Written by Michelle Rogers for Gadabout Paris
They are found in the Latin Quarter of the 5th arrondissement at the corner of St. Germain Boulevard and Boulevard St. Michel. This lively neighborhood is teeming with shops, students, tourists, cafés and businesses. It is easy to look over this little garden attached to the Cluny Medieval Museum, but the Cluny Medieval gardens (Jardin Médiéval du Musée de Cluny) deserves your notice.
The original Cluny abbey gardens were long destroyed, and in 2000 a new garden was commissioned. The modern gardens were created by Éric Ossart and Arnaud Mauriéres in a purposely symbolic pattern and style. The gardens are about 5000 m2, and divided up into sections that represent the different aspects or parts of traditional medieval gardens. In days of old the gardens were not necessarily divided up into sections like this. In contrast, this modern one has each aspect of the middle age’s gardens in its own area so that the visitor (you!) can walk among them and read the interpretive educational signs about each to learn about the components of what medieval gardens used to have. In effect, the gardens are as much of a learning tool about medieval times as the content inside the museum is.
The Medieval Museum is known for many of its famous relics and items, such as the unicorn tapestries. What is less known is that the unicorn tapestries held a plethora of plant and lore symbolism within them. As you look upon them you will see specific kinds of plants woven into their design, and they were not chosen by accident. They were used on purpose due to their meaning or symbolism during the middle ages. The designers of the medieval garden took into account these facts, as well as many other historical documents and paintings, for their garden designs.
These plants and symbols were included in the medieval garden you see today, each blooming at its proper season for you to enjoy over lunch, and each in its proper section for you to view. What are some of the sections and their corresponding plants that you can see?
The Unicorn Forest (forêt de la Licorne): A forest of bushes and trees surround the main heart of the garden, and the woven fences of chestnut branches mark it. They are filled with a variety of trees common to Europe in the medieval era, and all of which had either uses, symbolism, or both. For example, you will see hazel, elder, quince, holly, medlar, chestnuts, and more. In the summer you will see loads of people standing on the wooden benches trying to get at the plums!
You will also see the forest floor plants that were of importance, such as hellebore, blue bells, and ferns.
The Love Garden (le jardin d’amour): An enclosed area mean to be private and secret where lovers could meet, and symbolizing the mazes and secret nooks that medieval gardens often had. It is filled with plants that represented passion, such as roses (symbol of Venus), carnations (betrothal flower), and sweet scented plants that heightened the senses, such as chamomile, thyme and honeysuckle.
The Celestial Garden (le jardin céleste): This part of the garden represents the religious symbols revered in the medieval ages. Such as violet for Mary’s humility; rose for Mary’s love of mankind; Lily of the Valley for Mary’s virginity; red roses for the passion of Christ; columbine with its dove-like flowers for the holy spirit; foxglove for ‘our lady’s glove’; daisy, the flowers of Easter; and strawberries with their triplet leaves that symbolized the holy trinity.
The Kitchen Garden (le ménagier): Having the edible cooking plants in the ancient garden was indispensable for survival. You see, they did not have a supermarket to run down to! Among the most common plants used during the medieval ages (and the ones you’ll see growing in this section of the Medieval gardens) were: cabbage (chou), beans (féve), winter cherry (physalis), red currents (groseille), and vines (vigne). Also, you could find lettuce, spinach, sorrel, parsnips, horseradish, turnips, and beets, along with culinary herbs such as tarragon, parsley, rosemary, fennel and many different kinds of berries.
The Medicinal Garden (le jardin des simples médecines): a garden of simple remedies, or, remedies made from one plant, to treat the ailments of the day. In effect, this means non-compound drugs for real or imagined therapeutic values. The medicinal garden was also an integral part of any medieval garden, as with the supermarket one could not run down to the pharmacy and buy their drugs. During the medieval ages the ‘theory of signatures’ was adhered to, which believed that a plant’s shape, morphology and form would reveal its uses. So, if it was shaped like a heart, it must thus treat heart conditions, or even conditions of love and heartbreak since treatments for the body and soul were not separated.
The Meadow (le Préau): Any garden needed an area for relaxation or games, an area not covered in trees or garden plants, but instead in grass. The mead was a field of green required of any pleasure garden, and were often near water of some kind and enclosed by plants popular of the times, such as: hellebore (hellébore), cowslip (coucou), daffodils (jonquille), tulips (tulipe sauvage), daisies (marguerite), foxgloves (digitale), primroses, bluebells, comfrey, geraniums and wood sage. In the meadow section of the Cluny gardens you will see the water represented by two canals, with a metal sculpture design (fontaine aux roseaux d’argent) in the center of the meadow that was created by Brigitte in 2000.
Garden of Eden (jardin d’Eden): this section of the garden represents the paradise lost by man, the symbolism of the middle ages based in the rose. A variety of rose species can be seen here, all very beautiful in the spring each year. Low benches are next to this section so that you may sit and regard them at your own pace.
WHAT AND WHERE INFO:
Address: back-side of the Cluny Museum in the Latin Quarter, 75005
Metro: Line #12, Stop: Cluny-La-Sorbonne
What to do after: First be sure to study up on your trees before visiting this garden, and bring your sac-lunch to sit and enjoy it the most. Then after you can walkabout the Latin Quarter, go up to the Luxembourg gardens, walk down the famous Rue Mouffetard or get dinner at Le Petite Prince.