The Origins Of The European Gardening

The Origins Of The European Gardening

Article by A1rosess

Louis XIII’s gardener Jean Robin, who had his own collection in Paris in the early part of the 17th century, also exchanged information and plants with contemporary gardeners. It is still a question of dispute whether Robinia pseudoacacia, the black locust or false acacia from northeast America, was received first by Jean Robin or the Tradescants: it was named for Robin c.1630. In 1651, Parisian nurseryman Pierre Morin published his own Catalogue de Quelques Plantes, many of its plants originally obtained from Robin. In Morin’s flower garden, later copied by John Evelyn at Sayes Court, a central oval in the form of a flower was surrounded by a series of smaller beds in the shapes of petals. Here Morin grew “Tulips, Anemonies, Ranunculus’s, Crocus’s & etc” which “were held for the rarest in the world”.

By the beginning of the 17th century the most sought-after flowers were varieties of Hyacinthus orientalis, narcissus and iris, and especially anemones and tulips. Francesco Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, had a passion for both the latter. In his garden in Cisterna he grew beds of tuberoses, sunk in flowerpots so that they could be easily watered. He also had white narcissi from Constantinople, dwarf orange trees and white-flowered broom. He owned 15,000 tulips, but anemones came first in his estimation — especially the downy variety called in Italian “di velluto”. He acquired 29,000 of 230 different kinds. One called Anemone ‘Sermon- eta’, “all scarlet and pale yellow”, was grown by Sir Thomas Hanmer in his Shropshire garden in 1659.Hanmer (1612-78) was one of a handful of English 17th-century amateur enthusiasts whose passion.

Renowned gardener John Rea dedicated his book, Flora (1665), to Hanmer, his friend and neighbour. Another gardening contemporary was the Parliamentary General Lambert at Wimbledon, who collected tulips. In 1655 Hanmer gave him “a very great mother-root of Agate Hanmer”. This fine tulip with three distinct colours — crimson, white and pale “gredeline”, a greyish-purple — was described later by John Rea. Hanmer gave the same tulip to his friend John Evelyn, for his garden at Sayes Court in Deptford.

In a slightly different league as a plantsman was Henry Compton (1632-1713), son of an earl and Lord Bishop of London from 1675 until his death. During his incumbency he made the gardens of Fulham Palace famous for exotic trees and shrubs, many of North American origin. As Bishop of London, Compton had jurisdiction over the Americas, and he instructed his clergy to add botanizing to their duties. One of the most fruitful was John Banister, who acquired several new species from Virginia besides “saving the souls” of American Indians.


In any age contemporary herbals, florilegia, plant lists and catalogues reveal the range of plants available. The more practical manuals or gardening books, useful at the time, are invaluable in helping a modern reader grasp the then existing state of garden design, horticultural knowledge and technical advance. The earliest English book on general gardening for the common man, a practical manual rather than a theoretical thesis, was A most briefe and pleasaunte treatise, teachyng how to dresse, sow and set a garden written by Thomas Hill between 1557 and 1559. Much of its information was gathered from other sources — including the Roman authors such as Columella — but it has enough practical suggestions to make it popular. An illustration of a square garden surrounded by a paling shows wide walks and narrow paths surrounding a central pattern of beds for plants. His second book, The Gardener’s Labyrinth, was published in 1577 after his death under the pseudonym of Didymus Mountain. Although it contains little new information about gardening or plants, Hill provides down-to-earth advice for contemporaries. His book also gives an idea of the contents and management of a small Elizabethan garden, a useful source in the understanding of the technical possibilities and limitations of the age.

The first publication in the north of England on general gardening was William Lawson’s A New Orchard and Garden in 1618. Among its illustrations is one of a typical manor house of the period with a moat and river, and a garden divided into six sections, each allotted a different role. A topiary garden contains realistic figures of a man and a horse; there is an orchard — with fruit trees planted in a quincunx — a complicated and a simple knot and an even simpler design of rectangular beds, probably for vegetables. William Lawson also recommends “comely borders to the beds, with roses, lavender and the like”. Parkinson’s Paradisus also covered practical matters. Its first chapters, called “The Ordering of the Garden of Pleasure”, dealt with amending soils, designs of arbours and walks, flowerbeds and their arrangement in knots and what flowers to put in them

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