July 9, 2013
UMass Amherst Renaissance Center Opens New
16th-Century Kitchen Garden to Summer Visitors
AMHERST, Mass. – Visitors to the UMass Amherst Renaissance Center this summer can enjoy the sense of traveling back in time to experience sights, smells and tastes of an authentic 16th-century kitchen garden, now open for tours in North Amherst. Stockbridge School of Agriculture students under the direction of Prof. John Gerber raised many historic fruit and vegetable varieties to create the full-scale replica on the center’s grounds.
Many plants chosen for the 1500’s-era garden are based on research by recent Mt. Holyoke environmental studies and nature culture history graduate Jennie Bergeron, who steeped herself in Renaissance herbal lore at the center’s library to help plan the project, which was first envisioned by director Arthur Kinney.
“This garden is what we are calling a ‘pottage’ or kitchen garden,” says Bergeron. “It represents the utilitarian garden of the common family of 400 years ago and contains both herbs and vegetables, with a couple kinds of flowers, but mainly herbs that were used in the daily pottage food stuff of commoners.” She serves as head gardener and will lead this season’s tours.
“Pottage” was thin, onion- or garlic-based broth made with whatever was available from the garden or farmyard to provide the staple meal of working families. Gerber and Bergeron say people in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and other northern European lands grew such crops as garlic, onions, turnips, beets, cabbage, fava beans, leeks and carrots in “pottage gardens” in medieval and Renaissance times.
Bergeron says most homes also had an herb garden. In addition, wealthier people could afford more than one garden for different purposes, such as a flower garden or “herber” for sweet-smelling blooms and plants. Herbs were categorized by their use: pot, cup, floor or distillery. Hops were grown for beer; fragrant plants such as angelica, anise, tansy, yarrow, evening primrose, coriander, mugwort, hyssop, horehound and vervain for flavoring food or for “strewing” on the dirt floor because they smell good or have anti-microbial properties. She says the Renaissance Center’s new garden has 49 different fruits and vegetables.
A special feature of the project was arranged by UMass Amherst extension berry specialist Sonia Schloemann, who obtained small amounts of authentic heirloom beer hops and strawberry cuttings from the 16th and 17th century to come to the Renaissance Center garden from the USDA Germ Plasm Collection in Corvallis, Ore.
Gerber says, “It will take a couple of years, but these small cuttings will be propagated by Stockbridge students in our greenhouses for use in the Renaissance Center gardens. It’s very exciting,” he adds. “Strawberries in medieval times were much smaller and sweeter than the cultivars we are used to eating,” he adds. But many other plants, for example herbs such as hyssop and anise have not changed much at all in 1,000 years. “Many herb varieties we have today would be familiar to medieval gardeners,” he notes.
Renaissance Center Librarian Jeff Goodhind has set up a display of books that Bergeron and her classmates used for her research, including a gardener’s almanac published in London in 1632 that lists garden chores by the month, a Latin “Dictionarium rusticum” or Rustic Dictionary from 1717 and a 1564 “Creuterbuch,” in German with hand-painted color plates, plus John Gerard’s famous folio of 1632.
The new garden, the adjacent Renaissance Apple Orchard and grounds are free and open to the public for tours and picnics from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Renaissance Center staff plan a mid-August Saturday event, as well, for those who can’t visit during the week. A plant list and map of the pottage garden will be available soon.
More at: http://renaissancegarden.org
Contact: Janet Lathrop, 413/545-0444; email@example.com
John Gerber, 413/545-5301; firstname.lastname@example.org
Alison Király, 413/577-3603; email@example.com
In spite of torrential rain, a very persistent gopher, and some pretty little caterpillars that seem to love parsley, the Renaissance Center Vegetable and Herb Garden is taking shape! Our head gardener, Jennie Bergeron, has completed most of her plantings and (now that the sun is shining) the plants are growing well.
The first public showing of the garden took place on June 22 to the Renaissance Center Gardeners Guild. The following is a 4 minute video from this event.
Visitors are welcome during weekdays from 10:00am to 4:00pm at 650 East Pleasant St., in Amherst, MA. If you would like to be kept posted on garden activities, please join our mailing list at:
Jennie and Aaron continue to put plants and seeds in the garden. After the first planting of kale and cabbage, we discovered that we had a rodent chewing on our plants. Looks like a groundhog really enjoyed the kale and cabbage!
Nevertheless, the planting continues. Here are our transplants ready to go in the ground.
Our Renaissance Gardener, Jennie Bergeron, and her friend Aaron got started laying out the garden today, based on the design Jennie created. They marked the rows and laid out straw walkways. A few plants went in but she decided to wait a day or two to put more plants in the ground as there is a chance of a frost tonight. Seeding begins tomorrow!
As we have explored herbs of the Renaissance, we’ve discovered some interesting sources focused more on the middle ages (5th to 15th centuries). In fact, not much changed during the Renaissance in the commoners gardens so these links might be useful:
The next stage of our Renaissance Garden Project is to design and build the garden. Right now the garden is covered in snow, but we are busy ordering seeds and growing plants. Most of the students who participated in the first stage of the project are still with us, and Jennie Bergeron has agreed to take a lead role in garden design.
For a brief introduction to the project and a partial summary of what we have learned so far, please see:
You are also invited to join our “friends and fans” mailing list if you want to be kept informed about our progress and future events at the Center.
Sonia Schloemann wrote…..
Hops – National Germplasm Repository in Corvallis has Hops in their catalog (see: https://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=11069). They don’t have a specific listing of old, heirloom or antique varieties as the do in some other listings. However, if you look through the whole list, there are some old varieties there. In particular 4 that reference dating back to ‘middle ages’, and another 8 that reference being from old English, French, German, or Polish landraces. See the list below for specific names. They come from the list at https://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/53581500/catalogs/humcult.html.
‘Backa’ – Czechoslovakia
‘Chum 800’ – Czechoslovakia
‘Saazar 36’ – Czechoslovakia
‘Saazar 38’ – Czechoslovakia
‘Early Prolific’ – English
‘Early Promise’ – English
‘Elsasser’ – French
‘Precoce de Bourgogre’ – French
‘Hallertauer’ – German
Of all these, the only one that is said to ship as cuttings (2, unrooted) is ‘Early Prolific’. The rest will ship as tissue culture plantlets. This means identifying someone who can grow them out from this stage to rooted plants. I’m not sure who at UMass is equipped to do that, but I can find out.
This same site also has the Mint collection, so if there are types of mint specific to this time period that you want to order, let me know and I can place the order (it’s probably easier for me to do it and have all the plant material come to one place).
For anyone who wants to look into other plant material, the easiest thing to do is to go to the National Plant Germplasm System page at http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/index.html and search a plant name (common or scientific) from there. If you have a specific variety name, that can help narrow down the search. Let me know if you want to order any material and I can coordinate. I’m interested in Quince and Hazelnuts, too.