Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Superb Article about the Tacuinum Sanitatis manuscripts

The Curcurbitaceae and Solanaceae illustrated in medieval manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis, by Harry S Paris, Marie-Christine Daunay and Jules Janick is an excellent article about the cucumbers, melons, eggplants and mandrake images from this medieval manuscript.  The authors have sifted through 14 of the surviving copies of this manuscript, settling on six as bein architypal, and analysing the images for botanical accuracy and typology, and comparing and contrasting the variations between different copies of the manuscript. 
     This article is highly recommended for anyone iterested in growing these plants in a medieval garden context, as they have very specific information regarding types and variants of the fruits in question (and they address inconsistencies of the artworks as well)
    Among the represented plants are Cucumis sativus, short-fruited cucumber; Cucumis melo, Chate Group, Inodorous Group (casaba melon), Flexuosus Group (snake melon), Adana Group; Citrullus lanatus, watermelon; Citrullus lanatus, citron; Lagenaria siceraria, calabash, bottle gourd; Solanum melongena, aubergine (eggplant); Mandragora sp., mandrake.

This was published in the Annals of Botany 103: 1187-1205, 2009 which is available online at  and I thank Loren Mendelsohn for pointing me to this article.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The trouble with names: Service

Names of plants has been an issue forever.  Linneaus' attempts to codify all the known plants was a herculean effort, and is the basis of modern Latin naming conventions, and yet it still does not alleviate disagreement on what plant is what.  In medieval gardening this is compounded by the passage of several hundred years, and various languages and dialects. 

For instance, in the Bountiful Gardens catalog there is a shrub called Serviceberry.  Ha!  great, thought I.  i'll get me some of that!  They had service in period, the romans speak of it, Charlemagne listed it in his Capitulare, i wonder what it tastes like...


the serviceberry they are offering is Amelachier alnifolia.  Common consensus among garden scholars is that the medieval service was Sorbus domestica.   Amelachier alnifolia, also called Saskatoon serviceberry, is native to north america and is a shrub or small tree.  Here is the USDA profile for it:

Sorbus domestica is a tree, up to about 50' tall, and it's fruits are significantly different from the saskatoon. ttp://


if you're looking for the service mentioned in the plan of St Gall, then you'd need the Sorbus domestica, pictured here:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Charentais - old french melon

My first attempt with these was in 2010 and while the seeds did sprout, conditions here were not to the likeing of these vines and so success was completely avoided.  However I tried again this passed season, with greater luck, and behold the fruits of that labor!  Conditions were still not optimal, and I am quite sure they weren't fully ripe.  The flavor of these is rumored to be exquisite, and these were a bit flat.  But they are small and round, perfect for two.

As to the age of this particular variety, I have no firm information at this time.  Seed catalogs aer often.. createive.. in what they say about a variety to entice buyers, so I don't place a lot of stock in what they say.  This coming year i'm looking at this and also the petit gris de rennes, which is also an 'old' variety.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year

This morn we had a light dusting of snow, and though we didn't get above 28 it was quickly gone.  I did not get home in time to check the plot on account of the dark.  A neighbor of mine has a weatherstation which posts the current info (temp, wind, pressure, precipitation)  and the USGS posts info about the river flow rates and flood stage which is nice (thanks, taxpayers)  So I can keep an eye on things from any internet connection.  Hardly a 'period' method, but until the land can work for me, I must work for it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Naming difficulties Walwort

So i'm looking at plant lists from Jon Gardener, both an early work by Alicia Amherst, but also a list by John Harvey.  For a plant which Jon names Walwort, Alicia Amherst says that this is Sedum acre, but John Harvey lists wallwort as being Sambucus ebulus.

So, Sambucus ebulus is
Danewort (Sambucus ebulus), also known as Dane Weed, Danesblood, Dwarf Elder or European Dwarf Elder and Walewort[1] is a herbaceous species of elder, native to southern and central Europe and southwest Asia. It grows to 1-2 m tall, with erect, usually unbranched stems growing in large groups from an extensive perennial underground rhizome. The leaves are opposite, pinnate, 15-30 cm long, with 5-9 leaflets with a foetid smell. The stems terminate in a corymb 10-15 cm diameter with numerous white (occasionally pink) flowers. The fruit is a small glossy black berry 5-6 mm diameter. The ripe fruit give out a purple juice.[1]
The name Danewort comes from the belief that it only grows on the sites of battles that involved the Danes.[1] The term 'Walewort' or 'Walwort' meant 'foreigner plant.' The plant's stems and leaves turn red in autumn and this may explain the link with blood. The word Dane may link to an old term for diarrhoea

This is very obviously not sedum acre
Sedum acre, commonly known as the Goldmoss Stonecrop, Goldmoss Sedum, Biting Stonecrop, Wallpepper, and the picturesque name Welcome home husband though never so drunk, is a perennial plant native to Europe, but also naturalised in North America. This plant grows as a creeping ground cover, often in dry sandy soil, but also in the cracks of masonry. It grows well in poor soils, sand, rock gardens, and rich garden soil, under a variety of light levels. However, it does not thrive in dense shade with limited water.
The leaves are simple, smooth-margined, and succulent. The flowers are yellow, Spring-blooming, in sprays held above the foliage.

Being that all I have currently is a list of names, without additional context how can I discern which plant Jon Gardner meant?

Initial Post

Well the seed catalogs have started arriving, and it is just too cold and wet out there to really accomplish anything, so i found myself in the house at the computer.  Looking at the blog of Peter Follansbee, joyner from Plimoth Plantation, which i do enjoy reading occasionally, was the inspiration for this.  I hope my posts will be as coherent and informative as his.