Renaissance Harvest Banquet, Saturday November 2nd-Your Invited!

Renaissance Harvest Banquet tickets are on sale now! November 2nd, 6pm to 9pm. Marriot Center on the 11th floor of the UMass Campus Center. See events calendar page for event details. Please call the Renaissance Center at (413) 577-3600 to make ticket reservations by October 28th. $75/single or $125/couple.

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.

UMass Renaissance Center creates authentic 16th century garden

Located just off of the University of Massachusetts campus, a newly constructed garden full of the sights and smells of freshly planted herbs and vegetables give visitors a chance to travel back to the age of the Renaissance.

“Very often people think of the Renaissance and they think of great painters or a great palace somewhere,” said Ellen Kosmer, a volunteer at the garden. “Obviously there were real people living and eating and working during this time and I think this can provide a glimpse into what real people were doing.”

Jaclyn Bryson/ Daily Collegian

According to Jennie Bergeron, a Mount Holyoke graduate, the garden located at the UMass Renaissance Center was a result of a research project advised by John Gerber, professor at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture during fall 2012.

“We really didn’t know what a garden during the Renaissance period looked like,” said Gerber. “So three UMass and three Mount Holyoke students hit the libraries and did the research. That’s where it came from.”

Bergeron added that she continued with the project in spring 2013. Stockbridge students grew the plants for the garden and then she took the responsibility of designing and planting those herbs and vegetables herself, resulting in a “kitchen garden” that pays homage to the typical 16th century common family.

“I’ve been gardening my whole life,” said Bergeron. “Both sides of my family, going back to great-grandparents, were farmers in the valley here.”

Bergeron added that there are currently 49 types of fruits and vegetables, most of which would be used by a 16th century family to make a pottage, which she described as a thin broth with an onion or garlic base and added herbs and vegetables.

“We really wouldn’t have such a vegetable garden if it weren’t for her work,” said Kosmer of Bergeron, who now serves as head gardener, leads tours of the sites and spends between six and eight hours a week maintaining and weeding the plants.

Kosmer added that she has also been impressed by the apple orchard, which she has watched steadily grow and develop from the beginning.

“Last year they were just single stalks with just a few leaves,” she said. Arthur Kinney, director of the Renaissance Center, added that hopefully in a couple years, they will actually be bearing fruit.

According to the news brief, UMass Extension Berry Specialist Sonia Schloemann was able to obtain small samples of original 16th and 17th century heirloom beer hops and strawberry cuttings from the USDA Germplasm Collection in Corvallis, Ore.

“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,” Gerber said in the brief. “It’s very exciting.”

Aaron Evan-Browning, a volunteer at the garden, is currently building a wattle fence around its perimeter. Aside from using basic modern supplies such as vertical rebar stakes, the fence is being structured exactly as it would have been during the Renaissance, a task which Evan-Browning says is, “a lot more work than I initially expected.”

A stone grotto is also currently being added to the garden which Kosmer said she hopes will serve as a “place of retreat.”

“You can sit on the benches in the grotto and look out at the vegetable garden, as some the townspeople have been doing,” Kinney said.

He has wanted to make the addition of a garden to the Renaissance Center a reality for the past 15 years and now that it’s open to the public, he has been pleased to see support from local visitors.

“The town has been pretty active about this,” he said. “They tend to come in anytime of the day and wander and look and since everything is labeled they really don’t need any help.”

Bergeron said that she only hopes these visitors can walk away from the garden learning something from our past.

“I see the plants telling such an awesome story about how people lived day to day,” she said. “I just encourage people to come here and get to know what’s around, many times, not just once. Plants can tell a lot about people.”

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at

Original post.

Renaissance Center Employs Goats to Prepare Ground for New Grotto

Following the Renaissance practice of using animals to clear land for planting, the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies recently employed the Amherst-based firm Goat Girls to clear the way for a new grotto near the center’s garden and orchard complex.

goatsThe tribe of goats chomped their way through bittersweet, poison ivy and all manner of unwanted invasive plants to make way for the grotto. When the 15-foot diameter structure made with Goshen stone is finished, it will have plantings and a water feature, according to center staffers. The goats were provided by Hope Crolius, principal of Artemis Garden Consultants in Amherst.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can pick up a packet in the lobby, which will guide you through the gardens and grounds. The center is located at 650 East Pleasant St.

Put on the pottage: Authentic Renaissance garden flourishes in Amherst

Mount Holyoke College alumna Jennie Bergeron works in the Tudor vegetable garden being developed at the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

Mount Holyoke College alumna Jennie Bergeron works in the Tudor vegetable garden being developed at the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst.
KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

By Cheryl B. Wilson – Bulletin Contributing Writer – Thursday, August 8, 2013

‘A mess of pottage,” a simple stew or thick soup made of root vegetables, herbs and legumes with the occasional addition of meat or chicken, was the staple diet for commoners in Renaissance England. The pottage or kitchen garden was right outside the cottage while grains for bread and forage for animals were grown in larger plots of land in the community.

A typical pottage garden was created this spring at the Massachusetts Interdisciplinary Center for the Renaissance in Amherst by six students in an independent studies course at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A special free open house at the garden will be held Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The garden is also open to the public weekdays from 10 to 4 p.m. free of charge.

Jennie Bergeron, a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, who took the independent studies course, is in charge of the garden this summer, working two or three days a week maintaining the garden.

In an email she wrote, “In the quiet yard of the slated roof house that is the UMass Renaissance center, I often pretend I’m working in the Renaissance and try to picture what it might have been like for the common person, the hunger they would have had to stave off each day and ask myself, ‘What would they harvest and store, what would I make for pottage today?’ ”

There are 49 kinds of vegetables, herbs and fruits in the garden. Bergeron and her classmates did extensive research last fall on medieval and Renaissance gardens. They were fortunate to use original Renaissance books as well as reproductions of 16th- and 17th-century gardening guides, all owned by the Renaissance Center. Of particular interest were the “Kreuterbuch,” or herb book, printed in Germany in 1564, and”Gerard’s Herbal,” by John Gerard, a classic work from the early 17th century. The work by Gerard became “the bible for the garden,” said Arthur Kinney, director of the Renaissance Center. All the plants in the garden are listed in Gerard’s book.

What to plant?

Incorporating the research by the half-dozen students last fall, Bergeron took on the task of designing the garden and drawing up a list of desired plants. Professor John Gerber of UMass Stockbridge, who taught the course, found the seeds from a variety of sources. Some of them were planted in greenhouses at UMass by Stockbridge students and later transplanted into the garden. Others were directly sown.

The project began more than a year ago when Kinney decided to plant an orchard at the center.

He contacted apple experts at the UMass Orchards at Cold Spring in Belchertown and they located authentic varieties that would have been grown in England between 1500 and 1700. The orchard was dedicated in May 2012.

“Gardening was such an art form in the Renaissance, I have always felt it important to have gardens around the center,” Kinney explained last month. He noted that the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., has a small flower garden while the Huntington Library in California also has a garden, though it isn’t strictly Renaissance.

The UMass pottage garden is a utilitarian garden of the 1500s, Bergeron explained. It includes leeks and onions, turnips, carrots, several forms of beans, kale, cabbage, radish, peas, endive and escarole and many, many herbs.

“No one plant was used for just one thing,” Bergeron explained during a tour of the garden.

Chamomile is an herb used for a soothing tea but also important as a strewing herb for making a fragrant renewable “carpet” for the dirt floor of the cottage. Sage had many uses, especially for respiratory ailments, as well as a seasoning for meats. Hyssop is another traditional herb with multiple uses. Horehound and rue are seldom seen in today’s gardens but were well-known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

“Fresh herbs could be added to the pottage to change the flavor of the meal,” Bergeron said.

Borage with its bright blue flowers was used in drinks, and lovage, which tastes like celery, could be used in the pottage. Heartsease or pansies were another flower used to brighten meals.

Several kinds of beans are found in the new garden: fava or broad beans, long used in England and northern European vegetable gardens, garbanzos or chickpeas from the Middle East, and dry shell beans such as Vermont Cranberry, which came from the Americas after Columbus. Peas were an English staple and the UMass garden has ‘Champion of England’ peas, which Bergeron said can grow 10 feet tall. These are shell peas, not Asian snow peas or modern sugar snaps.

Part of the garden is laid out in simple square raised beds. One section, however, has a more elaborate design with a circular center and sets of triangular beds— similar to the look of gardens of the nobility.

Kinney said he is very pleased with the outcome of the garden project.

“I am impressed by the size of it and the design, I like very much,” he said. “I thought it would be more scrambly like herb gardens.”

Keeping pests at bay

Creating a barrier against pests is always a challenge for a vegetable garden. Cottagers traditionally used taller plants like mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) on the periphery as a barrier, Bergeron said. On the garden tour last month, she commented, “Oh good. The mugwort is getting big, just what I wanted.”

After depredations by woodchucks and rabbits, Bergeron decided to use wire fencing in addition to the natural barrier. A woodchuck devoured the kale and Bergeron said “I know I’ve had a deer.” The plan is to build a traditional wattle fence, usually woven of supple willow boughs, to enclose the garden as would have been common in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Aaron EvanBrowning, a friend of Bergeron’s who works on a farm, is working diligently on that project but has run into a snag — a lack of willows.

They had amassed a huge pile of willow but the first fence section used the entire bundle. Now they are searching for more sources of willow branches.

“It’s becoming a real challenge,” Kinney said. ”It’s hard to find willow branches.”

Recently they thought they had found a good source but the trees were surrounded by poison ivy, Bergeron said.

“At this point and in the interest of time, we are looking for any sapling, small branch, shrub or vine material that we can harvest,” she said. EvanBrowning is now using hawthorn, which is very accurate to the time period.

Other damage has been caused by insects and disease. The caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly quickly found the parsley and dill, their favorite food. In addition to companion planting, Bergeron has resorted to modern neem oil, an organic product. She said she is concerned that the fava beans have developed a fungal disease, evidently a common problem with that species.

Although the science behind companion planting might not have been known to the Renaissance peasants, Bergeron is sure that they knew the efficacy of planting certain vegetables and herbs together.

“They would have been in their gardens every day. They would have noticed how certain plants thrived together,” she said.

In addition to the orchard of antique apple varieties, the new Renaissance Center garden has heirloom hops and strawberries. Bergeron explained that Sonia Schloemann, a small-fruit specialist at UMass, found the plants through the USDA Germ Plasm Center in Corvallis, Ore., which stores antique varieties. ‘Fuggle’ and ‘Kent’ hops (Humulus lupulus) and ‘Woodland’, ‘Ruegan’, ‘Pineapple,’ ‘Moschata’ and ‘Mignonette’ strawberries (Fragaria vesca) arrived as tiny plants. Bergeron said she was afraid they wouldn’t survive, but they are doing nicely. There are also Alpine strawberries. All of these have much smaller berries than modern hybrids but are reportedly extremely sweet.

Hops are vines which must be staked, Bergeron noted. They were newly popular during the English Renaissance for brewing ale. Previously beer and ale production in England had strictly relied on malt for fermentation but on the Continent hops were more common. Mead, a honey-based drink, and cider were also popular beverages since water was often a source of disease due to poor sanitation practices.

“What pleases me most about the garden is showing up each week and noticing a new bloom or how much the perennials are establishing. It brings me joy when the plants are happy and vibrant. It’s almost magical to view the variety of pollinators that appear in front of me while I’m weeding,” Bergeron wrote in an email.

Bergeron said she hopes people will visit the gardens any weekday throughout the growing season.

“We want people here. I love when people stop by to see the garden and spend time in it.”

Kinney added, “The more people come here, the more they will know about the Renaissance.”

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at

The Open House Community Day is Aug. 17, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bergeron and Gerber will be on hand to answer questions and there will be a handout about the garden. The event is free.

The Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies is at 650 East Pleasant St. in Amherst. For information call 577-3600 or visit A blog for the garden, done by Gerber and Bergeron and the students, can be found at

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Wattle Fence Creation, Current Blooms and updates at the UMass Renaissance Garden

Over the course of July plants in the Renaissance garden have really taken root and are growing rapidly due to the heat. The excessive rain and flooding in June/July followed by a steady heat wave in July certainly tested the plants strength and my ability to remedy with solutions, but we did it!

I recently noticed a problem with the two hop varieties. They were defiantly sick and the leaves turning brown and yellow. They were not establishing good root systems, I think due to soil saturation when planted. I began to slowly feed them an organic vitamin solution and fish emulsion, as not to stress them too much. After two weeks of waiting with what seemed like little change, the hops are revived with new green growth.

Every two weeks I feed the entire garden fish emulsion and apply neem oil to the foliage of the plants. Neem oil is a way to organically prevent disease and fungal issues and prevents insects like aphids, caterpillars and others from eating plant foliage. It is helping with the insect munching for the most part and the plants are responding well to the added nutrition of the fish emulsion. I have had the most problem with fungus, aphids and ants on the Fava/Bell beans. They are particularly susceptible to fungal issues and although I watch and treat them regularly, they continue to have fungal issues.

Wattle fencing has began to take shape in the Renaissance garden. When the first piece was almost complete the garden already looked more period accurate. It’s so exciting to work in the garden as the fence continues to take shape and surrounds the space with a very tangible, very old tradition. Aaron Evan-Browning has been focusing on the construction of the fence and materials for it. The fence takes much more wattle material than were could have imagined and although Aaron has harvested willow and other shrubbery, he is constantly looking for more available materials. Many local willow trees  are covered with poison ivy and non-harvistable. This week Aaron harvested shrubbery around the Renaissance center and to our strike of luck, I believe it is a species Hawthorn! This is great because it’s period accurate and of course we want to be as historically accurate as possible. We are looking for any sapping size material that is or can be harvested, apple, willow, grapevine, hawthorn, really any softwood, of shrub that can be trimmed and wattled so we can keep up the fence momentum. If you have of know of materials that can be used for the wattle project, please e-mail Aaron at:, thank you.

The plant are growing at rapid rates. Current blooms in the Renaissance garden include: the first pink colored Angelica, fever-few is in full glory, hearstease, mugwort has grow into a hedge with its long stems of irregular white flowers. Borage has been flowering for almost two months and is already self-seeding with baby borage plants poking through the soil! Hyssop is blooming with long stems of irregular purple flowers, tansy’s yellow button tops abound. Helios radish are mature and some have flowered to attract small white butterflies. I have left them to benefit pollination. White horehound is spreading rapidly as the mint family always does and has small white flowers, alpine strawberries continue to produce in the center circle and yarrow began to bloom.

The flooding in early summer made it so I had to plant shell peas, carrots, turnip, radish, beets and safflower later than normal. This means that we actually have a nice crop of shell peas to pick now, believe it or not! The heat means that they may not last long. The dry beans are producing many beans but need to stay on the plants for the season to dry. This week, coriander and dill seeds have been harvested to dry.

*Look for an article about the Renaissance Garden in the Gazette sometime in the next week or so! Also, check out the UMass home page for a featured video and story or stop by to see the progress for yourself.

*We’re having an open house at the Renaissance Garden Saturday August 17th, 2013! Bring family and friends for refreshments and see the progress. See you here!


Historical Gardener at the UMass Renaissance Center


Wattle Fence begins



Aaron Evan-Browning works on the Wattle Fence


Second Section


Champion of England Shell Peas


The Hops improving-Green!


Fave Bean Flowers


Yarrow Blooming


Self-Seeded baby Borage


Flowering Hyssop


Tansy “Buttons”






Basil GIANT!


Dry Beans


Giant Leeks


White Horehound and Hollyhock