UMass Renaissance Center Garden Project Video

Please check out our new video produced by the UMass News Office.

Thanks to all of the students and other participants in this project.  And for more on this project, see:

Creating a Renaissance Era cottage garden in New England

Renaissance gardens included more than food plants


UMass Amherst Renaissance Center Opens New 16th-Century Kitchen Garden to Summer Visitors

Renaissanc eGrden Photos June 2013 007

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:

 Contact:          Janet Lathrop, 413/545-0444;

John Gerber, 413/545-5301;

Alison Király, 413/577-3603;

The Renaissance Garden Grows

~The plants in the Renaissance garden continue to establish themselves. Champion of England peas are climbing high on their new trellis. St. Valery carrots, Early Blood beets, Helios radish, beans and other seedlings emerge from the soil and each day another plant approaches bloom. Pollinators are increasing! I notice them more and more each time I work in the garden. Black swallowtail caterpillars and small blue and white butterflies give and take as they naturally do. Stop by the Renaissance garden during open hours and see what old world plants you recognize and which ones may be new to you!

Jennie~ Renaissance GardenerImage

Plants Establishing


Tall Flowering Dill Bouquet




Borage Blooming


The Garden Takes Shape

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:


Progress (and set backs) at the garden

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!

958826_10101314521974312_1270523677_oThe rodent even nibbled on the borage (yuch) and hores hound.   We put up a 21st century fence temporarily, until we get our wattle fence built!

Nevertheless, the planting continues.  Here are our transplants ready to go in the ground.

968494_10101316770917412_76029715_oAnd or intrepid head gardener, Jennie Bergeron, preparing the soil for more plants.

962271_10101316770952342_1732340253_oStop by and check out our progress!

The Renaissance Garden is Born

The garden begins

The garden begins

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!

Our own American Gothic

Our own American Gothic

Medieval Gardens

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:

Our story continues

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:

Creating a Renaissance Era Cottage Garden in New England

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.

Join the Renaissance Garden “Friends and Fans” mailing list here