I’m having this really neat synchronicity of research, writing and life right now, as I’m working on Chapter Three of my book, which is focused on Elizabethan horticulture. So I get up, water my garden, and then go upstairs into my study and read and write about English gardening texts from the sixteenth century. Or there is the alternative day: I get up, drink coffee, read and write about English gardening texts, and then go downstairs for “cocktail watering” at the end of the day. Regardless of when I sit down to immerse myself in this topic, it is obvious that there was a lot to write about then, and so I have a lot to write about now: new plants, coming from the Continent or the New World, how to feed the rapidly growing city of London, how to harness the power of plants for a variety of medicinal purposes. There were kitchen gardens, physic gardens, market gardens, and “summer gardens” for pleasure and relaxation. No matter what the purpose of the garden, the general belief was that it should be adjacent to the house and laid out in beds segregated by paths and walkways: the influences of the French parterre and medieval precedents encouraged the creation of a “knotted” or knot garden, which seems to have become a Tudor symbol. The pioneer of English gardening texts, Thomas Hyll (or Hill) published his first book, The Profitable arte of gardening in 1558: it was reprinted frequently thereafter and published in an amplified edition called The Gardeners Labyrinth posthumously in 1577. The Labyrinth was also very popular, due to the combination of Hyll’s “plain” instructions on how to lay out, enclose, plant, fertilize, irrigate, protect, and harvest a garden as well as its wonderful illustrations, the most reprinted of which are his images of watering the garden, something we all need to think about right now in the August doldrums (at least in New England). And true to its title, the Labyrinth also includes illustrations—templates really, for knot gardens, mazes, and labyrinths. Somehow I am more appreciative of his watering advice right now, in these 90-degree days!
Tending to and ordering your garden in the Elizabethan era: Thomas Hyll’s Gardeners Labyrinth.
I am a bit confused by these two alternative watering techniques: “the maner of watering with a pumpe by troughes in the garden” and “the maner of watering with a pumpe in a tubbe” as Hyll is quite clear in the text that “water rotteth and killeth above ground.” So do we water from above or below? I generally do both: aiming for the roots when I start watering and then just lazily arching it from above when I get tired and lazy—especially if I am watering with wine-in-hand. So many tools we use now were used then—rakes, hoes, shovels, watering “pottes”: and he calls his tin watering devices “great Squirtes”! August was hot in those Elizabethan summers as well: and Hyll instructs his readers to get out there and water in whatever way they can.
Bad cocktail watering (?) and the garden in the morning.
There are several knot garden examples in The Gardener’s Labyrinth as well as mazes: Hyll had to appeal to the literary public, which was essentially a monied and aspirational one, and so his gardens had to have ornamental qualities as well as utilitarian ones. The knot or maze is a perfect and very literal example of man bending nature to his will, a key Renaissance preoccupation: man is at the center of everything. The perfectly-ordered gardens that appear in the backgrounds of English portraits from this era reflect very well on their individual subjects, as well as the society at large.
Knot & Maze designs from the Gardeners Labyrinth, 1577; Lord Edward Russell by George Perfect Harding, watercolor copy of a 1573 portrait after unknown artist, National Portrait Gallery; Isaac Oliver, a Young Man seated under a Tree, 1590-95, Royal Collection Trust; Lettice Newdigate, c. 1606, Private Collection: Arbury Hall, Warwickshire.