Caleb Leech is the managing horticulturist at The Cloisters museum and gardens.
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.
Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014
Of all plants, those that climb are the most evocative of a garden's bucolic and idyllic setting. In the Middle Ages, artists and artisans took inspiration from climbing plants, as evidenced throughout the collections of The Cloisters. From the vines carved on capitals to the gilded margins of medieval manuscripts, vining and climbing plants are a recurring motif in medieval art.
Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014
As I sat down to write a post to introduce myself, I began to pursue a topic that had been forming in my mind the week I accepted the position as managing horticulturist here at The Cloisters museum and gardens: the spread of horticultural knowledge and plants throughout medieval Europe. There is ample evidence of a thriving nursery trade and seed exchange at this point in time. Horticultural techniques and knowledge, primarily passed down orally, proliferated in monasteries. These solitary communities served as repositories of learning, safeguarding, and practicing the science and art of horticulture.