This section is from the book "A History Of Gardening In England", by Alicia Amherst. Also available from Amazon: A History Of Gardening In England.
Another classical writer of uncertain date was Macer. An author of that name was contemporary with Virgil, but the writer of the Herbal which was translated into many languages must have lived at some later date, as he quotes Galen. It is strictly a herbal giving the medicinal uses of herbs and spices. The old translations are valuable, as giving the English equivalents of the Latin names, and Macer's was such a common hand-book, that anyone planting a herb garden, would try to obtain as many of the plants mentioned by him, as could be found in England at that per10d. The name of the first translator of Macer is lost in obscurity, but there is a manuscript translation, dated 1373, by John Lelamour, schoolmaster of Hertford,* and several other early translations exist, although the book was not printed until about 1530. One of them is curious, from the additions made by the translator or transcriber, of some plants known to him, and not mentioned by Macer.† He subjoins also some further medical recipes, which indicate more of the usual plants of a herb garden. The following example is the recipe given for curing the pestilence :—" Do take and medele, pimpernoll, sauge, auance seint mary gouldes, tansey sorell' and columbyne, stampe these VII erbes and drink the ioiuse of hem in ole ale or clene water and it wole distroie the pestilence be it never so felle".
Further information about gardens is to be gained from other medical works. There is an English fourteenth-century medical poem preserved in MS. in the Royal Library, Stockholm, which contains some graphic descriptions of flowers. With regard to the good qualities of rosemary, the author says: — " Rosmarine is bothen erbe & tre, hot and drie of kende hys lewys arn euermore grene & neuer more falty as techy bokes of fysik and ek bokys of skole of sallerne vvrot to ye countess of hernaunde and sche sente ye copy to hyre dowter phelyp qwen of Ingelond."* This, of course, was Philippa of Hainhault, wife of Edward III., and it is interesting to note that there is a MS. in the British Museum,† with the following title :—" Chiburn on the virtues of Ros maryn written at the command of the Countess of Henawd who sent the copy to her daughter Phylyp, Queen of England".
* Sloane, No. 5, Sec. 3.
† MS. circa 1440, in the Library at Didlington.
Another medical work, by " the venerable doctor, Master Gilbert Kymer," is a treatise addressed to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, entitled Dietarium de Sanitatis Custodia. Kymer gives a list of herbs to be put in potage, that the Duke might safely take, also full instructions as to what fruits could be taken before meals and what others after. This list includes, besides the commonest fruits, damsons, strawberries, figs, medlars, and peaches, and also foreign fruits and spices.
We find Palladius still translated in the fifteenth, as he had been in the thirteenth, century. There is no clue to the author of the English version, of which a manuscript dating from about 1420 exists at Colchester; ‡ but the name and work of another translator, of the same date, have been preserved. He was a monk of Westminster, named Nicholas Bollard, and either himself translated direct from Palladius, or transcribed or translated through " Godfrey," the parts of the work on husbandry, relating to grafting, planting, and sowing. Robert Salle also re-issued part of the same work. The MS. in the British Museum, containing the work by Salle, ends thus :— " Here endeth the telyng of trees after Godfray upon paladie and her begynneth the tretis of Nicholas Bollard." Then follows the chapter on " the manner of settyng of trees," and grafting, at the end of which it is stated, "here endeth the chapter of the first partie of Godfray upon Paladie de Agricultura." Another MS. of the fifteenth century known as the Porkington Treatise, has a few pages devoted to grafting and planting of trees which contain almost the same matter as those already cited, with a few additions. The author gives all the usual recipes for making fruit grow without stones, and so on, but he tells also how to graft a vine and a red rose on a cherry, and how to make the fruit turn blue by boring " an hole in the tre nise the rote" and putting in " good asure of Almayne ; " also, he says rose hips, or " pepynes," as he calls them, should be sown in February or March, " and dew heme welle with water" "iff thou wolt have many rosys in thy herbere." *
* Archceologia, Vol. XXX. † Sloane, No. 7, Sec. 5.
‡ Printed E. Eng. Text Soc, ed. by S. T. H. Herrtage.
The feate of gardening, by ion gardener, ms. c. 1440, trinity college, cambridge.
The earliest known really original work on gardening, written in English, is a treatise in verse by " Mayster Ion Gardener," of which a unique manuscript exists in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge.† It is contained in a small volume of miscellaneous manuscript matter, which was given to the College by Roger Gale, in 1738. This copy was apparently written about 1440, but the poem is probably of earlier date. From the evidence of the language, it appears that the author was Kentish, and from the mistakes of the copyist, it would seem that he was unfamiliar with some of the words which were becoming obsolete at the time he wrote. The existing title, "The Feate of Gardening," is evidently added by a later hand. Nothing definite is known of the author of this poem. He may have been a professional gardener, or he may merely have assumed the name, as symbolic of the craft, just as Langland wrote under the name of Piers Ploughman. We certainly find John a very common Christian name among the gardeners of the per10d. This treatise is a great step in advance of earlier writers. It is so thoroughly practical, that the directions it contains might be followed with successful results at the present day. It is unencumbered by superstitions, then so prevalent, and quite free from fanciful receipts. The poem contains 196 lines, consisting of a prologue and eight divisions, under the following headings :—" Off settyng' and Reryng' of Treys"—"Of graffyng' of Treys"— " Of cuttyng' and settyng' of Vynys"—" Of settyng' and sowyrg' of Sedys"—"Of sowyng' and settyng' of Wurtys"—" Of the kynd of Perselye "—" Of other maner Herbys"—" Of the kynde of Saferowne." This work is invaluable, as it gives incontrovertible evidence of the plants then actually to be found in an English garden, and the way in which they were cultivated, and is, of course, infinitely more worthy of belief on this subject than any translated work. The only other available sources we have for information on this point are the early cookery-books, in some of which the herbs suitable for a garden are enumerated. The following is the list of plants mentioned in John Gardener's poem:—
* Porkington MS., the property of W. Ormsby Gore, published by the Warton Club in 1855, under the title of Early English Miscellanies, ed. by G. O. Halliwell, f.r.s., etc.
† Printed in the Archeologia, Vol. LIV, with a glossary by myself.