Gardeners’ World – the 17th Century Way

Gard1This is ‘Kalendarium Hortense: or, The Gard’ner’s Almanac: Directing What he is to Do Monthly Throughout the Year and What Fruits and Flowers are in Prime’ of 1691 by John Evelyn (1620-1706) of ‘Diary’ fame.  This volume forms part of the Library of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

As we prepare to greet the Spring and perhaps tune in to ‘Gardeners’ World’ when it returns to our screens this week, it is good to be reminded that month by month advice on what to do in the garden has been around for a very long time.

The ‘Kalendarium Hortense’ offers practical advice for the 17th century gardener and in doing so offers us insights into horticulture in that period. It is one of the earliest gardening calendars, and gives advice on work in the kitchen and flower garden as well as listing each month’s ‘prime’ flowers and vegetables.

For example in March, Evelyn offers plenty of advice about what to grow and to do in the garden. He tells us that March is “the chiefest and best time for raising on the Hot-bed Melons, Cucumbers, Gourds, &c. which about the sixth, eighth, or tenth day will be ready for the Seeds; and eight days after prick them forth at distances, according to the Method &c.”

‘Flowers in Prime, and yet lasting’ in March are noted by Evelyn and include anemones, spring cyclamen, winter aconite, white and black hellebore, violets, hyacinth zeboin and the Persian iris.

Gard2He also lists ‘Fruits in prime or yet lasting’ an important list at a time of year where food is less abundant and for March, the mouth-watering list includes apples ‘Golden Ducket’ (Doucet), ‘pepins’, ‘Lones Pearmain’, ‘Winter Pearmain’ and ‘John-apple’.

As you may imagine, advice on the growing of fruit features throughout the year and the volume concludes with “a catalogue of such excellent fruit trees as may direct gentlemen to the choice of that which is good, and store sufficient for a moderate plantation: species and curiosities being otherwise boundless, and without end.”  Anyone who has visited the National Fruit Collection at Faversham in autumn will know that is true!

Evelyn offers guidance on work “To be done in the orchard and olitory garden.” The ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ defines ‘Olitory’ as “of or relating to culinary herbs or kitchen vegetables, or a kitchen garden” and the earliest quoted use of the word is listed as being by J. Evelyn, in 1664, in ‘Kalendarium Hortense’. This gardeners’ almanac was originally an appendix to Evelyn’s ‘Sylva’ which was published in 1664. In ‘Sylva’ he encouraged landowners and growers to plant trees to replace those lost during the English Civil Wars.

Evelyn began to create his garden at Sayes Court, Deptford in 1652 having inherited the property from his father. This was the beginning of a lifelong interest in botany which led to his publishing several books on the subject. It is important to note that 17th century published advice for gardeners was usually meant for the professional horticulturalist, paid to develop and care for the gardens of gentlemen or the aristocracy not for the amateur gardener.

The Company’s collection of over 500 volumes remains at Guildhall Library as does the Company’s archive. This is by no means a closed collection and new acquisitions are added by the Company each year. You are welcome to visit the library to enjoy this collection and find gardening tips; you will just need to bring along proof of your name and address.

So as we look forward to hearing Monty’s reassuring tones and helpful advice once again, we can also recall Evelyn’s words in his dedication (to Abraham Cowley esq.) in ‘Kalendarium Hortense’

“You gather the first Roses of the Spring, and Apples of Autumn And …you vie Happiness in a thousand easie and sweet Diversions.”

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian
Guildhall Library

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