Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Hortus Conclusus and Me

Hortus conclusus - Latin for enclosed, or walled, garden.

Gardens were surrounded by enclosures as far back as ancient times. These walls were designed to keep out enemies, whether humans or animals. During the Medieval period, enclosed gardens took on symbolic meanings and were referred to as the hortus conclusus. Seen as examples of paradise on earth in both Christian and Islamic traditions, enclosed gardens were safe havens where only beneficial plants were cultivated.

Artists used the symbolism of an enclosed garden to portray love and religious ideals.  In both Persian and Christian cultures during this time, the enclosed garden represented domesticity, refinement and femininity. The maiden is placed within the garden. Her suitor is outside the walls in the rugged, wild, masculine landscape. The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child were often placed by artists of the Catholic tradition within the hortus conclusus.

I learned about the hortus conclusus in an art history course, The History of Landscape Architecture and Garden Design, at Southern Connecticut State University. The history of the hortus conclusus resonated with me for several reasons.

First, I have an enclosed garden designed to keep out enemies - deer and woodchucks. This garden contains raised beds, placed in orderly rows, as was often designed in Medieval monastery gardens. Our larger garden, the whole of our property, is surrounded by an imaginary enclosure - boundary lines. This acre of land is our personal piece of earthly paradise.

Secondly, the relationship between the garden and the spiritual lessons it provides speaks volumes to me. I am most connected to God when I am in my garden.

Thirdly, the feminine, domesticated symbolism of the hortus conclusus is appealing. A child of the 1960s, a teen in the 1970s and a young woman in the 1980s, growing up in metropolitan New York, it was drilled into my head by the prevailing culture that a woman must prove she is equal to a man. This culture stripped away femininity from women. I was ashamed to be a "girly-girl" who didn't know how to throw a ball or dig a hole to plant a tree when studying horticulture at SUNY Farmingdale. I was embarrassed to admit that I liked the old fashioned look of embroidered and lace tablecloths and dresser scarves that I grew up with. I made my way through those early years often feeling alone as an old-fashioned, feminine woman. Then in the late 1980s I discovered Victoria Magazine. Through the pages of romantic photos I saw that I was not alone in my love for flowers, lace, tea in pretty china, embroidery and other dainty, feminine things. I read about English cottage gardens, French potagers, poets, authors and artists of centuries past who found delight in the natural world as well as modern women who incorporated these styles and sensibilities in their lives. The decade of the 1990s was one of affirming my feminity and embracing the simple, joyful, fulfilling life of raising a family, creating a home and garden just as my mother and grandmother did before me. As my children grew, life seemed to get more complicated with all the options available in every manner for life today. My garden, my hortus conclusus, has been and continues to be my refuge.

So here you have a little information about me and the reasoning for naming this blog what I did.

1 comment:

  1. You are so right that femininity was stripped away from women. I love being feminine and taught my daughter to be that way. I figure if God intended me to be masculine he would have made me a man! I am going to like this blog :)


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