By Shelby Wolfe, Reader Services
Somewhere amid April snow showers, I took my desire to see long-awaited signs of spring into my own hands and dug into a number of volumes here at the MHS regarding all things flora. I spent some time in A Little Book of Perennials (1927) by Alfred C. Hottes, consulted the floral clock in the appendix of Christopher Dresser’s Art of Decorative Design (1862) in anticipation of near-future blooms, and found the not-so-secret language of flowers outlined in a miniature Burnett’s Floral Handbook and Ladies’ Calendar for 1866 intriguing and rather amusing (if someone sends you laurestinus flowers, they may be trying to convey the sentiment “I die if neglected”; lettuce expresses cold-heartedness, a yellow carnation disdain).
I slowed down when I started paging through John Parkinson’s 1656 volume on horticulture, descriptively titled Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, or, A choise Garden of all sorts of Rarest Flowers, with their Nature, place of Birth, time of flowring, Names, and Vertues to each Plant, useful in Physick, or admired for Beauty. To which is annext a Kitchin-Garden furnished with all manner of Herbs, Roots, and Fruits, for Meat or Sawce used with us. With the Art of planting an Orchard of all sorts of fruit-bearing Trees and Shrubs, shewing the nature of Grafting, Inoculating, and pruning of them. Together with the right ordering, planting, and preserving of them, with their select vertues : All unmentioned in former Herbals. Parkinson, who held the distinctions of Apothecary of London and the King’s Herbalist, preludes this work with a dedication to the queen. Our 1659 copy of Paradisi in Sole is a later edition of the original, first printed in 1629, making this a dedication to Henrietta Maria of France, wife of Charles I of England. Parkinson writes, “Accept, I beseech your Majesty, this Speaking Garden, that may inform you in all the particulars of your store, as well as wants, when you cannot see any of them fresh upon the ground.” As I had yet to see any signs of spring fresh upon the ground and was indeed in want of them, I decided to give this Speaking Garden a try.
I wasn’t disappointed – Parkinson’s collection of horticultural advice, wisdom, and instruction includes a number of beautiful woodcut illustrations. An early section, “The ordering of the Garden of pleasure,” includes intricate designs as suggestions for attractive garden layouts.
“The ordering of the Garden of pleasure.”
“The Garden of pleasant Flowers,” showing various specimen of Peony.
Some illustrations near the beginning of the book bear signs of a previous owner, having been partially colored. Other sections of the text have been underlined or annotated. Evidently one reader wanted to remember when planting Tulipas, “if you set them deep, they will be the safer from frosts if your ground be cold, which will also cause them to be a little later before they be in flower …” as it has been called out with a manicule.
In addition to the main text with its beautiful illustrations, Paradisi in Sole includes helpful appendices to help navigate a volume brimming with knowledge, insight, and sometimes seemingly strange advice. My favorite was “A Table of the Virtues and Properties of the HEARBS contained in this BOOK,” which provides a concise guide to locating remedies for standard ailments and even one’s most obscure complaint.
How could I not turn to pages 364, 436, 502, 506, 513, or 533 to see what I should do “For cold and moyst Brains”? Apparently Tabacco [sic], the Tree of life, Garden Mustard, Cabbages and Coleworts, Leeks, or Licorice would do the trick and clear the lungs of phlegm. What are Parkinson’s nineteen suggestions for a “Cordiall to comfort the heart”? Among them he includes Saffron, Monkeshood, Marigolds, Roses, and Strawberries. Plenty more “virtues” had me flipping back and forth, from index to referenced page, out of sheer curiosity and bewilderment. If you would like to do the same, visit the library to work with this volume and others that pique your interest.
As I finish this blog post and prepare to reshelve Paradisi in Sole, I see a bed of daffodils and tulips through a window in the reading room.