradise, and one she can not leave.
For the medieval woman the enclosed garden was designed to be her chastity belt. Purity of the bloodlines was a great concern for the medieval husband. When kings and lords left home to go to battle they wanted to feel assured that upon their return their queen or wife remained inaccessible to rapists or even suitors, and shut their women up as tightly as they could. In this way, she could enjoy the outdoors and all that nature offers in the confines of the garden and remain pure in the eyes of her father or husband. As for the suitors, that is another story.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Flora, Goddess of Flowers

OK, so she is not a real person but Flora certainly had an influence in early Greek and Roman societies and later in the art world. But already I must partially retract the words that Flora was not a real person, because there seems to be some disagreement on this point. The Romans said that Flora was a woman of pleasure, wealthy due to her trade, and left her wealth to the Roman senate on the proviso that the money was used to celebrate her birthday. The seemingly embarrassed senators agreed to this donation (could it be because they were clients?), gave Flora the title of goddess and thereafter held the Floralia on her birthday.
True or not it makes a great story.

Flora is the Roman goddess of flowers but at one time also over fruit trees, vines and cereals. Her name comes from the Latin floris, meaning flower and her season is that of spring. It is known that Flora was honoured by the Sabines an old Italic tribe of the Appennines before the founding of Rome. The Italic people celebrated her as a fertility goddess. It is also known that a statue of Flora existed in Greece where she was worshiped (and known as Chloris), prior to the time of Roman worship. It was believed Flora could avert rust, a fungal disease of plants that causes orange growths the colour of iron, that is a particular problem for wheat.

The Floralia was a public religious festival to honour the goodwill of Flora. Created in the 6th century BC by the Romans, it took place in spring and lasted six days, the last three days of April and the first three days of May. The festival consisted of games and theatrical performances. Chariot races and circus games took place and everywhere were the symbols of Flora. It was traditional to have goats and hares running around. As well, flowers of lupines, bean flowers and vetch were scattered about. The Romans walked around holding bouquets of flowers or wore wreaths of flowers around their neck or in their hair. The theatrical performances were known to be 'lewd' or 'bawdy' and it was not at all unusual for prostitutes (who were devoted to Flora) to remove their clothing when called upon. It looked to be quite the wild party.

From Roman times through to the Renaissance Flora became equally known for her ties to the natural world as for her ties to prostitution and lewd self display. In paintings she would be portrayed either as the goddess of spring surrounded by plants and flowers with the emphasis on nature and abundance, or in contrast, an emphasis on nutrition, reproduction, and a recreational paradise.

Today her name is used botanically. By the eighteenth century the goddess of flowers metamorphosed into a scientific term. 'Flora' no longer represents flowers but "the plants of a particular region or period, listed by species and considered as a whole." (see dictionary) Kind of sad.

If you are interested in one of Flora's counterparts check out my post on Pomona, the goddess of fruiting trees and orchards here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mary Garden

 The Medieval period in Europe was an interesting but bumpy time for women. Women were viewed as the instrument of evil, an attitude encouraged by the church. They were subservient to men and led degraded lives. There existed anti -feminist literature and the fabliaux, which are rhymed verses that spoke of contempt for women and their deceit.
In the early twelfth and thirteenth centuries this attitude began to change. Part was due to the introduction of the chivalric code of honour. The cult of chivalry, or courtly love, existed only among the nobility. The gentlewoman who looked for love or romance outside of marriage found it with the chivalric knight's attention. Women of nobility enjoyed great attention, were deferred to and paid homage to. 

A typical hortus conclusus

The Cult of the Virgin further enhanced the concept of woman. Pilgrimages to shrines of the Virgin Mary were widespread. Shrines were dedicated to her, flowers named after her and Lady Chapels were established in churches. Due in part to this Cult of the Virgin women slowly enjoyed  a position of greater esteem in man's eyes.
The Mary Garden came about in the late Middle ages. Increased interest in the Virgin Mary took place in the 15th century primarily due to the Rosary Movement in Germany. The movement spread throughout German speaking areas and into Italy. The Mary Garden was most likely inspired by the monastery's cloister, a walled garden with a fountain or well in the center. The flowers grown in this garden took on a symbolism to represent the qualities of the Virgin Mary. The primary flowers are the rose (martyrdom), the lily (purity) and the violet (humility). Over time many more flowers became associated with Mary or were named after her, some which may be familiar to you such as Mary's Gold, Madonna's Herb, Our Lady's Delight. 

The Virgin and Child in the hortus conclusus by Stefano da Verona c1410

These attributes to Mary show up in paintings during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Virgin Mary is sitting in an enclosed garden or hortus conclusus, which symbolizes the chastity belt. Most times she is sitting on the ground amongst the flowers with the Christ child and angels playing musical instruments. Often there is a unicorn which represents the mystical hunt, an allegory of the Incarnation. The fountain in the garden symbolizes the Virgin's purity and abundant giving. 
Mary Gardens are still grown today. Sometimes they are found in church gardens but mostly they are made for personal use. Instead of the fountain or well a statue of the Virgin Mary is the focal point in the garden.

Mary on a Rose Bench - note the violets and lily of the valley