" And all was walled that wone thou it wid were With posterns in pryuytie to pasen when hem list Orchejardes and erberes eused well clene".
Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, c. 1394.
BEFORE proceeding any further with the history of gardening, it will be as well to pass in review the literature on the subject relating to the periods which have been traversed. The knowledge of herbs and flowers in Saxon times, and for several centuries later, was all learnt from classical authors. The works of Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny, and Apuleius, formed the basis of Saxon plant-lore. The Herbarium of Apuleius (who lived about the fourth century, a.d.) was founded on the works of Dioscorides and Pliny, and it is chiefly through Apuleius that these earlier writers were known. This herbal was translated into Anglo-Saxon, and must have been a very popular book, for no less than four MSS. of it exist, which is a large proportion out of the scanty remains of books of such early times.* The names of plants which are to be found in these MSS. are most interesting, and are useful for the identification of the names used in later herbals. Another good list of herbs in Anglo-Saxon is to be found in Ælfric's Grammatica.* This includes most of the simple herbs then known, with the Latin equivalents. The Latin is not always correctly translated, the name of some common native flower being sometimes substituted for a plant which was unknown to the writer.
* Translations are to be found in Cockayne, Leechdom and Wortcunning of Early England, 1864, notes in Early-English Plant Names, Earle, 1880— original MSS. Cotton Vitellius ciii. Brit. Mus. date circa 1000-1066. Trinity College, Cambridge, O. 2. 48, 14th century. Also in Harleian 815, Liber Medicinalis. (Harleian 5066, Herbarium Saxonici. Thus described in the Catalogue, is not in the MS. thus numbered, and a note to say it was not there in 1804 is signed D).
The earliest writers on this subject in England, were churchmen; Alexander Necham, Abbot of Cirencester, and Bishop Grosseteste, of Lincoln. They both studied at the University of Paris, and thus had an opportunity of seeing for themselves the state of horticulture abroad. Their writings only touch incidentally on gardening. Grosseteste † (b. cir. 1175, d. 1253) wrote on many subjects ; he was skilled in medicine, and had a knowledge of the virtues and properties of plants. The works attributed to him are so numerous, that it is scarcely possible that all can have come from his pen, but everything which bore his name continued to be read, and referred to, for more than two centuries after his death. Therefore his works on husbandry must have had considerable influence on horticulture. Palladius's work, De Re Rustica, written at some early date, probably in the fifth century, was the foundation of nearly all English writings on husbandry, for several centuries, and most of them, that of Grosseteste included, were merely translations, or adaptations, of this work. De Re Rustica is in fourteen books. The first is introductory, the following twelve are devoted in turn to each month of the year, the fourteenth to grafting. Various impossible recipes were thus passed on by men who took no trouble to investigate the truth of their assertions. In the fifteenth century, Grosseteste was as much believed in, as he had been in the thirteenth, although gardening was practised all this time, and something much more accurate could have been written. These works ‡ contain chiefly instructions on such fanciful subjects as these: " To make apples grow without any core"—" To colour apples growing on the tree"—"To make cherries grow without stones"—and many such impossibilities.
* Vocabularies in a Library of National Antiquities. Wright, 1857. MS. Brit. Mus. Cotton Julius A ii.
† See Sam Pegge, Life of Robert Grosseteste. 1793, p. 308.
‡ Sloane MS. 686. " The tretyse off housbandry that Mayster Groshe [de] made that whiche was Bishope of Lycoll he translate this booke out off frensche in to English".
Necham, who lived at the same time as Grosseteste, was a more original writer. He was born in 1157, passed the early part of his life at St. Albans, and was made the director of the school belonging to the Abbey at Dunstable ; by 1180 he was a distinguished professor at Paris University, returned to Dunstable about 1186, but soon after left the Benedictines of St. Albans, and joined the Augustines of Cirencester, was there elected Abbot in 1213, and died in 1217. Necham's " De laudibus divinæ Sapientiae," a poem in ten parts, devotes many lines to the praise of various flowers and fruits. The seventh book is on the excellence of such herbs as betony, centaury, plantain, wormwood ; the eighth is about fruits—cherries, peaches, medlars, and so forth. He does not, however, confine his praises to English productions, but sings of terebinth, cinnamon, and spices, and fruits which he had probably never seen in their natural state. In like manner, his description in his other work, De Naturis Rerum, of what a "noble garden" should be, is drawn from imagination, as many plants, quite unfit for culture in the open air in this country, or even in Europe, are included in the list of what the garden should contain. This is easily accounted for, as Necham, like others of his time, borrowed freely from classical writers. "The garden,"* he writes, " should be adorned with roses and lilies, turnsole, violets, and mandrake ; there you should have parsley and cost, and fennel, and southernwood, and coriander, sage, savory, hyssop, mint, rue, dittany, smallage, pellitory, lettuce, garden cress, peonies. There should also be planted beds with onions, leeks, garlick, pumpkins, and shalots ; cucumber, poppy, daffodil, and acanthus ought to be in a good garden. There should also be pottage herbs, such as beets, herb mercury, orach, sorrel, and mallows." So far, this is evidently a simple catalogue of what was to be seen in his garden at Cirencester, or any other fair-sized garden of his day. But " medlars, quinces, wardon pears, peaches, pears of St. Regula," are followed by fruits such as oranges, lemons, pomegranates, myrrh, and spices, and other things equally incredible.
* The translation of the names of plants is taken from Wright's edition of Necham's works.