Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
.

  

Google

Home

Early gardens

Early plants

Growing heirloom plants

Garden folklore

Resources for gardeners

Site map

Contact us

April

     And here I here the fowlis synge
  
   ...And here I hear the fowls sing

 

Typical April scenes:

  • A figure holding  or standing
    amidst greenery

  • Vineyard workers

 

Harrowing a field, from the Fécamp Psalter

Harrowing a field,
from the Fécamp Psalter

Labors of the Month

 

Spring sowing and harrowing; plant flax and hemp for fiber; start household gardens; plant coleworts, potherbs.

 

Plowing started in early April when the soil was soft enough to turn easily. Spring crops were barley, oats, beans, peas, and vetches.

 

Grain seed – barley and oats – were broadcast; it took some four bushels of seed per acre. Legumes – beans, peas, and vetches – were “dibbled in” by poking a hole into the soft soil with a dibbler stick, then dropping in the seed. About three bushels of beans or peas would plant an acre. Once a field was planted, it was harrowed by dragging a toothed implement like a giant rake across the soil to cover the seed.

 

Calving continued. In order to have milk over a longer period, farmers wouldn't allow all cows to breed at the same time during the preceding fall, so calves would arrive over a period of several months in the spring. As calves and lambs were weaned, dairy work began, producing cheese and butter. Pigs began to farrow (have piglets) now, and any leftover food from man or beast went to them.

 

Important Christian holy days included Lent and Easter. In Old English the word lenct meant "springtime"; Easter is named for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Ēastre or Ēostre, whose roots go back to an Indo-European goddess of the dawn.

Labors of April from Early Calendars

April, Salzburg Labors of the Months, Austrian National Museum

Salzburg Labors of the Months,
 
from St. Peter's Abbey,
Austria, c. 818 AD
.

Salzburg Labors of the Months, Austrian National MuseumGone are the heavy mantles worn by the figures for the winter months. The smiling figure for APR, April, holds a sheaf of tall green grass in his right hand, and gestures with his left toward a bird nesting atop a budding tree. The figure's long-sleeved, knee-length tunic is blue and red, and is belted at the waist. A suggestion of braies, short white trousers, can be seen at the knee. The young man wears criss-cross bindings over his leggings, and black shoes.

Dating to the early 800s, the Salzburg manuscript  (Codex 387 fol-90v) from which this figure comes is one of the oldest calendars of its kind. It is now in Vienna's Austrian National Library. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

April, Fulda Sacramentary, Germany

Fulda Sacramentary,
Fulda, Germany,
980 CE

Holding two flowering branches, and standing with flowers on either side, April's classical figure clearly welcomes spring (sadly, the plants are too indistinct to be identified). The elegant, bearded man wears a rich blue mantle that reaches to mid-calf. Beneath it is a golden tunic, worn over an under-tunic with purple sleeves. Fulda Sacramentary, GermanyHis brown leggings have bindings to mid-calf. He stands beneath a low arch supported by two columns.

At right is the calendar page from the Fulda Sacramentary fragment. In the center is Annus, the year. In each corner is a season, and the twelve months are in columns, six to the left and six to the right. Day and night are in the round medallions top and bottom. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library 
Lansdowne 383

Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library
Lansdowne 383,
c. 1135 CE

A figure with unusually long, red hair is our laborer for April. He wears an  elaborate hat or flowery crown, and holds a large, long-stemmed flower in his right hand. His ankle-length robe is slit to the waist, revealing red leggings and shoes. Flowers surround him, with two blossoming at the peak of the roof above him, and three more flourishing to  the right of the structure. Two of those flowers contain faces; one is blue and possibly human. The other, green and possibly canine, has a long, curling tongue.

 

Probably made at the nunnery at Shaftesbury, Dorset, this psalter with its prayers, psalms, and calendar, is the oldest manuscript in the British Library to have been made for a woman. Dating to the early 1100s, its style, Romanesque, became popular following the first crusade. It uses particularly vivid colors -- blue from lapis lazuli, red from vermillion, green from buckthorn berries; and is  illuminated with gold throughout.

April, Zwiefalten calendar, Wurttemberg State Library, Stuttgart

Zwiefalten calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,
Stuttgart, Germany,
c. 1145 CE

For Aprilus, two young men labor in a vineyard. On the left, rather than the zodiac sign for this month (which would be either Taurus or Aries), we see a young man holding what appear to be two branches with buds at the top, their lower ends in a narrow vessel -- probably cuttings to be used as grafts or as transplants. The curly-haired man to the right is tying a vine to a tall stake. Both wear long-sleeved tunics that are loosely Zwiefalten calendar, Wurttemberg State Library, Stuttgart belted at the waist, with embroidered plackets at the neck.

The Zwiefalten calendar or monatsbilder,  (Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v) shows the zodiac figure and labor for each month in concentric circles around a central figure representing the year (see a larger image here). This calendar is now in the collections of the Wurttemberg State Library, Stuttgart, Germany. Image from Wikimedia Commons.


Fécamp Psalter, made in Normandy, National Library 
of the Netherlands

Fécamp Psalter, made in Normandy,
 c. 1180 CE
; now in National Library
of the Netherlands


Wearing a floral crown, a regal figure delicately holds an upright, flowering branch like a scepter in his right hand. (We know the figure is male because women are never portrayed with gowns open at the front to show so much leg.)

 

Our king wears a red, ermine-lined mantle that drapes casually over his shoulders; then loops over his left arm to be held in place by his left hand. His long-sleeved, ankle-length black surcoat is lined in patterned fabric, and has a decorated placket at the neck. This surcoat is open  in front to the buckled belt at his waist, much like the garment seen above in the Shaftesbury Psalter. Beneath is a white undergarment that reaches to just above his knees. On his legs are patterned red stockings, and he wears black shoes, open over the top of the foot to fasten at the ankle, and having pointed toes.
 

He stands on a raised brown mound. Behind him is a golden panel, set against a dark blue background sprigged with white tendrils that look very much like newly sprouted seeds.

 

The Fécamp Psalter (KB 76) was made for a woman in Normandy in the late 12th century. Unlike most psalters, its calendar provides colorful, full page images for the labors of the months. It is now in the collections of the National Library of the Netherlands, Den Haag. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B II,

Psalter, British Library,
Royal 2 B II, France,
c. 1250 CE

This jaunty figure holds two leafy branches, and stands amidst blooming flowers. His ankle length, parti-colored garment of red and blue has a deeply dagged hem; he wears black stockings and shoes.

The flowers at his feet could well be single-flowered roses.

Roses, 14th century
Roses, c. 1300 CE

Made in France in the first half of the 13th century, this illuminated psalter has twelve miniatures showing the labors of the months. It was written for a nun, perhaps at Nantes. It is now in the collections of the British Library.

April, from Queen Mary's Psalter, BL Royal 2 B VII

The Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B VII,
made in London at Westminster,
or in East Anglia( ?) , c. 1315 CE.

In this breezy scene, five women gaily gather flowers. The woman to the left, in the tan gown, places a flowery garland on her head. Beside her to the right, a woman in a red gown picks a six-petalled flower from the green hillside.

In the center a woman in pale green also holds a chapelet of flowers. At her feet, a woman wearing an armless pink surcoat over a dark blue, long-sleeved under-tunic is gathering what appear to be pink clover blossoms (though the leaves are not the trefoil leaves of clover). Behind her, a woman in a red surcoat, slit to the waist to show her black under-tunic, holds up a garland for approval.

At each of the four corners of this scene are trefoil clover leaves or shamrocks. The word shamrock comes from Gaelic seamróg, "little or young clover," a plant that often appears in Old Irish descriptions of flowering plains (mag scothach scothshemrach).

The apocryphal story linking the Trinity, St. Patrick, and the shamrock doesn't appear until the 17th century. But long before Patrick, the three-leaved clover was believed to avert evil. When its leaves constricted in and upward, clover foretold storms. Three was a number of wholeness, of completion; clover was sacred to the Triple Goddesses, and later to St. Brigid.
 

Bohun Psalter, British Library Egerton 3277

Bohun Psalter, British Library
Egerton 3277, England,
c. 1360 CE

In the Bohun Psalter, April's labor shows a young woman holding a bouquet of long-stemmed red flowers in each hand. She has blonde hair, worn unbound and uncovered, and wears an ankle-length pink gown with long sleeves. Though the flowers are indistinct, their shape and black centers suggest they are Papaver rhoeas, field poppies (also known as corn roses). Ceres, Roman goddess of grain, was often shown wearing a crown of of these lovely red flowers.

Flanders poppy

Papaver rhoeas, Field poppy

The Bohun Psalter (Egerton 3277) was probably made for one of the Earls of Hereford in the late 1300s, or for Mary de Bohun, who in 1380 married Henry of Bolingbroke. Its calendar has a dozen historiated Ks depicting the  labors of the months. Here, the K appears to the left of the poppy-holding woman.

 

 

 

 

Labors of the Months

Januar
By thys fyre
I warme my handys

Februar
And with my spade
I delfe my landys

Marche
Here I sette
my  thinge to sprynge

Aprile
And here I here
the fowlis synge

Maij
I am as lyght
as byrde in bowe

Junij
And I wede my corne
well i-know

Julij
With my sythe
my mede I mawe

Auguste
And here I shere
my corne full lowe

September
With my flayll
I erne my brede

October
And here I sawe
my whete so rede

November
At Martynesmasse
I kylle my swyne

December
And at Christes masse
I drynke redde wyne


Oxford, BL Digby 88 (SC1689),
1450 CE

 

Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map

 

Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2015 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us