Caleb Leech is the managing horticulturist at The Cloisters museum and gardens.
Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015
This fall, several of my colleagues shared tales from their summer travels. My summer adventures took me to paradise. Well, paradise from a medieval perspective. I traveled to Kerala, a coastal state on the southwest tip of India. Kerala is known as the land of spices because of its role as a major producer and exporter of spices for thousands of years.
Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is described as an annual weed that thrives on wastelands, roadsides, and neglected fields, and it is most famously associated with battlefields. As a denizen of disturbed lands, the poppy was one of the first and most striking colonizers of a trampled and scarred landscape. Its luminescent red flowers symbolize the blood of the fallen and serve as a reminder of the beauty of life amidst the devastation of war. Dubbed Flanders, or remembrance, poppy, the corn poppy is a symbol of the First World War in contemporary culture.
Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2015
For those who appreciate its tart flavor, rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a quintessential early summer treat. Stewed with strawberries, infused in summer spritzers, or preserved in jams and chutneys, this vegetable is one of the "fruits" of the season.
Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2015
The winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) has just revealed its cheerful, yellow blooms. Most years, winter aconite is one of the earliest winter-blooming bulbs, appearing in January and February, but this year's cold temperatures have delayed its arrival.
Posted: Friday, March 13, 2015
Although the vernal equinox is mere days away, this week is our first taste of spring. For most people, the start of spring is a celebrated event that signals longer days and warmer temperatures. In medieval Europe, spring was considered a highly auspicious time; in many parts of Western Europe, it marked the beginning of a new year and included one of the most important occasions, the Feast of the Annunciation (see "Lady Day" [March 25, 2011] on The Medieval Garden Enclosed).
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015
The details that artists choose to embellish in their works offer a small glimpse into what they value. Such is the case with the Gerard David (ca. 1455–1523) painting The Nativity with Donors and Saints Jerome and Leonard, shown above. I examined this Nativity scene in the course of my research on the important plant stuffs associated with the medieval Christmastide feast. In this case, the sheaf of wheat as a symbol of the Eucharist was the object of my attention, but what piqued my curiosity was the variety of flora illustrated in the cracks of the walls.
Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2014
But if you let the gourd stay
Enjoying the summer sun on its parent tree and only
set your blade to it late in the year, then after scooping
the flesh from its ponderous belly and shaving the sides
on a nimble lathe, you can put it to practical use as a vessel.
A pint this mighty paunch will sometimes hold, sometimes half a gallon or more; and if you seal your jar with gummy pitch it will keep wine good for many a day.
Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2014
The gardens are abuzz with activity as autumn settles upon us, and sporadic blazes of fall color across the Hudson River herald the season. To some, the onset of cooler temperatures is cause for despair. Others welcome the respite from hot summer days. What many of us share in common, though, is a renewed awareness of the natural world. It is a poignant time.
Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2014
A midsummer storm sweeping off the Hudson River and lashing the buttresses of The Cloisters is a dramatic sight. Perched on a rocky outcrop with sweeping views across the river to the still-unspoiled Palisades, there is little shelter from the winds that batter the walls. This summer, we decided to strengthen our defenses against the gales and lightning with a little bit of medieval protection.
Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2014
In the Middle Ages, the diet of the wealthy, while plentiful, was nutritionally bereft compared to that of the common people. Those with the means feasted on meat seasoned with exotic and costly spices and wheat bread. The lighter and fresher the bread, the higher one's station in life. High-protein, low-gluten rye bread made from rye (Secale cereale) was fit only for the lowest. Rye was considered such humble food that Carthusian monks would take as a penance a hard tort made of the poorest-quality rye to symbolize their station in life as "Christ's beggars" (Henisch, 158); it was considered second rate to wheat and barley. Nonetheless, and despite its inauspicious beginnings, rye went from minor cultivation in the early Middle Ages to a staple food of temperate Europe in the ensuing centuries.