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Garden books in the Special Collections of the Barr Smith Library

Early gardening guides and florilegiums

One of the most prized illustrated botanical books of the 17th century was the Hortus Floridus of Crispin de Passe firstPlate from Crispin de Passe's "Hortus Floridus" published in Latin in 1614 and in English in the following year as A Garden of Flowers. Featuring beautiful copperplate engravings, many from an unusual perspective, the text simply describes the plants with no attempt at horticultural or medical instruction. Our 1928 edition with facsimile engravings is a new translation by Spencer Savage from the original Latin, and its publication was a triumphal success for the Cresset Press.

Title page from Parkinson's "Paradisi in Sole Paradisius..."The first English book to discuss at length the  design and cultivation of the pleasure garden was John Parkinson's Paradisi in Sole Paradisius Terrestris, or, A Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers which our English Ayre will Permitt to be Noursed Up; with a kitchen garden ... and an orchard (London, 1629. Facsimile ed. London: Methuen, 1904). A gardening book and herbal combined, it gives instructions on how to set out the flower, kitchen and orchard gardens and is abundantly illustrated with numerous plant varieties, including many discovered in explorations to America.

One of the most vivid and delightful impressions of a garden in the whole of gardening literature can be found in William Lawson's A New Orchard and Garden, first published in 1618, a work of greatWilliam Lawson's "A New Orchard and Garden" interest to students of Tudor period gardens. It included his The Country Housewifes Garden, the first gardening book specifically addressed to women, which describes designs for the planting of herbs and plants. In 1623 Lawson's work was included in Gervase Markham's encyclopaedic compilation, A Way to get Wealth, which was reprinted 8 times in the next 70 years. Our edition, printed in London by William Wilson for George Sawbridge in 1660 is the 3rd edition, 'corrected and much enlarged'.

After Lawson, very little was written on the laying out of gardens until the printing in 1665 of John Rea's Flora: Seu De Florum Cultura, or, A Complete Florilege: furnished with all requisites belonging to a florist. Florist was a relatively new word, meaning one who cultivated flowers or was skilled in the knowledge of flowering plants, and most of the work (Flores) consists of a long descriptive list of flowers. Part 2, Ceres, describes flowering summer annuals and Part 3, Pomona, lists trees, vines and berries, flowering trees and shrubs. Apart form the engraved title page there are few illustrations because Rea's publishers were alarmed at the 'costly cuts' he required, although Rea's preface denigrates woodcuts as 'good for nothing, unless to raise the price of the book'.

From John Evelyn's "Sylva ..."The first gardener's calendar published in England was the Kalendarium Hortense of John Evelyn which laid out, month by month, the endless cycle of work needing to be done both in the orchard and the flower garden. It is an invaluable record of the mid-17th century garden, the plants available and techniques used. Kalendarium was first published in 1664 as part of Evelyn's Sylva, or, A Discourse of Forest-Trees ..., an early work on conservation or reforestation promoted by the Royal Society to counter the effect of large-scale burning during the 16th and 17th centuries which had led to a shortage of timber for ship building. Immediately popular, Sylva described the value of certain trees for gardens and influenced the following century's fashion for landscape gardening which saw trees planted in quantity for their aesthetic value.

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