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.
He could not with one masterly touch of the pen have described this peculiarity of the fruit, had it not been familiar to him.
The custom of strewing rushes (various species of Funcus) on the floor, was very general in the Middle Ages. Frequently we find notes of payments for rushes, such as in 10th of Henry III., 1226, " 12d. for hay and rushes for the Baron's chamber," and in the Household Rolls of Sir John Howard, 1464, item "paid to gromes off chamber for reshis 16d." Queen Mary's presence chamber was strewn with rushes, also that of Elizabeth, though she added thereto the luxury of a Turkey carpet. In Princess Elizabeth's accounts, 1551-2, a small sum was entered "to the steward for rushes." The guest chambers were always freshly strewn :—
" So here a chamber.
* * *
I shall warande fare strewed.
It should not else to you be showed." *
In the Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio, just after his marriage, sends his servant to Grumio to prepare the house for his bride. Grumio arrives late, and in haste calls, " Where's the cook? is supper ready, the house trimmed, rushes strewed, cobwebs swept ?" Such had been for long years the custom, but in Henry the Eighth's reign an improvement on the plain rushes became the fashion, and sweet-smelling herbs and flowers were added. By Elizabeth's time this practice was much in vogue. As early as 1516 "flowers and rushes" were purchased "for chambers," for Henry VIII. In 1552, in Princess Elizabeth's accounts, there are numerous entries of payments to a certain Thomas Briesly, for "flowers and herbs by him provided for the same purpose." The sum of £10 was paid in 1565 and 1567, to Robert Jones, for providing boughs and flowers for the Council Chamber.* Queen Elizabeth was so fond of having a constant supply of flowers for strewing, that a waiting-woman was appointed with a fixed salary to have flowers always in readiness. So late as 1713 this office had not been abolished, as there is a letter extant in the State Archives addressed to Alice Blizard, who held the post of " herbe strewer to Her Majesty the Queen." Parkinson, writing about what flowers are suitable for laying out knots, says of both Germander and Hyssop, "they must be kept in some form and proportion with cutting, and the cuttings are much used as a strawing herb for houses, being pretty and sweet".
* Towneley Ministry.
The houses must have been made very fragrant with many herbs and flowers, not only strewn on the floor but placed in vases about the rooms. In the Loseley Accounts in 1556, the item occurs, "a blewe potte for flowers id." † Parkinson says of both Yew and Box, they are used " to deck up houses in the winter-time." Not only in pots and vases were flowers to be found, but many were skilfully arranged into little posies, and worn as personal ornaments. Violets made into garlands, posies, and nosegays "are delightful to look on, and pleasant to smell." ‡ "Auriculas do seem every one of them to be a nosegay alone of itself.....they are not unfurnished with a pretty sweet scent, which dothe adde an increase of pleasure in those that make them ornaments for their wearing." § Another curious button-hole was the Fritellaria, which, says Parkinson, was " worn abroad " by the " curious lovers of these delights".
Some flowers had particular meaning attached to them, and were therefore worn on special occasions. Rosemary was borne at funerals:—
"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance," said Ophelia, and strange to say, it was also worn at marriages. Anne of Cleves, when she arrived at Greenwich as a bride, wore " on her head a coronet of gold and precious stones, set full of branches of rosemary." At a rustic wedding witnessed by Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth, " each wight had a branch of green broom tied on his left arm (for that side is near the heart) because rosemary was scant there".
* Acts of the Privy Council. New Series, Vol. VII., 1893.
† Archceologia, Vol. XXXVI. ‡ Gerard. § Parkinson.
" Down with the rosemary and bays, Down with the mistletoe ;— Instead of Holly, now upraise The greener box, for show.
* * *
When yew is out and birch comes in,
And many flowers beside Both of a fresh and fragrant kin.
To honour Whitsuntide. Green rushes then, and sweetest bents*.
With cooler open boughs, Come in for comely ornaments.
To re-adorn the house".
Herrick, Candlemas Eve.
Parkinson again refers to the flowers in houses when writing about wall-flowers. " The sweetness of the flowers," he says, " causeth them to be generally used in nosegayes and to deck up houses." The " greater flag " was also used for the same purpose. Plants were grown in rooms also, and Platt gives a long paragraph with suggestions of the best plants to grow, and tells how to water them, and give them air and light. Window boxes, too, were used: " In every window you may make square frames either of lead or of boards well pitched within ; fill them with some rich earth, and plant such flowers or hearbs therein as you like best." For the more shady parts of a room he advises rosemary, sweet briar, bay, or germander. And "in summer-time," he continues, "your chimney may be trimed with a fine bank of mosse, ... or with orpin, or the white flower called 'everlasting.' And at either end one of your flower or Rosemary pots. . . . You may also hang in the roof and about the sides of the room small pompions or cowcumbers pricked full of Barley. . . You may also plant vines without the walls, which being let in at some quarrels, may run about the sides of your windows, and all over the sealing of your rooms. So may you do with Apricot trees, or other plum trees, spreading them against the sides of your windows".
* A sort of grass. (Agrostis).