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.

My name is Charles Heinrich, and the goal of my internship this fall, 2012, is two-fold:

  1. Compile a body of research regarding the constitution and organization of medieval vegetable and domestic gardens, synthesizing these findings into Loyola University's Medieval Studies webpage, allowing for future reference in regards to the university's Medieval Garden.
  2. Restore the garden to a productive state, and focus efforts on a replanting in the spring of 2013. 

Compared to the state of the garden, task #1 seems quite easy!

For reference, here is an image of the garden taken a two years ago:

Notice the neatness and pleasing geometric design. Notice too your blogger extraordinaire at top surveying the scene.

And now, courtesy of a truly awful digital camera that I had purchased from the local CVS, a more current look at the garden:

This might seem to you an Impressionistic painting a la Monet. Rather, it is the photo taken from a camera costing too much money. 
Lovers of photography will be relieved to know that I returned that camera for a full refund after giving me such a crop of photos. Lovers of bad jokes will appreciate the pun.

The point remains, though, that the garden has been totally overgrown, and is in desperate need of cleaning and attention.

However, this is not so much a trial for me as much as it is a golden opportunity. With the research I will be conducting, I will be able to give future Loyolans the opportunity to properly tend and care for the garden, planting authentic medieval plants, flowers, and vegetables.

I will be looking at a variety of medieval sources to help me with this task, though the document I am most excited to start looking into now is the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis (trans. "On the Management of Estates"). I had done some prior research regarding the economic effects and influences of the Capitulare, but this time I will be returning to the document looking more closely at its prescriptions for farming. I have many more potential sources lined up that I will be sharing with my captive audience in the coming weeks.

The old man and I share the same overwhelming awe at the wealth of knowledge laid before us.
As a final note, some readers might be wondering, among other things, how research into gardening matters in the grand scheme of things. I am only all too aware of the reactions of my friends and colleagues when I tell them my internship project!

As I grow older, I find certain subjects of history deserve more than just a passing glance. The domestic sphere is often passed by in favor for more exciting events. The purpose of this blog and accompanying work is to show its readers an aspect of life not often covered in our popular conceptions of the Middle Ages. Horticulture and domestic agriculture - what people ate what they grew - was as much a part of peoples' lives back then as it is for us now. Uncovering the links we share with people before us has always been one of my great joys as a student of history, and I hope that my work will let you all appreciate another  aspect of medieval life as well. Connections with real people who lived before us, as well as the rediscovery of methods, techniques, and ideas that can enrich our own lives. That, to me, is the one of the great values of studying history.

With that being said, it's back to gardening!

Next week, we shall reap the first early harvests of my research, begin to plant crops for this final stretch of the growing season.

For all interested, 3:00pm on Fridays are the days in which Dr. Gross-Diaz and I do our main stints of gardening, so if you would love to join in our medieval horticultural adventure, stop on by!

Till then,
-Charles Heinrich


  1. Be very careful about where you plant Wormwood ...I have just spent the whole afternoon heaving it out of an overgrown herb garden ( after a year and a half of not being able to tend to the garden due to illness ) It can turn into quite a thug ! By the way I have just spent a pleasant evening reading everything in your amazing journal ! Absolutely brilliant ! : )