National Geographic : 1947 Jul
From Medieval European Gardens THE far-flung empire of the Caesars had at last crumbled and the pax Romana was a thing of the past. Political and eco nomic chaos reigned in much of the then civi lized world. Brigandage was rife. The com mon folk deserted their farms and crowded their cottages beneath the overhanging battle ments of the great fortified castles to be near protection in case of raids. The Dark Ages descended upon Europe. During the constant turmoils and alarms many of the vegetables and flowers previously intro duced by the Romans were lost and, having no access to the gardens of the outside world, the people of medieval Europe turned to the plants of their own woods and pastures as a source of garden materials. The first of these "garden introductions," such as the daisy, primrose, pansy, and bell flower, were purely accidental, probably hav ing come in as weeds or been brought in with the turf used to construct rude seats beside the castle walls. One of these turf seats is shown in the accompanying picture. Sometimes the roots of a cherished fruit tree or flowering shrub were protected from the trampling hoofs of the horses by wickerwork. Amid the noisome odors and insanitary sur roundings of a medieval castle courtyard these flowers cast a welcome fragrance and brought a note of gaiety and freshness to an otherwise drab scene. Although they had not heard of nutritional deficiencies, these peoples early learned the value of green material in the diet. Many of the wild herbs, as the pot marigold, also had colorful flowers and found their way into the early castle gardens where for a long time they did double duty, furnishing both beauty and vitamins. A haunch of venison seasoned with marigold and mint, together with a stew of roses and primroses, and garnished with a chopped salad of wild onions and violets, graced the board at many a knightly feast. The edifice on the far hill in the accompany ing plate is not entirely imaginary. It is taken from an actual castle, built in the 9th century, but now in ruins. It is the ancestral home of the artist who has given us this series of garden flowers. POT MARIGOLD (Calendula oficinalis): Grown originally as a potherb as well as for its supposed medicinal properties and religious connotations (whence the name Mary's Gold), the flowering heads still are occasionally used as a savory. Selected garden forms with large "double-flowered" yellow or orange heads are now mostly cultivated. BELLFLOWER (Campanula, various spe cies): The Bluebell (C. rotundifolia) is still common in turf and must have been intro duced early. The Chimney Bellflower (C. pyramidalis) also came into gardens by this same route. Another member of this large genus of nearly 250 species which must first have been accidentally introduced is the Can terbury Bells (C. Medium). Today its wild form is rarely seen in cultivation, the common garden forms being the hose-in-hose, wherein the calyx is modified and enlarged and encloses the corolla, and the popular cup-and-saucer form, in which the much-enlarged and colored calyx is widely flared. DAISY (Bellis perennis): This charming little plant, the True or English Daisy, was and still is a weed in European fields and meadows; many excellent garden selections are now in cultivation. Chaucer referred to this plant as the "ee of the daie," and by Ben Jonson's time it was called "Day's Eye." PANSY or HEARTSEASE (Viola tricolor): Our garden pansy has been derived from the weedy "three-colored violet" of Europe; hence the scientific name, Viola tricolor. It seems likely that several other species, through hy bridization, have contributed to the modern forms of this plant. The English words "pansy" and "pensive" come from the French word pensee. PRIMROSE (Primula, various species): Such species as the Field Primrose (P. vulgaris), the Ox-lip (P. elatior), and the Cow's-lip (P. veris) are common in European pastures and also must have been brought in with the sods from which theturf seats were made. A plant of the wild, yellowish-flowered Cow's-lip (not "Cow-slip" as most of us pronounce it) is shown opposite. With it is part of a truss of flowers of a plant now more often grown, the garden "Polyanthas," a colorful group derived by selection from among the many hybrid combinations between the Field Primrose, the Cow's-lip, and the Ox-lip. ROSE (Rosa, various species): At least three wild species were available to the people of medieval Europe, the French rose (R. gallica), the Dog rose (R. canina), and the Eglantine or Sweetbrier (R. Eglanteria). The last of these was enshrined in song and story. It may be a surprise, but the Rose was valued for food before its beauty was appreciated. The fruits, especially, were eaten; we now know that they are very rich in vitamins.