TS writes: Just back from the Lleida International Medieval Congress, where I presented on the intriguing case of Count Robert of Artois’s use of southern Italian and Sicilian experts to help him make the garden park at Hesdin, NE France. That paper focused on the practice of grafting plants, and the team will be developing it for future publication. Some key questions emerged about the purpose of grafting, and also about its relationship, as a practice, with contemporary religious ideas. Was the combining of two plant parts to make an improved plant a legitimate action or did it fly in the face of God’s creation? I’m going to be exploring this further, since the creation and maintenance of gardens for pleasure would surely have included such horticultural experimentation and display.
Meanwhile, the city of Lleida itself offered numerous distractions, not least the atmospheric environment of the 15th-century former Hospital of S. Maria, in whose cortile sat this rather sad rose,
and the modern Camps Elisis, a carefuly-landscaped Elysian escape from the heat of the city, complete with fountains and parterres sculpted in concrete.
In search of more cool, I visited the splendid Museu de Lleida, which had treasures of its own – among which were this al-Andalusi perfume flask
and a gloriously ‘fertile’ mosaic from nearby El Romeral. The latter swarmed with bird motifs among depictions of familiar and strange flowers and fruit, bringing nature into what must have been a prominent and visible part of the Romeral villa when in situ.
The Lleida congress was a delightful opportunity to engage with Catalunyan, Spanish and Italian colleagues, and with work that deepened my understanding of the Mediterranean society from which John ‘the Apulian’, with his grafting skills, emerged. I benefited hugely from the generosity of their suggestions, and will be making the return journey next year.