Friday, December 14, 2012

Garden Haul! or: The End of the Beginning, Part 1

Well, with the year and semester being over, we begin to hunker down for the cold months that await us. As the lake freezes and the soil sounds crunchy beneath our feat, we turn now to Loyola's Medieval Garden? 

Just how did she fair this fall? Well, there's an old saying: If at first you don't succeed, redefine success! I kid, I kid. But the semester has had its ups and its downs, for sure. First, I think I need to reiterate just how I found the garden:

Though the image quality is dreadful, you can see the overgrowth and the lack of order. Fennel, Pseudo-Hyssop, Creeping Charlie, Crabgrass and thistles were allowed to run rampant over the entire garden. Some of that is still present, I'm afraid, but through hard work a lot has been accomplished. 

The pansies added in September. Much to our dismay, rabbits loved pansies and not in the good way. 

My friend and graduate student Hector Escobar tilling the soil. In December. Odd weather we've been having.

The harvest was not plenty but the workers were indeed few.

The man of action himself. Take note, readers on how a man disposes of chaff. 
With some photos explaining our progress over the semester, it's time you folks found out just what we were able to pull out of the garden.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Charlemange and the Capitulare de Villis: "So that none might be reduced to poverty"

Charlemagne (or Karolus Magnus) was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800 AD by Pope Leo III. The next (and last) 14 years of Charlemagne's life were completely devoted to establishing his family's hold over his vast empire, and solidifying Christianity in the West against the various bands of pagans that constituted the disparate political landscape.

Not only did the emperor seek to revive arts and learning (his efforts resulted in what we now call the "Carolingian Renaissance"), he sought to revive the economy as well. One of the more famous documents to come out of this period was Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis, or On the Management of Estates.

In this early, chaotic period of the Middle Ages, Charlemagne hoped to revive what he saw as a more stable, Roman villa-based economy. The document lays out Charlemagne's and his court's plans for proper estate management and productivity levels, with these stated goals:

It is our wish that those of our estates which we have established to minister to our needs shall serve our purposes entirely and not those of other men. 
That all our people shall be well looked after, and shall not be reduced to penury by anyone.

The entirety of the Capitulare de Villis can be found here, and in English!

9th-century manuscript depicting the event. The king himself said that the crowning was a surprise, but I surmise that it was awfully hard for the pope to hide a big, jeweled crown and sneak up on a kneeling man without anyone noticing. 

The Peasant Economy Part 2: Gardens

A major problem in garden research (at least, that I have found) is that generally, as garden knowledge was so common-place and not considered a real "science" of sorts, most horticultural knowledge was passed down orally; at least, it was almost never written down. I assume it's the same with riding a bicycle - no one buys a book on how to ride a bicycle; everyone just teaches their children (and so on) how to do it. Reflect on future generations, who will ponder just what those strange, two-wheeled contraptions are!

What in God's name... (Here's to hoping that these get popular again one day)

Nonetheless, gardens and gardening are not entirely absent from medieval literature (as previous posts have shown) - and not just in the figurative and literary sense. Gardens and information regarding their care show up in deeds, charter, surveys, manorial or household accounts, and wills.[1]

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Labyrinth COMPLETED!

After two months of hard work and the generous support of volunteers, I can proudly say that Loyola University's Medieval Labyrinth is finally fully restored, and then some!

Click below to see more of the excellent additions!

Cosimo's Garden: Fit for a Prince

Cosimo d'Medici assumed control of the Florentine Republic in 1415, and started the famous Medici dynasty that would control much of Italy and influence Europe for much afterward. His immense wealth meant that he controlled all political offices in Florence - Pope Pius II said of Cosimo that "he is king in all but name."

Much like Augustus Caesar when he assumed the role of first emperor of the Roman Empire, Cosimo had to balance two images during his reign - that of the good republican, and that of the noble prince worthy of meeting with other princes and rulers on equal terms.

What is interesting for our purposes is how the garden of Cosimo in the Palazzo Medici served both to highlight Cosimo's civilian origins and princely bearing.

Cosimo d'Medici, pictured here frustrated that his son's nickname"the Gouty" had caught on.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Expressive Landscaping

I hope all readers of this blog had a happy Thanksgiving - I certainly did, and enjoying time with the family is never something to be passed up.


Robert Liddiard, in his article "Medieval-Designed Landscapes: Problems and Possibilities," says that until recently, historians of landscapes have disregarded medieval gardens in favor of the "developments" and "progress" displayed by post-medieval landscaping and horticulture. Specifically, he says:

"The suggestion that medieval men and women did not, or could not, conceive of the countryside in anything other than functional terms remained influential in writing on high-status landscapes for many decades; the scattered nature of landholding, attitudes to private property, and a perceived lack of appropriate sensibilities all ensured that 'the aesthetic manipulation of the countryside was not to begin until after the close of the Middle Ages (Williamson 1988, 261)'"[1]

The line "perceived lack of appropriate sensibilities" caught my eye, as I feel it more or less typifies the academic and popular attitude towards the Middle Ages as a whole. Whether it is gardening, or science, philosophy, or art, medieval Europe is given the short-end of the stick in popular imaginings - nowhere is this more evident in the terminology of "the Dark Ages." What was nothing more than a smug declaration of superiority bycontinental Enlightenment thinkers has curiously maintained itself in public vocabulary despite numerous, efficacious challenges to its veracity. People are only now rediscovering Peter of Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and [to bring things back on track] the nuanced way medieval society viewed the world in which they lived. Particularly through landscaping and horticulture!

While never truly forgotten in the Roman Catholic Church, Scotus has for a long time been ignored in the secular academic world.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Monk's Mood Pt. 2: The Wonder of Numbers in Strabo's Hortulus

Walafrihd Strabo (his surname means literally "the Squinter"[1]) was a Frankish monk living in the Carolingian period. While occasionally embroiling himself in the politics of the day (ie, the final dissolution of the Carolingian Empire), he is best known as a poet and writer of several diverse subjects. His most famous work is the Hortulus, lit. "The Little Garden," a poem about Strabo's own garden that he cultivates with his own hands. The Hortulus is interesting in many respects, but one in particular, teased out by Wim Verball in the article "The Arithmetic of Poetry: The Poetry of Numbers in Walahfrid Strabo's Hortulus" caught my eye. It gives insight not only into the poetic mastery of Latin verse that Strabo displayed in his writing career, but also more of the symbolic importance that gardens had in the monastic community in the Middle Ages.

Walahfrid Strabo

Monday, October 22, 2012

Labyrinth Renewal! Colorful Opportunities for Those Who Volunteer!

First off, I have to show a special thanks to all the volunteers that have shown up this last week to work on Loyola's Medieval Labyrinth! I have to thank the people who showed up today - Bobby, Punam, my sister, Eloise, and grad students Michael and Karen, as well as Dr. Gross Diaz - for putting in as much as six hours (!) painting the labyrinth today. I think the work speaks for itself.

This week saw the first major effort at repainting the labyrinth, with stunning results. Most of the labyrinth's yellow paths have been touched up and restored, and several formal illuminations have been restored as well, or are in the process of being restored. Some entirely new animals have taken up new homes in the labyrinth, adding a distinctive look and feel to the composition.
A vibrant scene of Barnacle-Geese as envisioned by Eloise.

What a matter! My poor fishy fares poorly against such magnificent displays of artistic prowess!

A stunning Celtic-style Elk made by Loyola History Graduate student, Karen. Fantastic!
I like thinking that because of the touch-ups necessary over the years, the labyrinth becomes a living, breathing structure - every generation of Loyola students will have their own vision for the labyrinth, and add their own animals accordingly. I myself really love exotic-looking fish and marine wildlife, so that is what I'm focusing on, but the wide array of styles on display make for a great discussion piece in and of itself.

Before Restoration.

Now he looks like he is about to splash out of the concrete.

Beautifully restored by freshman Punam.

Dr. Gross-Diaz painstakingly restored the gorgeous background, and the griffon, too!

Michael was one of the original labyrinth painters, and his bagpipe-playing cat was a  crowd favorite. Fortune would have him stop by to volunteer and restore his original piece!
Dr. Gross-Diaz provided some wonderful links to medieval bestiaries. If you would like to see some beautiful medieval depictions of nature, these two places have you covered:
The Aberdeen Bestiary
The Medieval Bestiary Project

Some images taken from them:
Sawfish were fish that loved to race against ships using their wings. 

They said no man could catch the antelope. One man set out to prove them wrong. Dead wrong.

Beautiful illuminated initial containing a delightful bunch of ducks. I love the added detail of the differing colors. 

The noble heron, wisest of all birds.

There is still time to get involved, if you contact Dr. Gross-Diaz at, or me at We still have spaces that need restoration, as well as spots that need all-new animals, on top of working on the border encircling the winding paths of the labyrinth. Those who are interested, want some hands-on medieval action, or are just looking for some plain ol' fun, contact us!

Strabo's Hortulus will be posted tomorrow, if only to give some breathing-room for this labyrinth-specific post. Sorry for the delay, garden-lovers!

A thing to ponder on, though:

I have been reading more and more that gardens were used not only as utilitarian means of food production, but medieval people genuinely took pleasure and delight in gardens. Anyone who has visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens would definitely know the same feeling. I believe this applies to our own lakeshore garden and labyrinth as well. While seemingly invisible to the students on campus, I think the garden's presence does more than a mere grassy knoll could do, and adds a splash of beauty to lakeshore life. Often, city life is dominated by grays and concretes, so being surrounded by a colorful and vibrant backdrop is therapeutic, I feel.

Here's hoping that my readers will get the chance to come over to the Crown Center and see this little bit of "Paradise" for yourselves!

-Charles Heinrich

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monk's Mood [about Gardening]: Some monastic perspectives on the purpose of gardens [part 1]



This can be you.

Today I'd like to delve a bit into some monastic writings pertaining to gardens and gardening. As a general precursor to this blog post, I think it is good to remember that texts are more than what they tell you. As will become clear throughout this blog, what historical texts imply are often just as important as what they outright say. In our case, texts talking about gardens are more than just garden-variety texts(1). The two monastic views on gardens I will be using here, one from the 9th-century monk Walahfrid Strabo's Hortulus, and the other from Pope Gregory the Great's Dialogues, will illustrate some important ways in which both these men (and monks!) viewed the world.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Sorry for the lack of updates for these last two weeks, everyone. Things have a way of becoming busy, unexpectedly and rapidly! Entering in Loyola's Campus Movie Fest competition was definitely a trying experience, for what might be very little payoff - but hey, I had fun! To make up for the drought of garden-related information you've all had to suffer through, this week will have two blog entries.

It's time to return to the garden!

The seeds we had planted continue to grow, as the sprouts pop through the earth eager for sunlight and water.
Here, our lively kale continues its journey from the seed, to sprout, to eventual side on a dinner plate .

More kale, with lettuce as well. I'm rooting for these guys.
We also have planted some more pansies in the heraldic garden, but a recurring problem seems to center around the fact that rabbits find pansy flowers delicious, negating the desired color effect of the garden. We are looking into possible solutions that include but are not limited to multiple counts of head trauma.
I'm here to plant pansies and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of gum.
A few people have contacted me about setting up possible volunteering dates. First, I thank everyone who has shown interest in the project. Work on the garden is made much easier thanks to your support, curiosity, and interest!

Secondly, I will be doing some major garden cleaning this Friday at 3:00pm. Anyone interested is more than welcome to join. We will be clearing several portions of the garden of weeds and unwanted plants, preparing them for the spring planting. Walk-ins Welcome! 

Please contact me at or Dr. Theresa Gross-Diaz ( for more information regarding dates for garden work.

But I'm sure you didn't come reading this page just to hear me talk about my garden. You came here because you wanted to know that a medieval way of successfully planting leeks involved wrapping the seed in a damp cloth before depositing them into the ground, didn't you?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Churning the Earth: Digging for Weeds, Seeds, and Sources

Greetings, friends, historians, gardeners, and passers-by!

I am happy to report that a lot has happened following my introductory blogpost. Thanks to the hard work and gracious sacrifice of free time from several volunteers, not least of which Dr. Theresa Gross-Diaz of Loyola's History Department, the Medieval Garden is truly starting to shape up in some very noticeable ways. Visitors walking along the lake-shore path will notice a significant portion of overgrowth has been removed (after hours upon hours of effort!), and the garden is starting to look like an actual garden once more!

This fearsome fellow is the gargoyle who protects the garden. Previous to this shot he had been utterly consumed by an equally fearsome outbreak of fennel. Now he he stands proudly over newly-planted pansies and scares away the weak-hearted. Legend has it that the gargoyle curses those who defile his garden with thousands of dollars in student loans.

Rest assured, a week ago this was nothing but a patch of ground thistles and Creeping Charlie (no relation!). After a vigorous weeding, the only creep left was me. Can't win 'em all.
The weeding in particular was aided by a recent graduate of Loyola, Stefan. Stefan, when still an undergraduate, had actually created the original iteration of the Medieval Garden as part of the History Internship program my freshman year. I was very thankful that he could spend some time and effort helping me continue his original project.

The harvest is great but the laborers are few.

Oregano to spice up our garden.

A bee enjoys the fruit of our labors.

I pose for a photo-op with the sole melon of our melon patch. I think I'll call him Harvey.

We have planted what will probably be our first (and last) crop for the year: a good amount of Swiss chard, kale, radishes, beets, turnips, coriander (which will grow into cilantro), as well as the carrots, green onions, and the indomitable chives that had grown in the garden despite the infestation. If we are lucky, we will be able to harvest these plants later in the fall, and perhaps sell them in the Loyola Farmer's Market (we're still working on that!).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Garden: Beginning the Reclamation

I began my work restoring Loyola University's Medieval Garden on a warm Friday afternoon. The breeze was slight, giving the sun free reign to beat down on my brow. The lack of wind also gave the myriad flies buzzing around the garden ample opportunity to feast on my legs and arms, sorely testing my patience and resolve.

During that feasting of the flies, I was constantly (and painfully) reminded of a small blurb recounting the medieval equivalent of bug-spray:

"Whoever will pound wormwood with vinegar and anoint himself therewith, he does not dread gnats or flies."     
-Macer, Wermode; found on Wyrtig, a fantastic medieval gardening website.

I can tell you now that I am heavily weighing the option of planting some wormwood on site for future encounters. 

I was soon joined by Dr. Theresa Gross-Diaz, co-director of the university's Medieval Studies program, and  the driving force behind the garden's creation my freshman year at LUC. Soon after, a random student passing by, named Alan, offered to join us as well. Considering the scope of my undertaking, I was (and am) glad for any help I receive. With the help of Dr. Gross-Diaz and the student volunteer Alan, the first patch of garden had been taken back from the excess onslaught of overgrowth afflicting it.