Friday, January 16, 2009

Cloister Gardens Heavenly Places on Earth (Klosterträdgårdar Himmelska platser på jorden)

This is book only available in swedish so far. I've decided to post the review here anyhow, since a few gardening links are included. And, of course, you can pester your local publishing company to make a translation :) Don't worry, I have a few english books coming up for reviews too. For those of you who are language buffs I can reveal that swedish doesn't separate cloisters and convents - the same word are usually used for both, and I've stuck with "cloister" in my translation since I've not memorised which orders that uses what - I'm a lousy theologian that way ;)

This is a book for the dark winter months; it combines garden dreams with travelogues and gardening tips. I finished my copy the same day I got it.

Lena Isralesson has studied the cloisters' role in gardening history and the modern cloister gardens. She invites us to a journey both to the oldest christian monk community as well as modern day cloisters in Sweden and internationally. In addition to that we got some gardening history spiced up with illuminations and the cloister plan of st Gallen. You don't have to be a gardening, illuminating medieval junky and theologian (like me) to fall for this, liking beautiful photoes and good writing is enough.

You get less gardening tips than you usually get in a book by Lena Israelsson, and that's because the cloisters in general don't take the lead in gardening techniques any more. After all prayer is the main 'product' and when cultivation isn't necessary for survival the knowledge has evaporated. (Nowadays they don't sit on the collected knowledge of the world either, like they did in the early middle ages.) Having said that we can note that Lena Israelsson have found several interesting gardens and cultivation methods. You can't keep from planning a cloister tour while you are reading, and for anyone interested a chapter on how to behave and what to expect when visiting a community is included. An added plus for her remark that it's a sacrifice for nuns and monks to have guests (they have promised to live in seclusion to meet God).

In an earlier post I said that this is a dangerous book. You may wonder why. Well, because persons with really interesting gardening methods are presented within, and when Lena Israelsson describes them it sounds so easy. I've spent nights trying to convert brother Birger's dynamite cultivation to my small allotments. In Fulda in Germany, a place known for illuminations too, sister Christa of the benedicti nun cloister (link in german) passes mother Laurentia's methods for natural gardening on. They are well known among german natural gardeners. I've never studied german, but now I'm all for subscribing to syster Christa's Winka - and if I'm suddenly starting to blog from Fulda you'll know what happened (and should send a sympathetic thought to my aching wallet).

I'm giving this book five terracotta pots out of five. Buy it as a warm up for the gardening season.

Himmelska platser på jorden
Lena Israelsson
Wahlström & Widstrand
Italien 2008
ISBN 978-91-46-21840-1

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