11.23.2010

The Cloisters, New York

I have been stockpiling garden travel stories from this summer, waiting for the shorter, gray days of autumn to revisit some of my favorite garden treks.  Before I take you on this short trip I ask that you take a deep breath, hold it, slowly exhale and relax. If you had a crazy day repeat as needed. Are you in your Zen space? Good. Then let’s begin.

At the northern edge of Manhattan Island, far removed from the shops, lights and pulse of the city, is a place as near to tranquility as I have found when not on a woodland hike or tending a garden. Resting atop a four acre overlook of the Hudson River in Fort Tyron Park, sits the Cloisters, a museum dedicated to medieval art and gardens.  The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features three distinct medieval gardens planted within the reconstructed Romanesque and Gothic cloisters.

The museum is a collection of ruins and architectural elements collected across Europe by George Grey Barnard and later brought to its present location by John D. Rockefeller Jr. For many, it is as close to a medieval monastery as we will experience. More than attractive, reflective gardens, the cloister gardens are the center of in-depth research conducted by dedicated horticulturalists. Studying the plants within the three cloister gardens opens the door to medieval gardening and history.
Trie Cloister Garden

A cloister is an open-air courtyard surrounded by covered passageways. The word cloister comes from the Latin word claustrum, a closed, barred or bolted place. The yard enclosed within the arcade is known as a garth. Cloister garths in medieval religious establishments were sunny, sheltered spaces where the monks or nuns could enjoy the day, meditate and tend to their gardens without leaving the confines of their dwelling.

The subway ride to the museum was uneventful. After an impromptu tour of the local neighborhood and a trek up the drive in the heat, the cool and quiet of the museum was welcoming. After touring a few rooms I settled in for lunch at a small café of sorts surrounding the Trie Cloister garden.
Trie Cloister Garden

The Trie Cloister garden is one continuous bed of plants. Surrounding an ornate fountain are 80 species of plants that create a thick stand of foliage and flowers. The garden is representative of millefluers (thousand flowers) of medieval tapestries.  It is a peaceful place to enjoy lunch, coffee or quiet reflection.
The Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden (above) is the main teaching garden with around 250 plants known to have been grown during medieval times. Nineteen beds house plants arranged by their uses; medicinal, seasoning, dyeing, magic potions and decorative. In the center of the garden you will find a fifteenth century Venetian wellhead.

The Bonnefont Cloister

The Bonnefont Cloister
Cuxa Cloister
The Cuxa Cloister was created by remnants of an eleventh century Romanesque Benedictine Monastery and is modeled after a garth. The garden includes plants such as columbine, sage and hellebore as well as alyssum and coreopsis. Crabapples anchor each of the four beds. The fruit from the trees would have been used to make cider and verjuice during medieval times.


Cuxa Cloister

2 comments:

  1. cloisters and garths and now I know the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Stunning. I would love to visit it.

    ReplyDelete