Cold Remedies from Culpeper

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician: or medical herbal enlarged with several hundred additional plants principally from Sir John Hill medicinally and astrologically arranged, after the manner of Culpeper : and, a new dispensatory from the ms. of the late Dr. Saunders (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

As January brings its seasonal coughs, colds, chills, and fevers what does Culpeper’s Herbal suggest by way of a remedy?  Plenty as it turns out –  feverfew, poppies, and verbascum, to name but a few – are said to offer some relief to the sufferer.

Culpeper’s Complete Herbal which is still in print today was first published in 1652 as The English Phyisitian.  Priced at three pence Nicholas Culpeper’s purpose was to make accessible to the public information about the medicinal properties of plants that were readily available, and teach them how they might use these to treat common illnesses. Culpeper also encouraged others to help those who could not afford to pay high fees for medical treatment – as we see in the entry for butterbur which suggests that gentlewomen might preserve some of the root to share with their poor neighbours.

Published without illustrations, which would have made The English Physitian too expensive for ordinary people to buy, Culpeper gives instead detailed descriptions of most plants, although he considers some ‘so generally known to most people that I shall not trouble you with a description thereof’.  Later editions of the book expanded the list of plants, as new plants were introduced, and some carry illustrations.  According to the University of Virginia, over 40 editions have been published.

Culpeper (1616-1654) trained as an apothecary and set up his practice in Spitalfields, just outside the city of London.  His translation of the official textbook for pharmacy, the Pharmocopoeia Londinenis from Latin to English challenged the authority of the medical establishement and made Culpeper a hugely controversial figure.

Readers of the herbal will notice that Culpeper’s philosophy of medicine is informed in part by astrology.  It’s worth remembering that modern medicine, based on the science of anatomy, biology, pharmacy, pharmacology, and psychology, is very different to to the systems of belief that underpinned medicine in the 17th century.

In Culpeper’s time conventional medicine was based on a belief in the four humours, earth, air, fire and water.  Developed in Ancient Greece this system taught that a balance of the four humours was needed for good health, and that an imbalance was the cause of disease.  Treatments were an attempt to restore a correct balance.  Diseases and their medicines like plants and minerals were classified by their ‘temperature’; so that garlic, considered ‘vehement hot’ by Culpeper, was effective against ‘cold’ diseases such as ‘jaundice, falling-sickness, cramps, convulsions, the piles or hemorrhoids’.

Another system which ran alongside the belief in humours was astrological physick which held that the twelve signs of the zodiac, the sun, moon and planets were influential over different parts of the body.  Simon Forman (1552-1611) and Richard Napier (1559-1634) were well known astrologer-physicians of their day.  Napier was a clergyman as well as an astrologer, showing the overlap that was tolerated at this time between Christianity and astrology.  Their case notes are preserved in the Bodleian Library (see link at the end of this post).

William Lilly (1602-1681) published Christian Astrology in 1647 which includes a section on health and disease and explains how the aspiring astrologer could create charts to find out ‘whether the Disease will be long or short’ or ‘whether the sick would live or die’.  Lilly lists over 80 plants that can be used to treat disease.

Christian Astrology by William Lilly (2nd Ed 1659)  from

Astrological chart showing whether a sick person would live or die. Christian Astrology by William Lilly, (2nd Ed 1659)  from

Here follow some cold remedies from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792), which contains hand coloured illustrations.  (Personally, I would hesitate to try any, before understanding if the plant is toxic, or if it could react adversely with any other medicines you might be taking.)

Elecampane  (top picture)    It is under Mercury.  The fresh roots of Elecampane preserved with sugar, or made into a syrup or conserve, .. help the cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing in the lungs.

Butterbur    It is under the dominion of the Sun, and therefore is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits;  .. the decoction of the root, in wine, is singular good for those that wheeze much, or are short-winded.  It were well if gentlewomen would keep this root preserved to help their poor neighbours.  It is fit the rich should help the poor, for the poor cannot help themselves.

Poppy   The herb is Lunar; and a syrup is made of the seed and flowers, which is useful to give sleep and rest to invalids, and to stay catarrhs and defluxions of rheums from the head into the stomach and lungs, which causes a continual cough, the forerunner of comsumption;

Feverfew    Venus commands this herb .. The decoction thereof, made with some sugar or honey put thereto, is used by many with good success to help the cough and stuffing of the chest, by colds; 

Hawkweed    Saturn owns it.  The decoction of the herb taken in honey digests phlegm and with hyssop helps the cough.

Verbascum  or Mullein   It is under the dominion of Saturn.  A decoction of the leaves, with sage and marjoram, and camomile flowers, and the places bathed therewith, is good for colds, stiff sinews, and cramps.

Purple Sea Rocket  It is a martial plant, of a hot nature, and bitterish taste, opening and attenuating, good to cleanse the lungs of tough, viscid phlegm

Sheep’s Rampion   It is under the dominion of Mercury, and of a bitter, light, astringent quality, excellent in disorders of the breast, such as coughs, asthmatic affections, difficulty of breathing, &c, for which purpose an infusion of the flowers is the best preparation.

Silverweed    This plant is under Venus, and deserves to be universally known in medicine.  An infusion of the leaves .. sweetened with a little honey is an excellent gargle for sore throats.

Sea Starwort   This is under the dominion of Mercury.  A slight tincture or infusion of the plant promotes perspiration, and is good in feverish complaints.

Field Scabious, Lesser and Greater   Mercury owns the plant.  It is effectual for all sorts of coughs, shortness of breath, and all other diseases of the breast and lungs, ripening and digesting cold phlegm, and other tough humour, voiding them forth by coughing and spitting;

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792)  (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London, via the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Illustration from Culpeper’s English Family Physician (1792) (from the library of the Royal College of Physicians, London via the Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Nicholas Culpeper

Culpeper’s English Family Physician 1792

Christian Astrology by William Lilly 1647

The Casebooks Project

The Casebooks Project is a digital edition of Simon Forman’s and Richard Napier’s medical records 1596 – 1634 (held at the Bodleian Library).

Kew’s Library, Art and Archives Blog

Post about Nicholas Culpeper


The Seedsmen of Lower Manhattan

The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Map of Lower Manhattan 1902

It’s hard to imagine today that the urban streets of Lower Manhattan might once have had a connection with horticulture.  But in the 19th and early 20th centuries some of the streets off Broadway were home to a network of highly successful seed companies.  Their vividly coloured spring catalogues must have been a welcome sight for their customers in the bitter months of a New York winter.  (This list of companies is by no means comprehensive, as each search seems to reveal new ones, and the seed companies themselves moved premises from time to time).

At Chambers Street were the Burnett Brothers Seedsmen, selling seeds, bulbs and plants, and Weeber & Don, seed merchants and growers.  Further down in Barclay Street, J.M. Thornburn & Co, founded in 1802 sold seeds and bulbs, and seedsmen Stumpp & Walter specialised in flower and vegetable seed.  At Dey Street were William Elliot & Sons Seedsmen and F.E.M. Allister, and at Cortlandt Street was Peter Henderson and Co.

All these companies sold seeds for domestic use and supplied wholesale grains and vegetable seeds to farmers.  Most sold grass seed for lawns and sports uses, garden tools, machinery, fertilisers and pesticides.  Henderson’s catalogues give some idea of the scale of this particular business.  The illustrations below from 1905 show the five storey retail premises in Cortlandt Street plus the seed processing, packing and storage warehouses in Jersey City.  Also shown are acres of greenhouses in Arlington Avenue in Jersey City, then a centre for market gardening.

This image shows the Peter Henderson Co’s retail premises in Manhattan and the seed packing premises in Jersey City. From Everything for the Garden 1905. Peter Henderson & Co.

Everything for the Garden Peter Henderson & Co 1916

Peter Henderson wrote articles about gardening for magazines and published his first book explaining how to run a market gardening business Gardening for Profit in 1866.  Gardening for Pleasure (1875) was aimed at the amateur gardener and explains how to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables.  Henderson’s catalogues represented a significant part of the company’s marketing strategy, with 750,000 printed every January in the 1880s.

The company remained in family hands until the mid 1940s, but failed to move with the times.  An article in Life Magazine described employees in the Cortlandt Street store using the same scales to weigh out seeds that had been used in the 19th century, and ladies filling flower seed packets ‘using little ivory measuring spoons of different sizes for different-sized seeds.’  Henderson merged with Stumpp & Walter in 1951, but by 1953 the company had closed.

Everything for the Garden Peter Henderson & Co

Everything for the Garden Peter Henderson & Co 1916

Everything for the Garden Peter Henderson & Co 1916

Everything for the Garden Peter Henderson & Co 1916

Seeds Spring 1913 Stumpp & Walter Co

Seeds Spring 1913 Stumpp & Walter Co

Seeds Spring 1918 Stumpp & Walter Co

Peter Henderson Stumpp & Walter Co Fall catalogue 1951 shortly after the companies merged.

Peter Henderson Stumpp & Walter Co Fall catalogue 1951 announcement of the merger of the two companies.

Wm. Elliott & Sons, Seedsmen 1897 catalogue

Wm. Elliott & Sons, Seedsmen 1897 catalogue

As well as the flowers and luscious looking vegetables, William Elliott’s catalogue of 1897 reveals an advertisement for Hitchings & Co, suppliers of glasshouses and heating systems for these structures.  In the late 19th century Hitchings & Co was based in Mercer Street.  The New York Botanical Garden records that this company was established in 1844, beginning as a specialist in the manufacture of ventilation and heating systems for greenhouses, and that it began making greenhouse structures in 1888.

From Wm. Elliott & Sons, Seedsmen 1897 catalogue showing advertisment for Hitchings & Co, Horticultural Architects and Builders

Burnett Brothers Seedsmen 1918.

Burnett Brothers Seedsmen 1918.

Interesting looking baskets and watering cans in the Burnett Brothers catalogue for 1918.

Weeber & Don 1908 catalogue

Weeber & Don 1908 catalogue showing varieties of melons for sale

Weeber & Don 1908 catalogue – watermelons

Weeber & Don 1908 catalogue showing various containers for plants

Weeber & Don 1908 catalogue showing Conover’s Colossal Asparagus, a variety still available today.

J.M. Thornburn & Co’s Annual Descriptive Catalogue of Seeds 1894

Illustrations from the flower section of J.M. Thornburn & Co’s Annual Descriptive Catalogue of Seeds 1894

From the flower seed section of J.M. Thornburn & Co’s Annual Descriptive Catalogue of Seeds 1894

Seeds of these indoor plants sold by J.M. Thornburn & Co’s Annual Descriptive Catalogue of Seeds 1894.

The MacNiff Horticultural Company, Seed Annual 1921

The MacNiff Horticultural Company, Seed Annual 1921

These seed businesses might have disappeared from lower Manhattan’s streets, but a quick internet search shows the horticultural tradition lives on in shops like The Sill in Hester Street selling house plants.  It seems that city dwellers have always craved some green in their lives.

Seeds Spring 1917 Stumpp & Walter Co

The Sill’s Blog

NJCU Peter Henderson

Biodiversity Heritage Library Seed Catalogs

Smithsonian Libraries Biographies for Seedsmen

Smithsonian Libraries Seed Catalogs

The Appeal of Ivy

If December is the season to celebrate evergreens like ivy, there can surely have been no greater enthusiast for this plant than Shirley Hibberd, author of The Ivy A Monograph published in 1872.

In this illustrated book, each page bordered with ivy, Hibberd discusses historical uses and associations, as well as botanical observations, notes on cultivation and a comprehensive summary of the numerous varieties then available.  Many of these ivies were grown in his garden in Stoke Newington.  Hibberd saw this garden as a place to experiment rather than purely a model for the public to follow, and actively discouraged visitors.

James Shirley Hibberd (1825 – 1890) was a highly successful writer about gardening in the Victorian period.  He did much to popularise amateur gardening through his books, and as editor of garden magazines, where he shared his own experience of planning a garden, growing vegetables and bee-keeping.  Based for much of his life in Victorian London suburbs such as Islington, Hackney and Tottenham, his advice was directed at inhabitants of these new houses, keen to cultivate their new gardens.

It’s probably fair to say that ivy might not be at the top of everyone’s list of favourite plants today.  However, there are good reasons to cultivate this plant, including for harvest at this time of year for seasonal decorations.  Ivy is great for wildlife, providing nesting sites for birds, and nectar from the late season flowers gives a boost to bees and other insects in November, when other flowers have finished.  The berries are consumed by birds through the winter.  The evergreen foliage is always fresh which is especially welcome during the winter months.  It is also very easy to grow.

On the minus side, ivy’s association with ruins and graveyards can give it a rather gloomy feel and some find it dull.  Then there is its habit.  Once established, some varieties of this vigorous plant can overwhelm a wall, fence or an entire building in a couple of seasons, unless kept in check.  Its adventitious roots originating from the stem of the plant are adapted to support the plant as it reaches for the light, but these can work their way into gaps in masonry and woodwork, eventually damaging them.

As the ivy’s champion, Hibberd sees the plant as a protector of buildings:

To the Ivy we are without doubt indebted for the preservation of many a stately pile that would erst have become dust without it.  Thus it may be regarded as the vegetable keeper of historical records, for although it may thrust rude hands amongst them, as when it sends its roots deep into the wall of a tower or keep, it affords a protecting shield against wind, rain and snow; its matted felt of stems and its imbricated leaves constituting a truly waterproof protection, adding to the warmth and ensuring the perfect dryness of the protected structure.

For use in the garden, Hibberd discusses training ivy against walls, to edge borders and suggests plunging pots of ivy into empty flower beds to provide winter interest.  He has various ideas for training the plants in tree and shrub forms, and as standards or pyramids in containers.

Although at first glance this book might not appear to be bursting with relevance to the modern garden, Hibberd’s ideas for trained ivy plants could prove to be very useful additions to a container garden.  In a future post I hope to expand on this further.  In the meantime, here are some illustrations and engravings from the book, which show the variety and beauty of this plant.

Shirley Hibberd

The Ivy A Monograph by Shirley Hibberd


William Robinson and the fruit gardens of Paris

Apple blossom on trees trained as a Belgian Fence, Capel Manor, Enfield

Of the practices which we may with advantage, and which indeed we must, adopt from the French, those of fruit-culture command our first attention, because good fruit-culture combines the beautiful with the useful in a very high degree.  William Robinson

As an advocate of naturalistic planting, William Robinson’s admiration of the trained fruit trees he saw in France might come as a surprise.  But in Parks and Gardens of Paris (1878, published by Macmillan) as well as reviewing public parks Robinson devotes eight chapters to French methods of cultivation and training of fruit trees.  He visits and evaluates the work of various growers, including the school of horticulture at Versailles, the school of fruit-culture in the Bois de Vincennes and nurserymen such as M Jamin of Bourg-la-Reine.

In his introduction to the book Robinson discusses ways in which English growers could improve the quantity and quality of their crops by following the the French example.  He mentions winter pears, of which France sends ‘many thousands of pounds’ worth annually’ which should be wall trained rather than planted in the open, and cordon training for apples, to save space in the domestic garden.  Robinson is also enthusiastic about the French Paradise stock, which keeps fruit trees grafted onto it small enough to respond well to training (unlike the crab stock that was widely used in England at the time) and because of the Paradise stock’s hardiness enabling trees that favour warmer climates to be grown on cold, wet soils, like those in England.

But the most important improvement that should be made, he argues, concerns the education of English gardeners.  In his forthright style, Robinson complains that in the British Isles the training of fruit trees is ‘not taught at all, or only in the most imperfect manner.’  He observes of the French,

‘Many of the illustrations in this book show the mastery they possess over each detail of training  the branches of every kind of tree being conducted in any way by the trainer might desire, and with the greatest of ease.’

Pear Triomphe de Jodoigne, in Palmette form; 10 years old, 15 feet long, 8.5 feet high. M. Jamin’s garden, Bourg-la-Reine.

Winged Pyramid, Beurre Hardy; 10 years old, 13 feet high, 6.5 feet wide; average crop, 400 Pears. M. Jamin’s garden, Bourg-la-Reine.

Peach-tree with 20 vertical branches (Candleabrum form) in full bearing; variety Chevreuse tardive; 10 years of age, 33 feet long, 10 feet high; average crop, 400 Peaches of the first quality and size. M. Jamin’s garden, Bourg-la-Reine.

Crossed and Self-Supporting Espalier Pear-trees at Saulsaie.

Pear-tree trained as a Palmette Verrier. On trellis ten feet high, supports of T iron, horizontal lines slender galvanised wire (No. 12), wires united in strong ring at base to secure rigidity in end supports.

Pendulous Training of Wall Pear-tree.

View of Espalier Pear-trees and lines of Apples trained as Cordons in garden at Brunoy.

The Peach trained as an Oblique Cordon.

Pear-tree trained in U form for very high walls.

The Spiral Cordon against walls

The Pear trained as an Oblique Cordon. This form is best suited for the wall-culture of choice Winter Pears where it is desired to obtain a quick return. (Note the two end plants complete the pattern by means of grafts to the original plant which have been carefully trained.)

William Robinson (1838 – 1935) was a gardener, and a prolific author on horticulture. His best known books, The Wild Garden (1870) and The English Flower Garden (1883) contained his ideas for a new approach to planting gardens using plants to imitate nature instead of formal bedding schemes, which were so popular in Victorian gardens.  He also worked as a journalist for The Times and The Gardener’s Chronicle and following the success of The Wild Garden launched his own magazine, The Garden in 1871.  He put his theories about naturalistic planting into practice at his garden at Gravetye Manor in Sussex, (which became derelict after his death, but is now restored and managed as a hotel).

In Parks and Gardens of Paris Robinson also discusses ideas for growing trained fruit trees in unexpected places.  As well as the Parisian front garden (illustrated below), he visits fruit trees that have been grown as fences along a French railway embankment.

Of the various waste spaces where good fruit might be grown the most conspicuous are the railway-embankments.  Here we have a space quite unused, and on which for hundreds of miles fruit-trees may be planted, that will after a few years yield profit, and continue to do so for a long time with but little attention.

Robinson observes the planting of pear trees along the Chemin de fer de l’Est.

A cheap fence of galvanised wire runs on each side of the line, and on this Pear-trees are trained so that their branches cross each other; and, though only in their fourth year, they are at the top of the fence.

In time, the trees trained in this way (sometimes called a Belgian fence) become self-supporting.  Robinson notes that both apple and pear trees were commonly grown in this way along the railway lines in Belgium.  Maybe it’s time to revive this lovely idea?

Parks and Gardens of Paris

William Robinson

Gardens for Small Country Houses

June borders of lupin and iris in the Garden at Munstead Wood from Gardens for Small Country Houses

Between the first edition of Gardens for Small Country Houses published in 1912, and the fourth which appeared in 1920, the world had changed.  The effects of the Great War on the population and economy of the UK were profound and those whose wealth and status had insulated them in the past faced the challenges of a new economic and political climate.

But change brings opportunity.  In the preface to the fourth edition, a collaboration between designer Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver, architectural editor of Country Life, they anticipate the rise in popularity of the small country house, both with wealthy down-sizers and new owners.

Without seeking to fill the role of gloomy prophet, we cannot escape the belief that the changes in social life and habit, which are the mark of our economic troubles, are striking at the maintenance of great gardens, as of great houses, in this pleasant land. But if those who have built up, kept, and loved so well their spacious gardens, must needs be content with smaller houses, and if, as seems likely, the wider distribution of wealth will lead to-morrow to the creation of many more small country houses, the art of making gardens for such houses will increase in importance.

Clearly, to the Country Life reader a ‘small’ house was, by modern standards, quite substantial.  See below for an example of a building Jekyll and Weaver describe as a small cottage:

In the book Jekyll and Weaver suggest how a harmonious relationship between house and garden might be created in terms of its scale, features, planting and placement the wider landscape.  Their expertise ensures that the case studies used for approaches for garden design in various locations in the UK are still illuminating today, even if our tastes in garden styles might have moved on.

Jekyll identifies both medieval and Tudor gardens as inspirations for the ‘new’ gardens she and others were making in England at this time.  Both Jekyll and Weaver admired the hillside garden at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire (now a hotel), an example of a formal garden where large, bold yew topiary and hedging are used to anchor the house to its surroundings.

.. with what modesty the house nestles against the hillside and seeks to hide itself amidst regiments of yews. Great skill has been shown in their planting, for they emphasise the drops between the existing levels of the terrace, even though they partly veil them.

Using photographs and plans Jekyll and Weaver explain how the changes of level have been used.  Without this terracing and the dramatic yew planting, the house might appear to be about to fall off this steep hillside, but actually looks secure and intriguing, partly obscured by foliage.  The repeated yew also also echoes the mass of the woodland above the house, which otherwise might feel oppressive.

Owlpen: view from north-west from point B (see plan)


Curved entrance stairway at Owlpen Manor

The climber on walls of the house has been clipped very precisely at different levels (below the window on the right of the picture and above on the left).  These solid blocks of foliage help to reinforce the formal feel of the planting.  The dark yews contrast with the pale stone of the house and also form a backdrop for the beautiful gateway with its curved steps.

Curved stone steps appear as a design feature in many new gardens shown in this book, including those pictured below at Highmount, in Surrey.  Also located on a steep slope, these curved steps were used by Jekyll as part of an ambitious design for the garden of a new house.

Jekyll explains,

The garden ground, all on the southern face of the hill .. had already been laid out to a certain degree when the garden designer took it in hand.  Tennis lawn, croquet lawn and bowling green had been levelled and made; but the steepness of the remainder composed of grassy slopes between clumps of shrubs and flowers of no particular design, was found to be incommodious, and great need was felt for something more restful and systematic.

Jeykll’s solution was to dig into the chalk hillside to create a large level space, and install retaining walls to provide some shelter in this exposed site.  She acknowledges that this solution was expensive and applauds her client’s willingness ‘to face the necessary outlay, by no means a slight one’.

Highmount, Guildford: General Plan

One of the features of Jekyll’s general plan of the garden is a rose garden, at the bottom of the slope with a water lily tank at one end, and a six foot high retaining wall running along the entire length, the top of which was planted with plants that would tolerate the free draining and exposed position.  Jekyll says,

The wall is in full sun, and the good plants and sub-shrubs we have from the Mediterranean region – lavender, rosemary, santolina, othonna and so on, with pinks, stonecrops and several of the rock loving campanulas of the Alps (to name only a few of the plants utilised) – rejoice in the full southern exposure and the brilliant, unveiled light of the high elevation.

Photographs of the garden (taken two years after planting) show the extent of the works.

From the middle of the rose garden. View point C on general plan.

Circular tank and steps at west end of rose garden. Point of view “A” on general plan.

The west end of the pergola, from view point “G” on general plan.

The garden-houses, from view point “F” on general plan.

Many of Jekyll’s planting plans are reproduced in the book, showing her method of planting in drifts, using groupings of the same plant to amplify their effect.  For Highmount Jekyll talks about the importance of having a coherent planting scheme to define each section of the garden.

Offering to the eye one clear picture at a time they rescue the beholder from the distracting impression of general muddle and want of distinct intention that is so frequent in gardens and so wasteful – wasteful because a place may be full of fine plants, grandly grown, but if they are mixed up without thought or definite scheme they only produce an unsatisfactory effect, instead of composing together into a harmonious picture.

Planting plan of borders of West Walk. See general plan.  Jeykll describes the colour scheme as ‘mostly of yellows, with tender and brilliant blue’.

The mixed borders of the west walk (above) featured golden privet, box and elder and a single yellow rose ‘Jersey Beauty’ as well as rudbeckia, helenium, anthemis, verbascum, tansy and yellow snapdragon.  Splashes of blue were provided by lavender, delphinium and campanula.  Nothing if not colourful.

Gardens for Small Country Houses


Lawrence Weaver

Parkinson’s Tulips

Autumn is the time to plant tulips, so it seems strangely apt that John Parkinson (1567 – 1650) should describe a yellow tulip grown in the early 17th century as having the colour of a dead leaf;

     A sullen or smoakie yellow, like a dead leaf that is fallen, and therefore called, Fuille mort

He describes other yellow tulips just as evocatively,

     A faire gold yellow

     A Strawe colour       

     A Brimstone colour pale yellowish greene 

     A pale cloth of gold colour

     A Custard colour a pale yellow shadowed over with a browne ..

Written in English, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629) (or, Park-in-Sun’s Terrestrial Paradise) by apothecary and botanist John Parkinson describes how English gardens were cultivated in the early 17th century. Divided into three sections Parkinson discusses the flower garden, kitchen garden and fruit garden with instructions how to ‘order’ or set these out, as well as giving advice about improving the soil, garden tools and the cultivation of plants.  Most of the illustrations were original woodcuts by the German artist Christopher Switzer. Parkinson was apothecary to James I and royal botanist to Charles I.  His garden was in Long Acre, London, close to Trafalgar Square.

In the book Parkinson lists well over one hundred varieties of tulip then available, including the striped, feathered and flamed tulips that were so popular in 17th century.  Amongst them Parkinson lists white tulips with purple edges, a white speckled with a reddish purple which ‘holds its marks constant’, a ‘Crimson Fooles Coate, a dark crimson, and pale white empaled together’, a tulip of a ‘deepe Orenge colour’, ‘a red with small yellow edges’, and a Fooles Cappe, that is, with lists or stripes of yellow running through the middle of every leafe of the red..’

1. The early white and red Tulipa, &c. being of one colour 2. The early purple Tulipa with white edges or the Prince. 3. The early stript Tulipa 4. The early red Tulipa with yellow edges, or the Duke.

Parkinson could not have understood the process by which a viral infection causes the pigment in tulip petals to ‘break’, and produce the striped effect.  But he makes a remarkable observation connecting the spectacular patterns shown by these tulips with disease.  Parkinson notices a ‘weaknesse‘ or loss of vigour in some plants whose flowers start off as a solid colour, but over several seasons develop the characteristic white streaks, believing this to be caused by a ‘decay of the roote’.

He also links this beauty with transience, identifying the point when the diseased tulip will die, as the moment when the bloom is most beautiful:

       .. this extraordinary beauty in the flower, is but as the brightnesse of a light, upon the very extinguishing thereof, and doth plainly declare, that it can do its master no more service, and therefore with this jollity doth bid him good night.

1. The red Bolonia Tulipa 2. The yellow Bolonia Tulipa 3. The red or yellow dwarfe Tulipa 4. The leafe of the Tulipa of Caffa striped throughout the whole leaf 5. the leafe of the Tulipa of Caffa striped at the edges only 6. the Persian Tulipa 7. the Tulipa of Candie 8. The Tulipa of Armenia

1. The Fooles Coate red and yellow 2. The white Holeas without a bottome 3. The cloth of silver, or other spotted Tulipa 4. The white Fooles Coate 5. a white Holeas, &c. with a purple bottome 6. a red and yellow flamed Tulipa 7. a white striped and spotted Tulipa 8. another variable Tulipa

1. A Tulipa of three colours 2. the Tulipa of Caffa purple, with white stripes 3. A pure Claret wine colour variable 4. Mr Wilmers Gilloflower Tulipa 5. A Crimson with white flames 6. A kind of Zwitser called Goliath 7. A Tulipa called Zwitser 8. Another white Flambant or Fooles Coate 9. The Vermillion flamed 10. The feathered Tulipa red and yellow

The section describing mid-season yellow flowering tulips also contains some intriguing green tulips, one of which is called the Parret.

     Unto these may be added the greene Tulipa, which is also of divers sorts.  One having a great flower of a deep greene colour, seldom opening it self, but abiding alwaies as it were halfe shut up and closed .. Another of a yellowish or palish greene, paned with yellow, and is called, The Parret &c. with white edges. A third of a more yellowish greene, with red or purplish edges ..

Interestingly Parkinson’s parrot tulip does not seem to have the ruffled petals we associate with these flowers today, but it is parti-coloured, meaning that it consists of two or more different colours. This term is still commonly used to describe the plumage of parrots.

The first green tulip mentioned in Parkinson’s list sounds rather like a modern variety Tulipa ‘Evergreen’ which stays green throughout the flowering period.  Others sound like the Viridiflora tulips with the characteristic green bands on the petals.  Many of the modern parrot tulips still show some green colouration in their petals.

The parrots shown below (some of them green) are illustrated by John Jonston (1603 – 1675) and come from a natural history of birds published in 1657.  Psittacus minor looks very much like the ring-necked parakeet, originally from India and now resident in some parts of the UK.

Various parrot and parakeet species from Historiae Naturalis de Avibus 1657

Various parrot species from Historiae Naturalis de Avibus 1657

Leaf (Populus spp), straw, feather from ring-necked parakeet

Link to Parkinson’s text at the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (John Parkinson)

Link to Historiae naturalis de Avibus libri 6. cum aeneis figuris Johannes Jonstonus, medicinae doctor, concinnavit 1657 (published in Amsterdam)

http://Historiae Naturalis de Avibus

Ring-necked parakeet




Other people’s houses (and gardens) have always excited our curiosity. Today’s books and magazines dedicated to the latest styles in domestic architecture, interior design and gardens give us ideas, inspiration, aspiration. As visitors they allow us into houses we will never live in, guests of owners we will never know. In these worlds everything is perfect; there is no dust, no unfinished decorating projects.

De Zegepraalende Vecht  (the triumphant Vecht) could be seen as an interesting precursor of the modern lifestyle publication. Published in Amsterdam in 1719 it records the most notable houses and gardens on the river Vecht, illustrated in meticulous detail by Daniel Stopendael.

The Vecht, a branch of the Rhine originating in Utrecht, was already home to medieval castles but in the 17th century became the place for the newly wealthy from Amsterdam to build lusthooven or recreational houses. Whilst not on the scale of a royal palace, these are grand houses, by most people’s standards, which would have been used by their owners in the summer months.

Daniel Stopendael (1672 – 1726) was an artist and engraver based in Amsterdam producing architectural drawings and maps.  His father Bastiaan followed the same profession.

In his book, we don’t see inside the buildings, but the exteriors and the layouts of the gardens give a fascinating insight into the styles of architecture and garden design that were fashionable in the Netherlands at this time.  Larger houses, such as Hoogevechts, command several pages depicting all the features of the garden, while smaller houses have just a single page.

The influence of French garden design is everywhere, in the formal avenues, parterres, the hedges, topiary and the symmetry. The captions at the foot of each illustration are in Dutch and French.  A commentary on Gunterstein (one of the smaller houses mentioned in the book) describes how the French born owner Magdelena Poulle would ‘use prints of the latest French gardens to create designs, garden furniture, statues and features’. It seems likely this book might have been used in the same way, by those looking for ideas for their gardens.

Alongside the gardens Stopendael supplies glimpses of ordinary life on this stretch of waterway; people fishing, travelling, visiting; sometimes gardeners can be seen at work.  Many of the gardens use water from the river which is diverted to form canals and feed elaborate fountains.

The symmetry of the double fronted houses is repeated in the design of the gardens, with their lines of trees, hedges, and spaced topiary. The planting is precise and controlled. The trees are spaced evenly and pruned so that their naturalistic shape is preserved, and their height is maintained in a close relationship with the house (at least, at this point in the garden’s development). The hedges and topiary are meticulously clipped into solid geometric shapes in contrast to the looser form of the trees.

Wooden trellis supporting a line of espaliered trees together with a gardener and wheelbarrow.

Climbing plants are supported by wooden trellis on the wall of the house and the roof of the smaller building.

Interesting wooden seats either side of the garden gates.

Do you think these animals were allowed off their rectangular island from time to time?

I’m intrigued by Groenevechts (pictured below) where the planting becomes an extension of the building. On either side of the house are green ‘walls’ with a parapet and openings suggesting windows and a door.  A man passes through one of the green doorways to the garden beyond.

This text can be found at where you can also enlarge the illustrations and inspect them more closely – link below:

De Zegepraalende Vecht

Many of these houses still survive and can be identified via