A Description of Elizabethan England. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Of Gardens and Orchards
[1587, Book II., Chapter 20.]
AFTER such time as Calais was won from the French, and that our countrymen had learned to trade into divers countries (whereby they grew rich), they began to wax idle also, and thereupon not only left off their former painfulness and frugality, but in like sort gave themselves to live in excess and vanity, whereby many goodly commodities failed, and in short time were not to be had amongst us. Such strangers also as dwelled here with us, perceiving our sluggishness, and espying that this idleness of ours might redound to their great profit, forthwith employed their endeavors to bring in the supply of such things as we lacked continually from foreign countries, which yet more augmented our idleness. For, having all things at reasonable prices (as we supposed) by such means from them, we thought it mere madness to spend either time or cost about the same here at home. And thus we became enemies to our own welfare, as men that in those days reposed our felicity in following the wars, wherewith we were often exercised both at home and other places. Besides this, the natural desire that mankind hath to esteem of things far sought, because they be rare and costly, and the irksome contempt of things near hand, for that they are common and plentiful, hath borne no small sway also in this behalf amongst us. For hereby we have neglected our own good gifts of God, growing here at home, as vile and of no value, and had every trifle and toy in admiration that is brought hither from far countries, ascribing I wot not what great forces and solemn estimation unto them, until they also have waxen old, after which they have been so little regarded, if not more despised, amongst us than our own. Examples hereof I could set down many and in many things; but, sith my purpose is to deal at this time with gardens and orchards, it shall suffice that I touch them only, and show our inconstancy in the same, so far as shall seem and be convenient for my turn. I comprehend therefore under the word garden all such grounds as are wrought with the spade by mans hand, for so the case requireth.
Of wine I have written already elsewhere sufficiently, which commodity (as I have learned further since the penning of that book) hath been very plentiful in this island, not only in the times of the Romans, but also since the Conquest, as I have seen by record; yet at this present have we none at all, (or else very little to speak of), growing in this island, which I impute not unto the soil, but the negligence of my countrymen. Such herbs, fruits, and roots also as grow yearly out of the ground, of seed, have been very plentiful in this land, in the time of the first Edward, and after his days; but in process of time they grew also to be neglected, so that from Henry the Fourth till the latter end of Henry the Seventh and beginning of Henry the Eighth, there was little or no use of them in England, but they remained either unknown or supposed as food more meet for hogs and savage beasts to feed upon than mankind. Whereas in my time their use is not only resumed among the poor commons, I men of melons, pompons, gourds, cucumbers, radishes, skirets,1 parsnips, carrots, cabbages, navews,2 turnips, and all kinds of salad herbsbut also fed upon as dainty dishes at the tables of delicate merchants,gentlemen, and the nobility, who make their provision yearly for new seeds out of strange countries, from whence they have them abundantly. Neither do they now stay with such of these fruits as are wholesome in their kinds, but adventure further upon such as are very dangerous and hurtful, as the verangenes, mushrooms, etc., as if nature had ordained all for the belly, or that all things were to be eaten for whose mischievous operation the Lord in some measure hath given and provided a remedy.
Hops in time past were plentiful in this land. Afterwards also their maintenance did cease. And now, being revived, where are any better to be found? Where any greater commodity to be raised by them? Only poles are accounted to be their greatest charge. But, sith men have learned of late to sow ashen kexes in ashyards by themselves, that inconvenience in short time will be redressed.
Madder hath grown abundantly in this island, but of long time neglected, and now a little revived, and offereth itself to prove no small benefit unto our country, as many other things else, which are now fetched from us: as we before time, when we gave ourselves to idleness, were glad to have them other.
and variety of curious and costly workmanship, but also with rare and medicinable herbs sought up in the land within these forty years: so that, in comparison of this present, the ancient gardens were but dunghills and laistowes,5 to such as did possess them. How art also helpeth nature in the daily colouring, doubling, and enlarging the proportion of our flowers, it is incredible to report: for so curious and cunning are our gardeners now in these days that they presume to do in manner what they list with nature, and moderate her course in things as if they were her superiors. It is a world also to see how many strange herbs, plants, and annual fruits are daily brought unto us from the Indies, Americans, Taprobane, Canary Isles, and all parts of the world: the which, albeit that in respect of the constitutions of our bodies they do not grow for us (because that God hath bestowed sufficient commodities upon every country for her own necessity), yet, for delectation sake unto the eye and their odoriferous savours unto the nose, they are to be cherished, and God to be glorified also in them, because they are his good gifts, and created to do man help and service. There is not almost one nobleman, gentleman, or merchant that hath not great store of these flowers, which now also do begin to wax so well acquainted with our soils that we may almost account of them as parcel of our own commodities. They have no less regard in like sort to cherish medicinable herbs fetched out of other regions nearer hand, insomuch that I have seen in some one garden to the number of there hundred or four hundred of them, if not more, of the half of whose names within forty years past we had no manner of knowledge. But herein I find some cause of just complaint, for that we extol their uses so far that we fall into contempt of our own, which are in truth more beneficial and apt for us than such as grow elsewhere, sith (as I said before) every region hath abundantly within her own limits whatsoever is needful and most convenient for them that dwell therein. How do men extol the use of tobacco in my time, whereas in truth (whether the cause be in the repugnancy of our constitution unto the operation thereof, or that the ground doth alter her force, I cannot tell) it is not found of so great efficacy as they write. And beside this, our common germander or thistle benet is found and known to be so wholesome and of so great power in medicine as any other herb, if they be used accordingly. I could exemplify after the like manner in sundry other, as the Salsa parilla, Mochoacan, etc., but I forbear so to do, because I covet to be brief. And truly, the estimation and credit that we yield and give unto compound medicines made with foreign drugs is one great cause wherefore the full knowledge and use of our own simples hath been so long raked up in the embers. And as this may be verified so to be one sound conclusion, for, the greater number of simples that go unto any compound medicine, the greater confusion is found therein, because the qualities and operations of very few of the particulars are thoroughly known. And even so our continual desire of strange drugs, whereby the physician and apothecary only hath the benefit, is no small cause that the use of our simples here at home doth go to loss, and that we tread those herbs under our feet, whose forces if we knew, and could apply them to our necessities, we would honour and have in reverence as to their case behoveth. Alas! what have we to do with such Arabian and Grecian stuff as is daily brought from those parties which lie in another clime? And therefore the bodies of such as dwell there are of another constitution than ours are here at home. Certes they grow not for us, but for the Arabians and Grecians. And albeit that they may by skill be applied unto our benefit, yet to be more skilful in them than in our own is folly; and to use foreign wares, when our own may serve the turn, is more folly; but to despise our own, and magnify above measure the use of them that are sought and brought from far, is most folly of all: for it savoureth of ignorance, or at the leastwise of negligence, and therefore worthy of reproach.
Among the Indians, who have the most present cures for every disease of their own nation, there is small regard of compound medicines, and less of foreign drugs, because they neither know them nor can use them, but work wonders even with their own simples. With them also the difference of the clime doth show her full effect. For, whereas they will heal one another in short time with application of one simple, etc., if a Spaniard or Englishman stand in need of their help, they are driven to have a longer space in their cures, and now and then also to use some addition of two or three simples at the most, whose forces unto them are thoroughly known, because their exercise is only in their own, as men that never sought or heard what virtue was in those that came from other countries. And even so did Marcus Cato, the learned Roman, endeavour to deal in his cures of sundry diseases, wherein he not only used such simples as were to be had in his own country, but also examined and learned the forces of each of them, wherewith he dealt so diligently that in all his lifetime he could attain to the exact knowledge but of a few, and thereto wrote of those most learnedly, as would easily be seen if those his books were extant. For the space also of six hundred years the colewort only was a medicine in Rome for all diseases, so that his virtues were thoroughly known in those parts. . . .
For my part, I doubt not if the use of outlandish drugs had not blinded our physicians of England in times past, but that the virtues of our simples here at home would have been far better known, and so well unto us as those of India are to the practitioners of those parts, and thereunto be found more profitable for us than the foreign either are or may be. This also will I add, that even those which are most common by reason of their plenty, and most vile because of their abundance, are not without some universal and special efficacy, if it were known, for our benefit: sith God in nature hath so disposed his creatures that the most needful are the most plentiful and serving for such general diseases as our constitution most commonly is affected withal. Great thanks therefore be given unto the physicians of our age and country, who not only endeavour to search out the use of such simples as our soil doth yield and bring forth, but also to procure such as grow elsewhere, upon purpose so to acquaint them with our clime that they in time, through some alteration received from the nature of the earth, may likewise turn to our benefit and commodity and be used as our own.
The chief workman (or, as I may call him, the founder of this device) is Carolus Clusius, the noble herbarist whose industry hath wonderfully stirred them up into this good act. For albeit that Matthiolus, Rembert, Lobell, and others have travelled very far in this behalf, yet none hath come near to Clusius, much less gone further in the finding and true descriptions of such herbs as of late are brought to light. I doubt not but, if this man were in England but one seven years, he would reveal a number of herbs growing with us whereof neither our physicians nor apothecaries as yet have any knowledge. And even like thanks be given unto our nobility, gentlemen, and others, for their continual nutriture and cherishing of such homeborne and foreign simples in their gardens: for hereby they shall not only be had at hand and preserved, but also their forms made more familiar to be discerned and their forces better known than hitherto they have been.
And even as it fareth with our gardens, so doth it with our orchards, which were never furnished with so good fruit nor with such variety as at this present. For, beside that we have most delicate apples, plums, pears, walnuts, filberts, etc., and those of sundry sorts, planted within forty years past, in comparison of which most of the old trees are nothing worth, so have we no less store of strange fruit, as apricots, almonds, peaches, figs, corn-trees6 in noblemens orchards. I have seen capers, oranges, and lemons, and heard of wild olives growing here, beside other strange trees, brought from far, whose names I know not. So that England for these commodities was never better furnished, neither any nation under their clime more plentifully endued with these and other blessings from the most high God, who grant us grace withal to use the same to his honour and glory! And not as instruments and provocations into further excess and vanity, wherewith his displeasure may be kindled, lest these his benefits do turn unto thorns and briers unto us for our annoyance and punishment, which he hath bestowed upon us for our consolation and comfort.
We have in like sort such workmen as are not only excellent in grafting the natural fruits, but their artificial mixtures, whereby one tree bringeth forth sundry fruits, and one and the same fruit of divers colours and tastes, dallying as it were with nature and her course, as if her whole trade were perfectly known unto them: of hard fruits they will make tender, of sour sweet, of sweet yet more delicate, bereaving also some of their kernels, other of their cores, and finally enduing them with the savour of musk, amber, or sweet spices, at their pleasures. Divers also have written at large of these several practices, and some of them how to convert the kernels of peaches into almonds, of small fruit to make far greater, and to remove or add superfluous or necessary moisture to the trees, with other things belonging to their preservation, and with no less diligence than our physicians do commonly show upon our own diseased bodies, which to me doth seem right strange. And even so do our gardeners with their herbs, whereby they are strengthened against noisome blasts, and preserved from putrefaction and hindrance: whereby some such as were annual are now made perpetual, being yearly taken up, and either reserved in the house, or, having the ross pulled from their roots, laid again into the earth, where they remain in safety. With choice they make also in their waters, and wherewith some of them do now and then keep them moist, it is a world to see, insomuch that the apothecaries shops may seem to be needful also to our gardens and orchards, and that in sundry wise: nay, the kitchen itself is so far from being able to be missed among them that even the very dish-water is not without some use amongst our finest plants. Whereby, and sundry other circumstances not here to be remembered, I am persuaded that, albeit the gardens of the Hesperides were in times past so greatly accounted of, because of their delicacy, yet, if it were possible to have such an equal judge as by certain knowledge of both were able to pronounce upon them, I doubt not but he would give the prize unto the gardens of our days, and generally over all Europe, in comparison of those times wherein the old exceeded. Pliny and others speak of a rose that had three score leaves growing upon one button: but if I should tell of one which bare a triple number unto that proportion, I know I shall not be believed, and no great matter though I were not; howbeit such a one was to be seen in Antwerp, 1585, as I have heard, and I know who might have had a slip or stallon thereof, if he would have ventured ten pounds upon the growth of the same, which should have been but a tickle hazard, and therefore better undone, as I did always imagine. For mine own part, good reader, let me boast a little of my garden, which is but small, and the whole area thereof little above 300 foot of ground, and yet, such hath been my good luck in purchase of the variety of simples, that, notwithstanding my small ability, there are very near three hundred of one sort and other contained therein, no one of them being common or usually to be had. If therefore my little plot, void of all cost in keeping, be so well furnished, what shall we think of those of Hampton Court, Nonsuch, Tibaults, Cobham Garden, and sundry others appertaining to divers citizens of London, whom I could particularly name, if I should not seem to offend them by such my demeanour and dealing.