The New York Botanical Garden has recreated a sixteenth-century medicinal garden as part of its exhibit on Wild Medicine: Healing Plants Around the World.
The medicinal garden is patterned on the botanical garden that was created in 1545 for the medical school of the University of Padua. European universities began to construct elaborate medicinal botanical gardens in the sixteenth century, as plants were circulating around the world through growing global trade networks. Europeans encountered numerous herbs and medicinal plants from Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and began to examine their uses. Early printed treatises on botany and gardening also date from this period, indicating the significance of Renaissance gardens for the history of medicine.
NPR reports on the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition, but the article makes several errors.
The article mistakenly claims that the University of Padua’s garden was “Europe’s first botanical garden.” The Orto Botanico, or Botanical Garden, of the University of Pisa was created a year earlier in 1544 by Cosimo I de’ Medici and has long claimed to be the first university medical garden. And, of course, many monasteries had medicinal gardens for centuries prior to that.
The NPR story’s caption to one of its photos mistakenly lists the date of the founding of the Padua garden as “1645.”
The New York Botanical Garden maintains a website for their current exhibition.
Scholars and students of the history of medicine, gardens, and globalization in the early modern period will be interested in this exhibition. Mediterranean historians and historians of science have developed a sophisticated historiography on medieval and early modern botanical gardens. For an entry into this literature, see:
Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan, eds., Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
Sara Ferri and Francesca Vannozzi, eds., I Giardini dei Semplici e Gli Orti Botanici della Toscana (Perugia: Giunta Regionale Toscana and Quattroemme, 1993).