Herbal Escape: The Cloisters Museum and Gardens

Experience medieval herb gardens in New York City—and learn how to bring the tradition home.

| June/July 2010

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If you’re ever in New York City, be sure to discover the rich tapestry of colors, textures and fragrances of more than 250 medieval herbs thriving in not one, but three cloister gardens in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. This sacred green sanctuary is part of The Cloisters Museum and Gardens, a medieval art and architecture museum that's a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Unique Medieval Gardens

“There are no other medieval gardens like this in the United States,” says Deirdre Larkin, associate managing horticulturist of The Cloisters. “We grow 250 to 325 herbs, depending on the season. However, we don’t cultivate each herb every year.” The three gardens at The Cloisters (Bonnefont Garden, Cuxa Garden and Trie Garden) are all thriving re-creations of the herbs, flowers and other plants found in medieval life and art. As with the medieval gardens of old, they are carefully designed to appeal to all five senses. Strolling through these peaceful gardens, you can experience solace and renewal, much as monks did hundreds of years ago in the Romanesque and Gothic periods.

“In medieval Europe, the flora is dominated by spring blooming, so the best time to visit the Bonnefont Garden is in late May and early June,” Larkin says. “Another nice time in the medieval garden is mid- to late-October, when plants have recovered from the summer heat and the quince trees are in fruit.”

Herbal Inspiration

We all are greatly indebted to European medieval herbalists who cultivated herbs that have important culinary and medicinal applications in modern times. “Many of the herbs we value today were grown and used in the Middle Ages. There’s been a direct line,” Larkin says.

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