How those people loved flowers and gardens! Columbines and daisies, pinks and lilies, roses and irises run riot--as backgrounds, in foregrounds, and surrounding the text in books of hours. And many of the paintings feature beautiful, neatly kept gardens, with familiar-looking rectangular beds and carefully maintained fruit trees. As a child, looking at these kinds of works, whether in a museum or as print reproductions, I would imagine magically stepping into these worlds and walking in the gardens and towns. Later I learned about the garden-as-symbol and its importance to Medieval and Renaissance culture.
This day I decided, to heck with the featured saints and courtiers--if I could visit, I'd want to have some nice long chats with the gardeners, and talk with them about what they grew, their methods, tools, rotations, uses for herbs, propagation methods, and so on.
Then I stopped short in front of two paintings by Jean Hey, the Master of Moulins: The Annunciation (1490-95) and Charlemagne and the Meeting at the Golden Gate (about 1500). You will notice that in each a patch of lawn is depicted. What is difficult to tell here, but was strikingly evident when confronted with the paintings (so glorious in real life), was that the bits of lawn were full of...weeds, all lovingly painted in great detail. As though there were nothing wrong with them, and they had value. Botanically correct dandelions, plantains, clover--all kinds of broadleaf plants many modern Americans wouldn't countenance in their lawns, but that the French considered decorative in courtly and indeed holy scenes.
|The Meeting at the Golden Gate|
If that sort of lawn is good enough for Charlemagne, Emperor of Europe, and for Mary and Gabriel, if it's worth the time to paint for one of the great painters of the Western tradition, it ought to be good enough for us. Perhaps the 15th-16th century French, arriving today, would ask us why so many of our lawns are so boring. No visual interest. Hardly worth painting.
So that cheered me right up, and I wondered, what are other historical precedents for the polyculture lawn? When did broad-leafed plants and flowers in lawns become weeds, to be omitted from idealized landscapes?
Lawncare Resources on the Web
The Polyculture Lawn: A Primer
Once in a Lifetime: This Is Not My Beautiful Lawn