Garden at Rest for the Season

It’s seems like just yesterday when I finished putting the Renaissance kitchen garden to bed for the season. In the cold of late November I was cutting down perennials and spreading ample amounts of hay and straw in the garden for winter protection. I left some root crops like carrots, beets and turnips to overwinter. We’ll see how they fare in the spring.

This winter I am busy preparing to teach a course I designed around the garden  as well as planning for a new seed order, etc. It has been my pleasure to bring you news and pictures of the UMass Renaissance center’s Kitchen Garden this season. Check back after winter for more information about next season’s garden, plants added and more!

“Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the Spring when it is gone.”
-  Roy R. Gibson

Below are some winter photos of the garden captured by John Gerber.



New Stockbridge Class in the Spring – Ethnobotany of the Renaissance

The Stockbridge School of Agriculture is pleased to be able to offer a new class in the spring semester focused on the Renaissance Center Garden.  It is:

STOCKSCH 297 ER – Ethnobotany of the Renaissance

… will be taught by our head gardener and educator, Jennie Bergeron.  The syllabus for the class is presented below.  This is a two-credit class which will meet on Monday afternoons from 2:30pm – 4:25pm during the spring semester.

Course Description:  This course is a hands on learning experience rooted in the UMass Renaissance Center’s 16th century kitchen garden. Students explore historic gardens with a focus of Renaissance era plants and their cultural uses.

Student Learning Objectives:

  • Class discussions of culinary, medicinal and utilitarian use of plants in the Renaissance with a focus on the common population and comparing the same plants in modern times.
  • Students will grow Renaissance era plants in the greenhouse and participate in hands on outdoor learning at the UMass Renaissance Center’s 16th century kitchen garden and participate in ongoing plans for the garden project.
  • Students will complete a botanically focused project based on their own research. Course includes at least one field trip.

Text Books/ Library Readings: 

  • Hildegard’s Healing Plants: From Her Medieval Classic Physica by Hildegard Von Bingen, Bruce W. Hozeski
  • Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use by Rosemary Gladstar
  • Suggested: The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green

*Some reading TBA and may be provided to students from rare books.

Tentative Class Schedule

Week 1 – Introduction to Renaissance Gardens:

  • Historic gardens-the big picture
  • The UMass Renaissance Garden Project history/overview

Week 2 – Introduction to Renaissance Era Plants:

  • Exploring the Renaissance kitchen garden plants, choosing new plants for this season, herbal reading discussion
  • Renaissance plant use, the “supply closet” kitchen garden

Week 3 -  Medicine Making Practicum:

  • Overview of water and wine based infusions, herbal extracts and herbal infused oils, strewing herbs, herbal reading discussion
  • Herbal knowledge of yesterday and today

Week 4 – Greenhouse Practicum:

  • Heirloom plant propagation of Renaissance era plants
  • Seed planting

Week 5 – Historical Interpretation and Public Education

  • Our modern cultural lenses and  public teaching gardens
  • The importance of the past: historic garden interpretation and ethics

Week 6 – Greenhouse Practicum

  • Maintaining seedlings
  • Discussion of plant/garden research progress / reading discussion

 Week 7 – Cooking in the Renaissance

  • Pottage and other food staples of the Renaissance
  • Food diversity in the garden / reading discussion

Week 8 – Greenhouse Practicum:

  • Maintaining seedlings
  • Project Outlines Due / Discussion of plant/garden research progress / reading discussion

Week 9 – Garden Practicum

  • Hands on garden education and design maintenance / put reading into practice

Week 10- Garden Practicum

  • Preparing spring soil, garden education and design maintenance

 Week 11 – Field Trip –Garden Compare and Contrast (class time may change for field trip)

  • Old Deerfield Historic Garden or Other
  • Final Project discussion

Week 12 – Final Project Presentations and or Garden Practicum

  • Renaissance plant/garden projects
  • Hands on garden education

Week 13 – Final Project Presentations

  • Renaissance plant/garden projects continued
  • Hands on garden education

Garlic, Straw Beds, Harvesting and Strawberries in October!?

The Renaissance kitchen garden continues to wind down with the fall season. Annuals have been harvested and or taken their leave as the frost nips its way into increasingly cold nights. We are lucky to be in both a high and tree protected area at the Renaissance center, which has kept the frost at bay and extended the harvest season some. The fields just below the house are commonly strewn with frost, while the garden stays somewhat untouched.

Last week showed the first true signs of frost damage on the remaining dry beans and green foliage like the fennel, that are tender. But the mugwort and hyssop, feverfew, tansy and primrose just keep on blooming away, not yet plucked by frost.


-Primrose in October

The garden will soon be put to be completely for the winter. Over the past two weeks I have been mulching thickly with straw, replenishing the pathways, trimming back plants for the season, seed saving, harvesting and planting  two varieties of heirloom garlic!



-Mulched beds with straw

The most amazing sight as of late is the abundance of strawberries- in October! We are lucky to have a center circle of alpine strawberries on the more geometric side of the garden. Unlike local cultivated strawberries that fruit for a short season, alpine strawberries fruit for the entire growing season, gifting us with unusual strawberry cheer in the fall.


-Strawberries in October

Root vegetables and herbs were harvested this week for the harvest banquet put on by the Renaissance center. Huge purple top turnips, St. Valery carrot, beets, onions, giant leeks and a variety of herbs were harvested to contribute to the banquet menu. I plan to leave some roots in for the winter, as they will sweeten in the cold ground.


Purple Top Turnip


Some of the Root Harvest


Mama Beet


Huge Turnips


Scotch Flag Giant Leeks

Check in again here to find out more about the end of season at the UMass Renaissance Centers Kitchen garden.

Until then…

-Jennie Bergeron, Historical Gardener/Garden designer at the UMass Renaissance Center



Wattle Fence Almost Complete


Aaron Evan-Browning has been working hard through September and October to complete the wattle fence that he started in July. The fence itself and three of the four gates are complete and look great! The largest gate at the main entrance near the hops is left to complete, with some trimming and detail work to finish and sure things up for the season. We hope to remove the metal fence once the wattle fence gates are more pest-proof. The woven structure of the fence makes the garden look more authentic to the Renaissance and is visually pleasing. The wattle fence is an important step towards increased authenticity of the garden, which we strive for. Each time I’m in the garden people stop by and tell me how much they enjoy the new fence. It is a style not so common, or easy to find these days. The UMass Renaissance center certainly has a special historic gem to share with its wattle fence. Completing a wattle fence this size, by yourself and in just four months is certainly an accomplishment. Thank you for doing such a good job Aaron and we look forward to the final touches as you finish up this amazing fence.




Gate #1


Ariel view


UMass Stockbridge Garden Tour Day in September-Herbal Infusions Abound!


At the end of September UMass students and the public were invited by UMass Stockbridge School of agriculture to come and see all the many places on campus that food is being grown. Among this exciting list is our 16th century garden at the UMass Renaissance center. On Saturday September 28th, groups of students and locals stopped by from 3-5pm to tour the kitchen garden and sample herbal infusions I made for the event. This included brews of horehound, chamomile, hyssop and sage. Many people wanted to stick to the familiar chamomile infusion, which was sweet and pleasant in flavor. The hyssop had a slight minty flavor, but different from the sharpness of peppermint, smoother. The sage and horehound infusions were strong but enjoyed. The sage was earthy and smooth, while the horehound was strongly medicinal and needed a good dilution to be palatable.

It was interesting to taste the infusions with others while discussing how they might have been experienced and used by people in the Renaissance. Topics of plant-use from the Renaissance Kitchen garden are revisited again and again by visitors as well as myself. As I continue to give tours and talk with folks that show up to the garden during the week, questions of plant use seem to be the most compelling piece of Renaissance garden history, along with the plants that are not commonly grown today. It’s as if we recognize something in our human memory that grabs our attention. We want to know how people in the past used these plants, it compels us. There is a growing need and desire today to re-learn skills that have been lost and the simple fact that we are continuously fascinated with traditions of the past and how they relate to today. We want to know how we are the same and how we may be different after all these years. How did people of the Renaissance make life work with these plants from day to day?

The UMass garden tour day was a fun way to explore these questions with students and locals and I look forward to more.Image

Late Summer Harvest in the UMass Renaissance Garden

The Umass Renaissance garden continues to thrive this season!

The annual plants are beginning to pass by as the perennials grow thicker and taller. I am thoroughly impressed with the vitality of the Borage, still in bloom since June with new plants sprouting up every week. It’s bright blue-purple blossoms are regularly visited by the bumble bees who live in the garden shed. It seems to be a perfect harmony of bee and flower.


Borage and Bublebee approaching blossom

Primrose has been in bloom from August to September with it’s elegant, pale yellow flowers. They were used for salads in the Renaissance, as were Borage flowers pictured above. Long stems grow from the main plant mound and produce medium large yellow flowers.



Other plants currently in bloom include the very tall bronze fennel, endive that has gone to seed but has beautiful blue flowers, the ever powerful rue with is flesh-rotting fragrant flowers, hyssop, chamomile and strawberry.

I will be making infusions from hyssop, horehound, sage and chamomile for guests at THIS SATURDAYS GARDEN DAY TOUR FROM 3-5PM. Stop by and check out the new additions of Renaissance era strawberries and more!


The very proud cabbage, after being spared by the groundhog!


Bronze Fennel in Bloom

The wattle fence is almost complete! Creation of four gates is currently underway to provide different entry points to the space.


Garden Abundance, kale, yarrow, hops, tansy, carrots, fence pictured here.

I’m leaving what we can safely leave in the ground until the harvest banquet November 2nd, but with all the near freezing nights recently, I though it a good idea to harvest the onion crop. I was pleased with the size of the harvest, they did well. I have also been harvesting dry beans, fava beans and other dry herb seeds for next years plantings.

September Cell Photos 045 Alisa Craig Onions

Rue Flowering September Cell Photos 018

September Cell Photos 006

Chamomile Flowering

September Cell Photos 011

Cranberry Beans Drying

September Cell Photos 055

Purple Top Turnips

Upcoming events include the UMass multi-gardens event this Saturday, free! Renaissance Garden from 3pm-5pm

The Renaissance Harvest Banquet November 2nd. Contact the Renaissance center for banquet ticket information.

More early fall updates soon. Until then, happy harvesting!

-Jennie Bergeron, Historical Gardener and Garden Designer at the UMass Renaissance Center

Renaissance Garden is part of a 5 garden tour at UMass

Please join us for the Five Garden Tour of UMass student garden projects on Saturday, September 28.

gardentourOur garden designer and head gardener, Jennie Bergeron, will be on hand from 3:00pm-5:00pm to answer questions about how Europeans during the 16th and 17th centuries lived and grew herbs and common vegetables.  She will also have samples of herb tea from the period.

*September 28th 10:00am to 5:00pm. UMass Agricultural Learning Center 5 UMass Gardens in 1 Day Tour. Tour includes a stop at the Renaissance Center’s historical 16th century Kitchen Garden from 3pm to 5pm. Free of charge and open to all but no transportation provided. Contact the UMass Agricultural Center for all information and questions at (413) 545-6325 or by email.


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