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Tudor gardens 1550 – 1650

 

International context

 

While the Chinese and Islamic worlds thrived, China with the largest economy in the world, outside these spheres the Americas, India and Oceania were falling under the influence of Europe following Portuguese and Spanish maritime colonial expansion in an Age of Exploration and Discovery. Settlements and trading ports were established in India, the Americas and Oceania following the Spanish conquest of the New World following Columbus in 1492 and including the subjugation of the Aztecs by Cortez (1519-1522) and Incas by Pizarro (1533). Portuguese sailors had rounded the African Cape to open a maritime trade route across the Indian Ocean to the Indian west coast before penetrating the Pacific Ocean and the Magellan expedition’s global circumnavigation of 1519-1522 which confirmed the Earth as a sphere and established the bounds of the known world.

The rise of Spain to become the dominant continental political and economic power had shifted commercial control from the nation-states of the Italian peninsula and other Mediterranean ports to the Atlantic coast as countries of north-west Europe thrived on the trade across the Atlantic Ocean (including the transport of African slaves to sugar plantations in the New World). Trading outposts were also established in the Indian Ocean and East Indies before being taken over by an ascendant Holland that was entering a political and cultural golden age that would last through the seventeenth century.

Dutchman Willem Janszoon in 1606 made the first authenticated European sighting of what became known as New Holland and then as part of a commercial reconnaissance by the Dutch East india Company based at Batavia (Jakarta) the vast continent was roughly mapped in 1642 by Abel Tasman. Tasman was also the first European to set eyes on and name Novae Zelandiae and Van Diemen’s Land (which he named after the director of of his employer company, although it was subsequently named after Tasman himself) which at that time was presumed to be part of the mainland.

The world was becoming more commercially integrated with increased trade in luxury goods especially with the social disparity resulting from increased wealth along with increasing urbanization the more marked separation of town and country.

The humanist Renaissance looked back to the achievements of the classical world and forward to the potential derived from a new geography, the revitalization of science, and the greater democratization of knowledge through the spread of the printed word as forerunner to the academic ‘republic of letters’ that would take root in the late seventeeth century.

Tudors

Europe

Religion still dominated daily life. A Protestant Reformation had been launched in 1517 on the continent by Martin Luther who challenged many of the questionable practices of the Catholic Church such as the sale of ‘pardons’, abuse of ‘holy relics’ and such. In England Henry VIII, desperate for an heir and needing new wives, had separated from the Catholic church in 1534 but falling foul of an extreme faction, the Puritans, who frowned on any hint of excess. Englishman William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) had supported the uneducated by producing a Bible translated into vernacular English instead of the Latin of the Catholic liturgy. Society across Europe was rife with religious intrigue and conflict expending much social energy on doctrinal matters and the details of religious observance.

The sack of Rome in 1527 by the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V effectively ended the days of Rome as the Renaissance centre. Europe was passing through an extended period of religious turmoil that included both international and civil wars culminating in the widespread Thirty Year’s War of 1618-1648 that pitted Protestants of mostly central Europe (what is now Germany) against Catholics of the Holy Roman Empire in a conflict that engaged most of Europe including Denmark-Norway, France, Bohemia, Swedish empire, England, Austria, and the Spanish empire.

Natural philosophy (science) was on the brink of a Scientific Revolution but the former Medieval witchcraft and superstition were still in evidence.

Britain

The Mediterranean Renaissance found its way to Britain around the time of the initiation of the Tudor dynasty in about 1485, culminating in the Elizabethan era in the latter part of the sixteenth century. In 1588 Phillip II of Spain sent a vast armada against the fleet of Elizabeth I in a bid to link up with his army in Calais and impose Catholic rule. This was also partly an attempt to quell Dutch and British privateering. The eminent privateer Francis Drake renowned for his capture of Spanish treasure ships and an attack on Cadiz, had just completed a circumnavigation of the globe (1577-1580) and was second in command of the British fleet.

The Tudor dynasty was founded by Lancastrian Henry VII when he defeated Richard III of York at the Battle of Bosworth Field, drawing the War of the Roses to a close and bringing much-needed stability to the country. The English civil war, a conflict between Royalists and Parliamentarians, of 1642-1649 ended with the beheading of Charles I. The Tudor dynasty had started and finished with civil war.

Society

The Wars of the Roses resulted in deep social change as the tradition of nobility living in castles, inherited from the Normans, was challenged by a new wealthy middle class, a nouveau riche of successful international merchantmen mostly engaged in the wool and clothing industries. Those acquiring castles levelled the outer walls allowing the gardens to merge with the surrounding countryside: others built brand new manorial estates. Travellers stayed at these manor houses which included a household of 1-20 servants. It was from this sector of society that the sheriffs and lawyers were chosen.

The new wealthy class wanted to make its presence felt and by the 1570s houses were rising to two stories displaying the new glass windows and topped with ornamented chimneys. The general populace enjoyed the alehouses and weekly markets. Though in theory some social mobility was possible the common labourer earned no more than one silver groat a day. Violence was rife and felonies were treated harshly with burning at the steak, the gallows, torture, and beheading, Cruelty to animals was common and children were whipped. The plague still surfaced occasionally in pockets, notably in 1563, and famine threatened in 1594 and 1597. In Elizabeth’s reign the Spanish armada was subjected to an unlikely defeat that marked a transition in European power distribution.

Royalty

Governance, custom and social prestige still revolved around the powerful royal court. The hierarchical royal court established the fashion and fabrics acceptable in society.

While the English gentry looked to their royal court for social guidance Henry VII looked to the continent – mainly Italy, Holland, and France. He especially admired the French court at Burgundy and the gardens of Fontainebleau with their ‘feasts, jousts, mummings[15] and masquerades[4] so he set about acquiring continental craftsmen and artists. and mirrors are beginning to be used, wine was a luxury and the fashionable dance was the galliard. Unpleasant smells were countered with perfumes, oils, and scented baths and the first flushing toilets arrived. Grammar schools existed for children of the wealthy offering an education based on the classics and extreme discipline.

Henry VIII, in a desperate attempt to produce an heir through multiple consecutive marriages, built on ant-Catholic sentiment by making himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England through an act of Parliament in 1534, subsequently demonstrating power over papal authority by his Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541). Monastery land returned to the crown was redistributed to his own ‘faithful’ thus increasing the number of grand country estates.

Literature & Art

The introduction of moveable type had opened up the classical world to educated classes awakening interest in other cultures, gardens, landscapes and ideas including the notion of the garden as an Arcadia or Eden.

In keeping with academic tradition the first medieval scholarly printed books followed the example of Dioscorides’s illustrated Materia Medica. They were utilitarian accounts of plants as ‘simples’ or ‘botanicals’ and their culinary and medicinal properties or ‘virtues’. This was the hey-day of the herbal used by apothecary and physician through a period extending from about 1470 to 1670. The word ‘florilegium’ suggests not only the emancipation of botany from medicine but also the maturation of ornamental horticulture and botanical art. Botanical illustration as an established genre of art dates to the 15th century but with the progress of printing techniques and more formalized art training it wealthy patrons and botanic gardens commissioned artists to record the ‘beautiful, curious, and new’ botanical treasures in Florilegia.

Perhaps first in Italy and France but becoming more widespread, student plant literature was divesting itself of magical, alchemistic, and astrological references although the works of Shakespeare (1564-1616) give us a valuable insight into the use of plant metaphor and symbolism in everyday language in a tradition that has been lost in today’s urban society. The herbal evolved in three directions: medicinal information was distilled into the pharmacopoeia; botanical information took on the form of the modern Flora; while plants as objects of beauty and art were represented in the Florilegia that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries coinciding with the plant mania (sometimes called botanophilia) associated with the Ages of Discovery and Exploration and the Enlightenment.

The De Florum Cultura, a four-book work of over 500 pages, is the work of Jesuit scholar Giovanni Ferrari (1633); it is a landmark of horticultural literature as an exquisitely refined florilegium with text and illustrations that are a testament to seventeenth century European culture and ornamental horticulture eclipsed only by later work commissioned by the French court.

Plant motifs, were now familiar decoration in homes and associated with the literature and decoration of places of worship. Art was achieving a new realistic sophistication as we see in the work of Italian Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) and the botanical precision watercolours of German Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and more people were beginning to reap the benefits of the the invention of printing in the mid fifteenth century. New herbals illustrated with woodcuts and, later, etchings and engravings, individually coloured, could be used not only as sources of plant information but as identification aids for teachers, students, and well-to-do educated gardeners.

In 1599 Shakespeare completed four of his plays, much to the delight of London’s newly built Globe Theatre which could pack in audiences of about 2000 people.

Flemish embassador to Constantinople, Ogier Busbecq purchased for Emperor Maximilian II a magnificent illustrated copy of Dioscorides’s Materia Medica compiled in 512 CE now in the National Library of Vienna as Codex Vindobonensis.[13] Another masterpiece of the period is the two-volume Hortus Eysettensis (1613) a magnificent florilegium and illustrated record of the plants growing at the palace of Eichstatt, drawn by curator Basil Bessler (1561-1629) and completed by a team of engravers comprising 660 species and more than 400 varieties. It is a remarkable record of ornamental plants grown at that time.

John Evelyn (1620-1706) was an influential English diarist, gardener and diarist who visited many gardens, developing his own garden, Sayes Court, at Deptford. He was a respected and informed commentator who visited and commented on many gardens in both England and the continent.

Francis Bacon. 1625. On Gardens.

Environment

From 1533 to 1620 a plague of smallpox killed many millions across Europe. During Elizabeth’s reign the English population increased from 3-2 to 4.1 million at rate that would not be matched until the 18th century. Population growth came with an incremental increas in social organization – increased use of resources, more infrastructure, foresry, roads, canals, river development, ports, cities, trade and commerce, and so on.

Francis Bacon declared that his was an age founded on gunpowder, printing, and the compass. London was a trading hub and cospmopolitan port importing carpets, sugar and soap as over the same period the population rose from 70,000 to 200,000. More books, but especially th Bible, were being printed with 10% of women and 25% of men now literate. Gerard’s Herbal was a popular best-seller.

In 1579 the first map of England was produced.

Economics

World trade was gathering pace. In the 1500’s sugar plantations were established by the Portuguese on the Atlantic islands and Americas, mainly Brazil, its profits soon surpassing those of the timber trade. The labour force consisted of African slaves. Privateer Francis Drake circumnavigated the world returning to England loaded with Spanish gold and now one of the richest men in the land, which earned him a knighthood. Entrepreneurial spirit was also shown by John Hawkins selling African slaves to plantation owners in the Caribbean. A French settlement named Québec and based on the fur trade was established in North America and Hudson Bay was settled in 1611.

Economic botany

First hints at a global international economic botany can be seen in the reign of Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) as British naval power grew and trade in tobacco, wine, spices and silk became commonplace.

In the world of economic botany the tomato or Love Apple, as it was known, arrived in about 1596 and was, at first, not eaten but used as decoration. Already in 1604 Essex plant collector William Coys was growing sweet potato and common potato, and it was during the Jacobean period[1] (1567–1625) that smoking took hold, London having a surfeit of smoking houses and tobacconists. A favourite story of the period relates to the unusual combination of plants and high finance through the phenomenon of ‘tulipomania’. Flemish ambassador to Turkey, Ogier de Busbecq, organised for bulbs to be sent to the emperor in Vienna in the 1570s. From these collections the court botanist, Carolus Clusius, later brought bulbs to Leiden Botanic Garden when he was appointed Praefectus to the Hortus Academicus in 1594. Some of these were subsequently stolen and in 40 years a whole Dutch craze had begun with bulbs commanding vast sums of money and fortunes made when, apparently by chance (a virus mutation), new colours and patterns appeared. The second half of the sixteenth century was a period when European gardens were transformed by the importation from Constantinople of the colourful bulbs that had proved so popular in the Turkish Empire, many native to Western Asia. Among those gems to find a permanent place in European horticulture were plants in the genera: Anemone, Fritillaria, Hyacinthus, Iris, Lilium, Narcissus, Ranunculus, and Tulipa.

Botany at the dawn of the Scientific Revolution

Academic study still looked back to the classical world, mostly the philosophy of Aristotle and medicine that relied on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides and four-humour theory espoused by Galen.

Francis Bacon’s (1561-1626) Novum Organum Scientiarum of 1620 ended deference to the authority of the past, establishing a perception of science as progressive and forward-looking, building on the hard-gained advances of an imperfect past.[14] He outlined a new scientific method, attacking the Aristotelian emphasis on deductive logic and offering in its place a strict empiricism – observation and experiment backed by inductive logic.

The early scientific revolution is usually associated with astronomers and mathematicians and the replacement of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy with the heliocentrism of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), later supported by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), together with the mathematics and philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650), chemistry of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), and many other eminent men of natural philosophy. It was these men who laid the foundations for the later genius of Englishman Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and his Principia (1687).

Meanwhile plant science too was largely locked into the study of plants as objects of human utility, for food and medicine, yet to attain the analytic sophistication of Theophrastus‘s work at the Lyceum in ancient Athens. Plant scholars were physicians and apothecaries, many associated with major gardens. But the botanical novelties now finding their way into these gardens fired a new curiosity fed by the Renaissance craving for knowledge and a desire to collect, represent, and record all nature. There began a new culture of curios, cabinets, museums, botanic gardens, and herbaria that would reach its zenith in the eighteenth century Enlightenment.

On the continent botanic gardens, herbaria and their associated illuminati were flourishing, especially in Italy, France and Holland.  England, anxious to not be left behind, imported ideas from the continent through people like Mathias de L’Obel (source of the name Lobelia) a Frenchman who had worked in Montpellier and Flemish Leuven before becoming Physician and Botanist to James 1[1]. He is associated with early attempts to classify plants according to their natural affinities.  After the advent of printing and the first Herbals there were new additions, William Turner’s A New Herball (1551-1563) and John Gerard’s Herball (1597). Herbals provide a valuable record of plants in English gardens at this time. Gerard in 1596 listed over 1000 different plants growing in his own garden in Holborn.

Changes in gardening were not immune from the surge in new ideas as the range of flowers and herbs in gardens increased and the serious business of describing, naming and classifying gathered momentum along with a closer attention to cultivation and propagation supported by new professional Royal Charter requiring a seven-year apprenticeship before a prestigious apron could be worn to display membership of this special group.[3]

John Parkinson (1567–1650) physician to James I and Charles I and author of Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629) was an outstanding botanist of the day who earned the title Botanicus Regius Primarius (King’s First Botanist). He describes in his monumental publication over 1,000 plants, many associated with woodcut illustrations.

In his later years Parkinson was neighbour to John Tradescant (the Elder) another eminent collector in Lambeth. Tradescant travelled to the Low Countries, Russia and North Africa contributing to a plant collecting mania that would gather pace, reaching a crescenco in the next 150-200 years. Setting up his own business the results of his collecting appear as an impressive catalogue in 1634 produced with the assistance of his son John (the Younger) who continued the collecting tradition by travelling to Barbados and Virginia (three times). Among his famous introductions were the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipiferum), Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), Michaelmas Daisies and much more. The Tradescants amassed such a vast plant collection that it was effectively Britain’s first botanic garden before that title moved to the Chelsea Physic Garden. Their legacy has been celebrated through the establishment in 1656 of the first public museum in England (Musaeum Tradescantium) called the ‘Ark’ which is full of curios accumulated on their travels: it is now the Museum of Garden History.

Herbals

The advent of printing is marked in the plant world by a golden age of herbals from about 1470-1670 serving as more widely available inventories of mostly cultivated plant descriptions of the plants cultivated for medicinal and other reasons. Though largely derivative these books were a stimulus to the development of botanical art, regional floras of wild plants, and scientific works on plant taxonomy. John Gerard’s Herball (1597) like most of the other herbals was borrowed from other works, adding little to overall knowledge. While serving as an inventory of cultivated plants it was not a reliable source for dates of introduction although an inventory of his private collection published in 1596 includes the first printed reference to the potato.[16] Herbals were still primarily medicinal in character, being concerned with the ‘virtues’ of plants: they reveal the deep and prevailing superstition of their day.

Of particular interest was the transition from stylized woodcut illustrations to botanically accurate depictions drawn from nature. Notable here are the illustrations by German Han Weiditz in the herbals of Otto Brunfels (1530,1532,1536) and ther work of Italian Pierandrea Mattioli (1501-1577) working in Prague and Vienna.

Plant introduction

Up to the mid sixteenth century the garden plants of Europe had been sourced lmost entirely from the European countryside, the Mediterranean region, and as a legacy from the Greek and Roman Empires with a few filtering through Muslim Spain and the Arab world. New introductions became possible through political and trade contacts that were established with Ottoman sultans after the fall of Constantinople to Islam in 1453. ‘Within a hunded years twenty times as many plants entered Europe as in the preceding two thousand’[13] The appearance of printed herbals was a challenge to extend the many-times reworked flora of 700 plants that were the legacy of Dioscorides.

The acquisitive businesss of patronized plant exploration and acclimatization, as a form of domestication or ‘plant taming’, was gathering momentum through the travels of people like Frenchman Pierre Belon (1518-1563), German Leonhardt Rauwolf (1535-1596). Well-to-do private collectors were proudly assembling collections of rare plant treasures.

Plant introductions were appearing from the Indies, Canaries, Americas, Ceylon and elsewhere. European colonial expansion that began with the Portuguese and Spanish in the Americas and East Indies. During James 1s reign Britain established colonies in North America (Jamestown, Virginia (1607), Newfoundland (1610), Plymouth Colony Massachusetts (1620), British settlements that ultimately lead to the formation of both Canada and the United States of America. However, economic plants aside, plant study would find particular botanic expression in a Dutch Golden Age that lasted from approximately 1580 to 1670 during which plant collection and the return of plants to botanic gardens began in ernest.

Some of the introductions from this period are listed below with a probable date of introduction:[6]

Gardens

English society deferred to the continent in matters of fashion and good taste following the Italian Renaissance (which had incorporated elements from Persian and Muslim gardens) as adapted mainly by France and Holland. There were many examples to follow beginning with the Medici family villas in Florence. One of the most famous villa gardens in Europe was that of Francesco (1597-1679) and Antonio Barberini (1607-1671), cardinal-nephews of Pope Urban VIII. The garden was in the grounds of the Palazzo Barberini designed by Bernini and completed in 1633 on Quirinal Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. It boasted a library, antiquities, a menagerie, theatrical and musical performances, and a vast plant collection that included one of Europe’s finest collections of fashionable bulbs including the spectacular and prized Aztec Lily from Central America, Sprekelia formosissima; Belladonna Lily from the African Cape, Amaryllis belladonna; Paintbrush Lily from South Africa Haemanthus coccineus; as well as the mesmerizing flowers of the passionfruit from South America, Passiflora edulis. These gardens were a magnet to wealthy educated touring Europeans and were in the tradition of the grand-scale royal gardens that were to culminate in the brilliant Baroque extravagance of André Le Nôtre’s design of Versailles for Sun King Louis XIV (1638-1715). In the mid sixteenth century there was an outstanding plant collection initiated by Pope Paul III as Horti Farnesiani on the Palatine Hill in Rome as well as the garden of Francesco Caetani near Cisterna just south of Rome. Some indication of plant distribution can be gained from a 1625 manuscript held at Cisterna which lists plants obtained from Constantinople, Paris, Avignon, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Frankfurt.[20]

The royal gardens of Tudor England made full use of geometric shapes and included elaborate topiary, heraldic knot gardens with coats-of-arms, flags, sundials, and statuary of heraldic beasts that included lions, dragons, horses, greyhounds, antelopes and harts (deer). As elsewhere hunting parks were a recognised adjunct to the estates of royalty and aristocracy as a means of preparation for war, demonstration of manly heroism. As entertainment for guests the hunting agenda often included fowling, falconry, and fishing in the rivers and lakes that graced the estate. It would be some time before hunting parks were converted to farms and treed landscapes.

Elevated ‘mounts’ were embellished with arbours, groves of trees and walks of winding stairs which gave visitors views that overlooked the entire garden and countryside as did ‘galleries’ of varying elaboration. Hunting in estate deer parks gathered in popularity as did decorative fish ponds. For relaxation the English love of games was well catered for with land dedicated to archery, tennis, and bowls not to mention eccentric puzzles like Henry VIII’s maze at Hampton Court. Knot garden patterns, with edging of box, thyme, rosemary or hyssop, were often divided into four, the interlinked lines suggesting infinity as ideas possibly borrowed from the quadripartite oriental Persian gardens, these motifs also being used on carpets, embroidery, calligraphy and marquetry. These garden elaborations of the wealthy would later find expression in simpler designs employed by the ‘lower’ classes.[5] Head Gardeners on the grander estates were paid well and accorded high social status.

One of the most outstanding apothecaries of the Tudor period was Hugh Morgan (c.1530-1613) appointed to the Elizabethan court in 1583 who assembled a famous garden in London’s wealthy suburb on the Thames, Battersea, whose collection of plants included rare herbs (this being noted in Gerard’s Herball of 1597) along with imports from Virginia.[25] He traded in spices and is credited with introducing vanilla to both Britain and Queen Elizabeth after it had been introduced to Europe by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in the 1520s.

Significantly Parkinson’s Paradisi … of 1629 was subtitled ‘A Garden of Pleasant Flowers’, garden historian Hobhouse pointing out that this was ‘the first English work to consider flowers for their beauty rather than their use as herbs‘.[17] The use of plants for ornamental display dated back into antiquity but was reinvigorated from the 1550s on. ‘Floristry’ at this time referred to garden plants grown to be cut for the vase rather than today’s commercial meaning.

It was at this time that the use of trees in the landscape as promoted by chronicler John Evelyon became popular, finding its fullest expression in the English Landscape style of the eighteenth century.

Gardening began to be taken seriously in the Elizabethan period with an increase in professional gardeners led by the educated and influential Holborn gardener John Gerard (1545-1612, advisor to Lord Burghley (who liked maps as much as gardens). Gerard published a list of his collection (which included the potato) in 1596, followed by his Herball in 1597. The London Gardeners’ Company was founded in 1605: but not until 1760 could an inventory of the profession be made as 150 great-house gardeners, 400 for the gentry, 100 nurserymen and 200 market gardeners (Harvey 1974, p. 6). The first priced catalogue was published in 1775 and a nursery system as we would recognize today can be dated to improvements in the transport system of the 1790s (Harvey 1974, pp. 8-10). Only in the 18th century would the professional class of gardeners and nurserymen be joined by provincial florists’ societies.

Plants

Towards the end of the 16th century the number of small cottages increased and many had small plots for vegetables which were previously mainly grown in the gardens of the wealthy landowners. Harrison’s Description of England (1577) describes the use of vegetables as follows:

Whereas in my time their vse is not onlie resumed among the poore commons, – I meane of melons, pompions [pumpkins], gourds, cucumbers, radishes, skirets, parsneps, carrets, cabbages, naeuewes [rape], turneps, and all kinds of salad herbes, – but also fed vpon as deintie dishes at tables of delicate merchants, gentlemen, and the nobilitie, who make for their prouision yearelie for new feeds out of strange countries, from whence they haue them aboundantlie

[7]

Vegetables were now being imported from the continent and these included onions from Flanders and salad vegetables from Holland while home-grown fruit was apparently plentiful in spite of the only recent introduction of new fruit varieties, Kent acting a the country’s orchard having suitable climate and soils while being within striking distance of London’s markets. Apples were always the most widely grown fruit being used for eating, cooking and cider although pears and perry were also popular.[8]

Nurseries & market gardens

See also nurseries and networks.
By the 1620s plant collections and gardens were well established among the major religious orders, merchants, royalty, apothecaries and physicians, aristocrats.

We see the emergence of large-scale nursery businesses, often family-owned, notably Pierre Morin and Morin family nurseries (c. 1575-1650) in Paris whose first printed catalogue appeared in 1651 although his brother Rene had published one earlier in 1621, the Tradescants in London (c. 1600-1670), Tranquillo Ramauli in Rome, and the Dutch painter and nurseryman Emanuel Sweert (1552–1612) renowned for his Florilegium Amplissimum et Selectissimum (1612).

Early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I there was a gathering demand for new plants and fruit varieties. Protestant refugees from Catholic Europe like the Huguenots, skilled in market gardening, and especially fruit cultivation and propagation, arrived to set up businesses in London, Oxford and York, sometimes in the kitchen gardens of the monasteries that had been ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII.[9] These were family-run nurseries that sold not only food produce but a wide range of specialist tools, herbs, fruit trees and vegetables. The Dutch, French and Walloons (French-speaking people who live in Belgium, principally in Wallonia) had long been respected for their market gardening skills bringing their experience to the coastal towns of Kent, Essex and Suffolk. A large group from West Flanders landed in Deal in 1561, moving to Sandwich (once one of the cinque ports) and making up a large proportion of the population also to Norwich, others landed at Harwich, Yarmouth and Dover.[10][11]

As the population increased produce was bought at street markets although in London there was hawking from door to door. In the 17th century market gardeners were trading in Covent Garden adjacent to Westminster Abbey, this becoming official in 1670 with Spitalfields chartered in 1681.[12]

Plant selection took hold as gardeners sought out larger and more colourful forms and ‘doubles’ (a foretaste of florists societies to come) along with new fruit cultivars were avidly collected and distributed.  Gathering demand for new plants and fruit varieties resulted in family-run nurseries, the new nurserymen often Protestant refugees from Catholic Europe like the Huguenots, skilled in fruit cultivation and propagation, who set up market gardens in London, Oxford and York, sometimes in the kitchen gardens of the monasteries that had been ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII , their merchandise including specialist tools, plants, herbs, fruit trees.[2][3] The transformation of English estates by the introduction of autumn-foliage deciduous American trees was about to arrive.

Botanic gardens

The appointment of professorial chairs occurred in several gardens around this time, a move that in many peoples’ eyes dates the genesis of botanic gardens to the Italian Renaissance and this early modern period, the first chair awarded to Francesco Bonafede at Padua in 1533. Luca Ghini (1490–1556) was a physician who had studied at the University of Bologna as Lector Simplicium in 1534 before becoming Professor Simplicium in 1538. Ghini was appointed Lector Simplicium at Bologna in 1534 and Professor Simplicium in 1538.[18] Later he was invited by Cosimo 1 de Medici to assume the chair of botany at the new botanic garden of Pisa in 1544. And it was also probably he who began the preservation of dried and labelled plant collections (hortus siccus or ‘dried garden’) using a plant press, the specimens shelved systematically in a building called a herbarium. The exchange of dried specimens between botanists became commonplace at this time. This link between descriptive botany, botanic gardens and herbaria – with the active exchange of both live plants, mainly as seed, and as dried herbarium specimens – has persisted to this day. Some of Ghini’s herbarium still remains as does a collection of pressed plants, a ‘book of simpels’ assembled by Felix Platter, physician of Basle (now housed in Bern), who had been a student at France’s pre-eminent physic garden of Montpellier in 1554.

Padua was situated close to Venice and could therefore access goods from Constantinople, Egypt, Syria, Crete, and Cyprus.[21] The importation of exotic plants, networking of giardini dei semplici and praefecti horti (gardeners and curators of physic gardens) became especially pronounced aat Hortus Academicus Leiden which also assumed the role of repository for plants returned to Holland by the Dutch East India Company. The geometric designs (generally quadripartite) still allowed beds to be numbered, and plants listed thus demonstrating the orderliness of God’s Creation[22] but the stock was now extending beyond medicinal plants to the curious, beatiful, and new. So began the transition from hortus medicus to hortus botanicus the combination of gardens for education, botanical interest, and pleasing display that we associate more with the botanic gardens of today. The new elements reflected, on the one hand the educational and academic objectives in evidence at the Lyceum of ancient Athens and, on the other hand, the magnificent landscaped and aesthetically pleasing displays found in the royal gardens of Egypt and Mesopotamia that culminated in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

These university medical gardens were clearly a continuation of the former monastery physic gardens with little resemblance to the ornamental gardens of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia, the educational Lyceum garden in Athens, or the modern botanic garden of today. It is perhaps the Leiden Botanic Garden under Carolus Clusius (Director 1593-1609) that was among the first of the early modern period to grow plants for their ornamental interest rather than their medicinal use ‘to make a true hortus botanicus rather than a hortus medicus’.[15] Four-parted gardens could now be dedicated to plants from the four corners of the Earth: the continents of America, Africa, Europe and Asia. The oldest printed botanic garden catalogue is that of Cortuso at Padua in 1591 which listed 1168 different plants.[19]

Among the best known botanic gardens at this time were Pisa, Padua, Montpellier, Paris, Leiden, and Oxford.

Significantly Parkinson’s Paradisi … of 1629 was subtitled ‘A Garden of Pleasant Flowers’ Garden historian Penelope Hobhouse points out that this was ‘the first English work to consider flowers for their beauty rather than their use as herbs‘.[15] Clearly ornamental horticulture was undergoing a renascence at this time and Parkinson provided descriptions of gardens of the day. The herbal, whose content was essentially medicinal plants, was now challenged by the florilegium which described and generally illustrated ornamental plants.

The desire to catalogue soon bore fruit, the Pinax (1623) of Frenchman Gaspard Bauhin, an attempt at a comprehensive plant list, totalled about 6000 different kinds eclipsing once and for all the work of Dioscorides.


Oranges and lemons.
Nasturtium, from South America 1535.
Peaches apricots and almonds had all been established in Tudor gardens by 1550.
French Lavender L. stoechas, 1550s & 60s
Laburnum, S Europe, 1550s & 60s
Golden Rain, S Europe, 1550s & 60s
Echinops from Siberia
Snowdrop and campanula spp. from E Mediterranean
Nigella damascena from the Middle East
Carnation, French settlers in Norfolk
irises, grape hyacinth, Hibiscus and Philadelphus and the tulip, AesulTurkey came
Fritillaria imperialis 1580 also Syringa and Aesculus hippocastanum introduced by Busbecq [13].

Key points

  • Parkinson’s Paradisi … (1629) was subtitled “A Garden of Pleasant Flowers’, this publication being the first English work to consider flowers for their beauty rather than their use as herbs 
  • Hortus Botanicus Leiden under Carolus Clusius extends the role of the early modern botanic garden beyond that of hortus medicus to include exotic and ornamental plants and thus a hortus botanicus
  • The advent of printing is marked in the plant world by a golden age of herbals from about 1470-1670 serving as more widely available inventories of mostly cultivated plant descriptions of the plants cultivated for medicinal reasons. Though largely derivative these books were a stimulus to the development of botanical art, regional floras of wild plants, and more scientific works on plant taxonomy. The later florilegium was a book providing descriptions and illustrations of ornamental plants which led eventually to some of the finest collections of etched and engraved botanical illustration known
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