The plants of
Imagining Walafrid's Hortulus
Medicinal uses of plants in the
provides the names of some 23 or 24 different plants.
The first is
sage, which Walafrid tells us grows in the front of his
garden -- probably near the doorway to his home.
Next he mentions rue, and says that both sunlight and
breezes reach even the stems of this plant, which suggests
it isn’t planted in the shade of the high wall he worries
will make part of the garden too shady.
Then comes southernwood, Artemesia abrotanum. Like
rue, it is a gray-green plant that prefers full sun.
in the Hortulus
that, two of the longest passages in the Hortulus
describe what must have been favorites of his, the
cucurbitas, bottle gourds that harvested when small were
edible; and white-fleshed pepones or melons.
climb a trellis and clamber enthusiastically over the
roof of a porticum
or covered walkway; the pepones trail across the ground.
Flowering plants may have been placed along a path from
the door to the garden's gate, among them iris, which
follows fennel in the text. Fennel was (and still is)
thought to hinder the growth of neighboring plants, so it
would probably have been planted at the end of a row, rather
than in the middle.
Lovage had traits opposite to those of fennel, for it was
believed to be a good companion plant for just about
everything. Walafrid tells us that in his garden, lovage
grew among other fragrant shrubs. Then comes chervil,
followed by glowing lilies, which we are later told grow
roses. All of these are sun-loving plants.
Imagining Walafrid's garden
are described next. Then
and, hidden by it, costmary. Then we have the mints (and he
infers there are several varieties), and
pennyroyal, also a species
Walafrid tells us with a smile that a person able to name
all the different kinds and properties of mints could also
probably tell you how many kinds of fish you'll find in the
Indian Ocean, or how many sparks fly up from volcanic Mt.
Celery follows, a good companion plant
for roses, and then
agrimony in orderly
rows, perhaps along that high brick wall he
worries creates to much shade.
Ambrosia in this garden
is not, Walafrid points out, the same as the ambrosia
mentioned in the “ancient books," and
may well be mugwort (Artemesia
vulgaris). Then comes
catnip and, in the last bed, radishes.
Sun loving plants are grouped together in the list. Plants
known to help protect vine crops are grown beside them:
Strongly fragrant artemesias like
wormwood and southernwood,
along with rue and
horehound. All of these
also have silvery foliage, which would have been striking
against the deep green of the vines covering the
ground and climbing the portico.
Shade-tolerant plants are also grouped in the list, and may
perhaps have grown beside the high brick wall whose shade
worried Walafrid. Mints, pennyroyal, agrimony, and that
fall into this group.
The last plant in his list is the
rose, and here he indulges
in religious metaphor.
Walafrid tells us that his country has
no source of "Tyrian purple," a dark red dye obtained from
shellfish, but makes up for this with its beautiful
For all of the plants except roses, Walafrid
provides a bit of commentary, most often medicinal, but
occasionally horticultural. For example, we hear the voice
of experience when he tells us that sage wars upon itself,
for if not cut back sharply each autumn, the old growth interferes with the new, the plant becomes too woody,
and it dies. For the rest of the plants, Walafrid's
comments on their use as medicinals.