Tag Archives: Swansea University

“And now for something completely different”: Bio-Science, Gilgamesh and Shakespeare….

It was April and the Hortus Conclusus team were faced with doing something slightly unusual – an invited lecture based on their research to a group of Bio-Science students – this was truly an interdisciplinary case of “When the Old meets the New”.

Using numerous images to bring the hidden Hortus Conclusus to life the team explained how their research was covering thousands of years as we outlined the range of sources we were using to understand the origins of gardens and their continued importance today. As we chased gardens through millennia the lecture touched on the evocative description of the imaginary garden in the creation story of Gilgamesh, one that reaches back into the mists of time, to later-medieval manuscript evidence of the traditional medicinal use of plants. The following day the lecture was followed-up with a trip to one of our favourite places the National Botanical Garden of Wales. The last time we paid a visit to the site it was wet and overcast (when it wasn’t raining) with most of the plants hibernating for the winter months but this time the sun shone and that indefinable sense of springtime and growth was in the air.

While being taken on a guided walk by one of the staff it was pointed out that cowslips growing in another part of the garden had, this year, begun to colonise the grassy verges of the main walkway leading into the gardens from the main entrance.


Many of the primrose family are reputed to have medicinal value and Cowslip (Primula veris LINN) is among them: from treating the complexion to being made into a soothing and slightly narcotic drink for the nerves its reputation is widespread. It appears in Anglo-Norman in one thirteenth-century manuscript (MS London, British Library, Royal 12 C XIX) where it claims that the remedy is one that was used and created by ‘Count Richard’ (Ref: Tony Hunt: Popular Medicine in 13th-century England , p. 68). As this remedy is for a boil or abscess that occurs in a very awkward place on the body it’s tempting to think that someone was having fun in attributing the origins of this remedy to the poor unfortunate, as yet untraced, Count Richard! Cowslips are also referred to by Shakespeare. In the voice of the Fairy, he had something to say about enchanting cowslips in a Midsummer’s Nights Dream:

The cowslips tall her pensioners be/In their gold coats spots you see

Those be rubies, fairy favours/In those freckles live their savours:

I must go seek some dewdrops here/And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone: Our queen and all our elves come here anon…


We would like to thank the Bio-Science students’ lecturer Aditee Mitra for inviting us to share our work with them and also for allowing us to share their trip to the NGW and have an insight into the work of the third-year biological science students.


A new gardener….

LHM writes:

The Hortus Conclusus team is delighted to welcome a new PhD student into the garden, thanks to the generous fees-only scholarship offered to the project by  the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University. Maria Zygogianni will join Liz, Trish and Theresa at the beginning of April to work on a doctoral project with the preliminary title, ‘Floral Utopias and Otherworlds: Representations of the Enclosed Garden in Chaucer and his Contemporaries’.  Maria has recently been awarded an MA in English Literature at Swansea, during which she undertook three modules on medieval literature (that clearly got her hooked!). Maria will be supervised by Roberta Magnani (Department of English Language and Literature) and Liz, with further assistance and guidance offered by Trish and Theresa. Her main focus will be on secular material, such as The Romance of the Rose and its intertexts, examining issues of gender, transgression and the supernatural, in particular.

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!



One of our bodies is missing…

TS writes: Thanks to a lively audience and the support of RIAH, the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities at Swansea University, our presentation ‘Come into the Enclosed Garden’ for the Being Human Festival was a huge success, but not without its hitches. Twenty minutes before we were due to speak, one of our rolled-up posters, featuring the medieval diagram of a pregnant woman (see our post of 28 October 2015) went missing. Whoever picked that up is going to get a surprise when they unroll her! Pressing on, however, we gave three short presentations on history, spirituality and medicine in the garden (Theresa’s amazing collection of aromatic plants, oils and other substances bringing the sensory experience to life)







and then offered the opportunity to ‘pin the medicinal plant on the person’, to much amusement. Poor ‘Eric’ was soon cured of his many health problems…


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