Tag Archives: health

Hofstra University: a Space for all the Senses

TS writes: Just back from the Berkshire Conference at Hofstra University, NY. The sessions – feminist, theorised, activist – were wonderful, but one of the real stars of the show was the glorious campus landscape, which greeted delegates with all possible shades of green and the heavy scents of jasmine and conifers as we emerged from the chill of air-conditioned rooms into what for New York was moderate heat and humidity. Hofstra is best known for its spring tulip festival, a nod to its Dutch heritage, but by early June these had long bloomed and been cleared away by the friendly and efficient grounds staff.

Exploring the campus with a Visitor’s Guide, it was a treat instead to find a small Sensory Garden tucked behind one of the large buildings, marked out with a polygonal trellis fence and featuring raised beds planted with an array of species to smell and touch.

At the centre of this cool, shady space (in the morning, at least) was a fountain, its gentle splashing providing a backdrop to the birdsong all around.

Exploring further, I wandered through the cathedral-like Pinetum, featuring over 110 varieties of coniferous trees reaching up and providing another sanctuary from the sun for those seeking it.

Beyond the green space, the campus also boasted a paved labyrinth, a replica of that at Chartres cathedral in France. Enclosed on three sides by buildings, the 40-foot-wide labyrinth encourages you to walk to its centre and ‘filter out the external world’ before working your way back out ‘with a better understanding of your own internal identity’. I found myself wishing that Hofstra’s version wasn’t quite so exposed: it’s hard to filter out the external world when the world insists on crossing the square straight through the marked-out paving maze. As the HC team has always suspected, an enclosed garden is a much better way to zone out…



Infertility, garden intrigues and mystery manuscripts at Manorbier Castle

The HC team is pleased to announce publication of its first co-written article in the most recent edition of Transactions of the Honorable Society of Cymmrodorion. Here, the team explores the links between an understudied early fourteenth-century manuscript miscellany, the family of Gerald of Wales (d. 1223) and the medieval castle of Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, where Gerald was born in 1146.
We have argued that the manuscript, which contains a rich selection of medical and other texts, many to do with cures for infertility or the production of male offspring, was produced by and for some of Gerald’s descendants. We also suggest that it provides important new insights into the also little-known but very troubled history of the castle and its owners between 1200 and 1500.
Central to our discussion is a hitherto unrecognised garden space at the castle (below), formed accidentally when the two-storey chapel was added to the building in 1260. No doubt the ingredients for many of the recipes and ‘cures’ contained within the manuscript would have been grown here and in the surrounding lands and gardens outside the castle walls. 
The Garden Space at Manorbier Castle

The Garden Space at Manorbier Castle

However, these ‘cures’ seem to have been ineffectual. Although the evidence uncovered by the team suggests that the manuscript may have helped successive generations of the family to address a deepening inheritance crisis, that crisis erupted into a bitter dispute that ended in robbery, appropriation of the castle and its lands and, finally, murder.

Picnic in Paradise (well, Leeds…)

The HC team recently delivered its first collective panel session at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. As the conference theme was ‘Food, Feast and Famine’, we offered three takes on the garden as a source of spiritual and physical nourishment, for good or ill. Liz used Mechthild of Hackeborn’s striking imagery to explore the intersection between ‘Mysticism, food and sex’; Theresa examined the ‘Edible plants in Eden’, utilising paradises such as Mahaut of Artois’s gardens at Hesdin; and Trish rounded off with a paper on ‘Overindulgence’, asking whether you could have too much of a good thing, be that food, sex or sensory stimuli in the enclosed garden.

We were delighted to welcome a large audience to the panel, and in particular to meet Dr Annemarieke Willemsen from the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, that city of course home to one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe.

The University of Leeds is doing its bit to promote the garden as a place of health and wellbeing too – the campus plays host to a rooftop garden cultivating salads for a regular market, as well as a garden in Chancellor’s Court where staff are encouraged to take a ‘sustainable lunch break’ in the open air.

The Rooftop Garden

The Rooftop Garden



These initiatives demonstrate the rediscovery of the garden as a place of pleasure, contemplation and well-being, something our medieval authors knew about only too well.

Weald and Downland Gardens

TS writes: In search of a break from copy-editing, I headed with Dr Emily Cock to the Weald and Downland Open-Air Museum in Sussex (PO18 0EU), which will be hosting a Historic Gardens Day on 10 July 2016. And what a treasure-trove of historic gardens the museum is! Six have been re-created, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and we visited three in detail, Poplar Cottage, a 17th-century reconstruction of a working garden for a landless labourer,

the Walderton house, of a similar date but belonging to a rather better-off resident (not me….),


and the highlight of the visit, Bayleaf, a 16th-century farmstead house with a garden that can only be described as truly ‘enclosed’ by the flourishing mix of vegetables, herbs and trees being grown.


On what was a warm day, this space felt at least a degree or two warmer once you got through the gate and within its wattle boundaries. The garden had been recreated using Master John Gardener’s Feate of Gardening and a 16th-century cookery book, the Fromond List, and it was easy to get lost in the greenery of parsnips being allowed to grow for seed, and ‘weeds’ being left to provide a living mulch. I sat and contemplated the scenery whilst Emily took all these lovely pictures…..

Across the site, the gardens all had their accompanying bee skeps of various types, though apart from a lazy wasp there was not much sign of anyone in residence.


All in all, a brilliant piece of ‘pleasure, contemplation and cure’ in the Sussex Downs – highly recommended!!



International Women’s Day

HC celebrates IWD with a new pilot project on women’s health and wellbeing – we’re currently looking for volunteers to participate in our ‘Time out in the garden’ study. We’ll only need an hour of your time, please email hortus[at]swansea.ac.uk for further details, with TIME OUT in the subject line.

Hortus project recognised for award!

LHM and TS write:


The Hortus Conclusus team were today celebrating winning an Impact Acceleration award, sponsored at Swansea by the EPSRC, to help us develop our goal of reconstructing a real, medieval, enclosed garden here in Wales, and assessing its therapeutic qualities.

Gardens as places of therapy are attracting increasing attention: a recent. A recent Gardener’s Question Time http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b068yd6m was broadcast from the walled garden in Auchincruive, Scotland. This is a garden devised as a therapeutic centre for ex-servicemen and women to help them with PDSD and other traumas.

As part of our award, we shall be measuring the health benefits of quiet, enclosed spaces, as well as writing applications for sponsorship of both the new garden and of a horticultural trainee to help us realise this vision. When the garden is built, we shall be using it for medieval-themed events and performances, as well as opening it up as a contemplative space. Follow the category ‘Impact’ to see how we progress!



KCL Radio

TS writes: Last Friday Theresa and I had the interesting experience of being interviewed about the project (less than 2 months after its start!) by the delightful Francesca Allfrey of Kings College London Radio. Hear what we had to say when In Conversation airs on Wednesday 11 November 2015 between 9 and 10am. Visit the KCL site to access archived programmes.


Being Human – the AHRC Festival of the Humanities

TS writes:

What does the HC have in common with these images? Find out when the Hortus Conclusus team takes part in the Being Human festival at Swansea University from 11-20 November 2015. We’ll be offering the sensory experience of the enclosed garden in words, pictures and a very hands-on test of your plant knowledge. Details are here, just come along if you’re in the Swansea area on 20 November!

L0038592 The Physician's Handbook Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Physician's Handbook: English medical and astrological compendium 1454 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 Wellcome Library, London.

L0000845 foetal positions in uterus, pregnant female Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Four foetal positions in uterus - Full-figure anatomy of pregnant woman labelled with ailments Ink and Watercolour Circa 1420-30 MS 49 Apocalypse, (The), [etc.]. Apocalypsis S. Johannis cum glossis et Vita S. Johannis; Ars Moriendi, etc.; Anatomical, medical, texts, theological moral and allegorical 'exempla' and extracts, a few in verse. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Wellcome Library, London

Trade, Discovery and Influences in the History of Herbal Medicine Seminar, London, 14/10/2015

TT writes:

A brief background to the Herbal History Research Network. A small group of researchers came together in 2010 with the overall aim of promoting scholarly research in the history of herbal medicine and herbal traditions. One of their aims is to connect people who share common interests in researching the history of herbal medicine, and support their development of skills and access to resources. Founding members were medical trained herbalists but since then contributors to seminars have included a wide range of scholars across historical periods.

At the recent Seminar held at the Wellcome Trust’s offices in London an impressive range of speakers took the delegates on a whistle-stop tour that included visits to Rome, Siberia, the archives of the Russian Palace in Moscow, and to South America, by way of Portugal, Iberia, Amsterdam, Hamburg and northern Russia before arriving back at Kew to hear about their work on their International plant collection. Through the records of Ancient Rome Laurence Totelin explained the ways in which medicinal plants and materials were traded, by looking at the ways people knew (or didn’t know!) what they were buying. This included the intriguing fact that some of this plant material was transported in containers made from the plaited leaves of the Chaste Tree (Agnus castus – sometimes known as the women’s herb) which, raises the intriguing question ‘were the leaves then recycled and by whom’. Other papers examined written records to demonstrate just how far materia medica travelled to reach the hands of physicians, apothecaries and patients. It was shown that merchants very soon after their discovery in South America traded medicinal plants that could, despite frozen ports, eventually be used not only by English physicians in the Russian Palace but be sold on the markets of Moscow (Clare Griffin). The expanding pharmacological horizons of Anglo-Norman medicine in eleventh-century England was examined through a case study of an eleventh century manuscript (Debby Banham). While Anne Stobart explored some of the medicine found in household records by asking, “Just what were women in Early-Modern households using to cure their own and their family’s ills”? Richard Aspin and Mark Nesbitt both examined collections but of an entirely different sort. Richard Aspin examined three categories of records held in the extensive archives of the Wellcome Library by dividing them into three categories: the drug trade, physicians (prescriptions) and consumption (patients). Mark Nesbitt explained how, over time, Kew had added to their holdings of plant based material and their more recent collaboration with bio-chemists – for example using alkaloids found in the plant material that have a long shelf life and, fortunately, no ‘date before use’ stamped on them. The winning student poster came from Deborah Schlein whose PhD research focuses on the reception of Greco-Arabic medical knowledge into South Asian Unānī medicine, in this case she was looking at Turmeric (Curcuma Longa L.) that has travelled from its origins in southeast Asia, to India and the Middle East is known and widely known today as a wonder food with amazing properties. To sum up a day which had brought together a disciplinary group of people, who had sat in comfortable chairs as they toured around continents, ended with a simple question of how can we encourage more research to stimulate discussion and uncover valuable knowledge.

The HHRN would be delighted if you would like to join their discussion list just click on the link on our resource page to see how to join their discussion list!

Herbal History Research Seminar

Another event of interest, London, 14 October 2015

Trade, Discovery and Influences in the History of Herbal Medicine