Monday, October 24, 2011

A quick visit to the Medicinal Herb Garden at The Cloisters

The medicinal herb garden at The Cloisters in New York City.
Copyright SHD 2011
A cloister (from Latin claustrum, "enclosure") is a rectangular open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth (yard). The attachment of a cloister to a cathedral or church, commonly against a warm southern flank, usually indicates that it is (or once was) part of a monastic foundation. According to Walter Horn the cloister formed a continuous and solid architectural barrier... "that effectively separates the world of the monks from that of the serfs and workmen, whose lives and works went on outside and around the cloister."

Cloister from Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa
The Cloisters, NYC   copyright SHD 2011

The Cloisters museum and gardens in New York City is a branch of the Metropolican Museum of Art, located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan.  

Located in a beautiful four-acre setting overlooking the Hudson River, The Cloisters was assembled from architectural elements from five medieval cloisters that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century—Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-D├ęsert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville—and from other monastic sites located in southern France.
Three of the cloisters feature gardens that were planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals.

Cloister from Bonnefont-en-Comminges
The Cloisters, NYC copyright SHD 2011
I visited the Cloisters' gardens on September 13, 2011, to check out the plants in their medicinal herb garden.  It is one of the most unique places I've ever experienced, I felt like I'd gone back in time.  It is a marvelous place to visit and wander, very authentic and romantic, if you have even the least bit interest in medieval history, and you can't get to Europe, this is the place to see.

(And don't let the entrance fee of $25 deter you, the Met has a "pay what you can afford" policy.  Plus, entrance into either the Cloisters or The Met, gets you into the other for no extra charge. When I told the staffer that I was unemployed, and offered to pay only five dollars, he suggested that I could pay as little as one dollar.  That helped me even more and allowed me to buy lunch and a few items in the gift shop.)

copyright SHD 2011
Take the A train to 190th street subway station, use  the elevator to reach the surface and then turn to your right (north).  An easy 20 minute walk along a flower strewn path will bring you to the Cloisters, or wait for the M4 bus which lets you off in one stop. 

The walk is worth the effort, as the flowers and plants along the path are all derived from the medieval artworks contained in the Cloisters. Take the path and you will feel like you are beginning your travel back in time, and in a very short while you will come upon the ancient looking Monastery at the top of a hill.

The Cloisters, NYC, copyright SHD 2011
The medicinal herb garden at the Cloisters had many plants familiar to most gardeners and a few that were not so familar.  I will be doing articles on them soon.  One interesting plant that I noticed at the Cloisters was "Pellitory-of-the-Wall" (Parietaria officinalis), also known as Lichwort.  They also had Valerian, Betony, Horehound, Clary Sage, Agrimony, Nightshade, Wormwood and Mandrake.

copyright SHD 2011

Resources include: 
The Cloisters at The Metropolican Museum of Art
Walter Horn, "On the Origins of the Medieval Cloister"