I’ve always wanted a 17th century garden.
We live in an old granite cottage, in a sheltered dip where the Cornish gales blow overhead. We have a long front garden, and a small enclosed back yard.
There are certain things in our current garden which are givens –
– an apple tree, coming now to the end of its useful fruiting life, but rather lovely.
– two Williams pear trees, planted to mark William’s birth five years ago.
– an olive bush
– two sheds, somewhat non-negotiable, full of Living History kit
– a small and somewhat barren vegetable patch; the space can be re-used, but the raised bed itself is a fixture
– a very elderly rosemary bush
– three old-fashioned scented roses
– a flourishing bay tree
– naturalised wallflowers and primroses
The gardens of period town houses were generally modest and of a functional nature, based on medieval patterns, to provide plants of medicinal, culinary and household uses. Illustrations of town gardens from this period frequently show the garden adjacent to the house and enclosed by walls, hedging, fencing and/or painted rails. A wide variety of herbs, vegetables (known as pot herbs) and flowers were grown, probably in geometrical, raised beds surrounded by gravel. Small fruit trees, sometimes trained as espaliers on the sunny walls, and arbours covered with vines were common features.
I have prostrate rosemary and boxes of herbs at my front gate (in need of some overhaul) as well as a large rosemary bush at the front door to keep the witches away. I have bronze (Florentine) fennel, feverfew, lovage, savory, lemon thyme, sops-in-wine, houseleek….I also have three cats and a small boy who likes to dig holes.
So, then, the first challenge is to populate my shady corner by the shed, currently inhabited by some straggly “architectural” plants and a patch of wet and well-trodden soil. The idea is to build a raised bed by the shed and then put a narrow gravel path in front of it and behind the shed.
Suitable period plants for shade – their properties are taken from Culpeper (I do like his habit of calling cultvated plants “tame”…):
Sweet Woodruff –
Virtues. The Woodruffe is accounted nourishing and restorative, and good for weakly consumptive people; it opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and is said to be a provocative to venery.
Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun in Leo; let it be gathered when he is there, the Moon applying to his good aspect; let it be gathered either in his hour, or in the hour of Jupiter; let Sol be angular: observe the like in gathering the herbs of other planets, and you may happen to do wonders. In all epidemical diseases caused by Saturn, that is as good a preservative as grows; it resists poison, by defending and comforting the heart, blood, and spirits; it doth the like against the plague and all epidemical diseases, if the root be taken in powder to the weight of half a drachm at a time, with some good treacle in carduus water, and the party thereupon laid to sweat in his bed; if treacle be not to be had, take it alone in carduus or angelica-water. The stalks or roots candied and eaten fasting, are good preservatives in time of infection: and at other times to warm and comfort a cold stomach. The root also steeped in vinegar, and a little of that vinegar taken sometimes fasting, and the root smelled unto, is good for the same purpose. A water distilled from the root simply, as steeped in wine, and distilled in a glass, is much more effectual than the water of the leaves; and this water, drank two or three spoonfuls at a time, eases all pains and torments coming of cold and wind, so that the body be not bound; and taken with some of the root in powder, at the beginning, helps the pleurisy, as also all other diseases of the lungs and breast, as coughs, phthisic, and shortness of breath; and a syrup of the stalks do the like. It helps pains of the cholic, the stranguary and stoppage of the urine, procures womens’ courses, and expels the afterbirth: opens the stoppings of the liver and spleen, and briefly eases and discusses all windiness and inward swellings. The decoction drank before the fit of an ague, that the patient may sweat before the fit comes, will, in two or three times taking, rid it quite away: it helps digestion, and is a remedy for a surfeit. The juice, or the water, being dropped into the eyes or ears, helps dimness of sight and deafness; the juice put into the hollow teeth, eases their pains. The root in powder, made up into a plaister with a little pitch, and laid on the biting of mad dogs, or any other venomous creature, does wonderfully help. The juice or the water dropped, or tents wet therein, and put into filthy dead ulcers, or the powder of the root (in want of either) does cleanse and cause them to heal quickly, by covering the naked bones with flesh; the distilled water applied to places pained with the gout, or sciatica, gives a great deal of ease.
The root is used in many of our shop compositions as in the plague water, &c. and the dried leaves are a principal ingredient in the ladies red powder, famous for the cure of fevers.
Lemon Balm –
Government and virtues. It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar (as you shall be taught at the latter end of this book) be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey, according as the disease is, as you shall be taught at the latter end of my book. – The Arabian physicians have extolled the virtues thereof to the skies; although the Greeks thought it not worth mentioning. Seraphio saith, it causes the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings and swoonings, especially of such who are overtaken in sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind, arising from melancholy or black choler: which Avichen also confirmeth. It is very good to help digestion, and open obstructions of the brain, and hath so much purging quality in it (saith Avichen) as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries, although it cannot do so in other parts of the body. – Dioscorides saith, That the leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drank, and the leaves externally applied, is a remedy against the stings of a scorpion, and the bitings of mad dogs; and commendeth the decoction thereof for women to bathe or sit in to procure their courses; it is good to wash aching teeth therewith, and profitable for those that have the bloody flux. The leaves also, with a little nitre taken in drink, are good against the surfeit of mushrooms, helps the griping pains of the belly; and being made into an electuary, it is good for them that cannot fetch their breath: Used with salt, it takes away wens, kernels, or hard swelling in the flesh or throat: it cleanseth foul sores, and eases pains of the gout. It is good for the liver and spleen. A tansy, or caudle made with eggs, and juice thereof while it is young, putting to it some sugar and rosewater, is good for a woman in child-bed, when the after-birth is not properly voided; and for their faintings upon or in their sore travail. The herb bruised and boiled in a little wine and oil, and laid warm on a boil, will ripen it, and break it.
Sweet Cecily –
Government and virtues. The garden chervil being eaten, doth moderately warm the stomach, and is a certain remedy (saith Tragus) to dissolve congealed or clotted blood in the body, or that which is clotted by bruises, falls, &c. The juice or distilled water thereof being drank, and the bruised leaves laid to the place, being taken either in meat or drink, it is good to help to provoke urine, or expel the stone in the kidneys, to send down women’s courses, and to help the pleurisy and pricking of the sides.
The wild chervil bruised and applied, dissolveth swellings in any part, or the marks of congealed blood by bruises or blows in a little space.
Government and virtues. One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz . to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that are bit with serpents, or have eat poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed, and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines, to help shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs. It assists also to bring down the courses, and to cleanse the parts after delivery. The roots are of most use in physic drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour in the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat. The distilled water of the whole herb, or the condensate juice dissolved, but especially the natural juice, that in some counties issues out of its own accord, dropped into the eyes cleans them from mists and films that hinder the sight. The sweet fennel is much weaker in physical uses than the common fennel. The wild fennel is stronger and hotter than the tame, and therefore most powerful against the stone, but not so effectual to encrease milk, because of its dryness.
The left side of the bed gets full sun almost all day, but it’s still quite damp down there. My fennel is presently in a small trough and is feeling a bit sorry for itself, so the opportunity to get out and stretch its roots somewhat will be welcome! But if I put the tall, feathery plants to the back of the bed – fennel and angelica and cecily – that’s a fairly architectural display in its own right. And for a truly seventeenth-century look, it’s important that the plants are as elegantly arranged as possible in order of height, unlike our modern fashion for a brave disorder.
So…. the planning begins, and I will keep posting updates.