Sunday, 2 October 2011

Medieval flowers

Le Jardin d'agrément 1480-85

Today we have such a variety of flowers to choose from when we make our bouquet or decorate church and reception venue from all over the world. In the Middle Ages they had a lot of plants too, some growing wild and others imported by the monks from southern countries of Europe. During the Middle Ages the term 'pleasure gardens' appear. These are gardens made, not for practical purposes, but for the joy of the beauty and smell of the flowers.
A few written sources have survived. For example, in 1260 Albertus Magnus wrote 'De Vegetabilis et Plantis'. It contains a description of plants used in pleasure gardens. He was a monk and wrote much about botany, philosophy and Theology. 
Roses where a part of the medieval pleasure gardens and used as a Christian symbol of Jesus and his suffering. A couple of roses can be traced back to the Middle Ages like the Rosa gallica var. officinalis also known as the Apothecary's rose. Presumably it had been brought to Europe by the crusaders returning from the Holy Land. It was used for medicine or perfume and grown at first in the monasteries. It is a beautiful historical flower that would look beautiful in the hair of a bride or on the tables in your venue.

Another known rose is the Rosa Alba, or the White Rose of York. Both of the roses were adopted as heraldic symbols by the houses of York and Lanchester who were rivals. The rivalry ended when Henry Tudor became king and united the two houses along with the two roses to make a new symbol. Perhaps a suiting wedding symbolism, the two roses together to indicate unity and peace.

Other flowers or plants I could mention are:
The lily: Often seen in religious paintings or in relation to France (fleur de lis).
Iris, Marigold, Daisies, Foxgloves, Cowslip, Peony and Snowdrop.

Herbs had significant usage in the Middle Ages. They were used to season the food, make medicine and as amulets against evils. Their pleasant smell could also be used in the houses to disguise less attractive aromas.
Amongst these decorative plants you could find:

St John's Wort:                                                                       Chamomile 

So you see there are plenty of beautiful medieval flowers you can use in your bouquet or when decorating your venue. It may look a bit more wild than today's neat flower arrangements, but that is definitely also a part of the charm.

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