The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 1 Introduction

John Gerard and Parkinson Herbal Gardens

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Gerard, that delightful old herbalist and gardener to Lord Burghley, in Elizabeth's reign, had his own garden in Holborn. In it flourished no less than some 972 varieties of plants, of which he published a catalogue in 1596. His friend and fellow-botanist, L'Obel, whose name is best remembered by the familiar genus Lobelia, testified that he had seen all the plants on the list actually growing there. The great faith and skill with which these old gardeners attempted to grow in London all the newly-acquired floral treasures, from all parts of the world, is truly touching. To make them "denizons of our London gardens" was Gerard's delight. And this worthy ambition was shared by L'Obel, who looked after Lord Zouche's garden in Hackney; by John Parkinson, author of the delightful work on gardening; and later on, the mantle descended to the Tradescants, who had their museum (the nucleus of the Ashmolean) or "Ark" and garden in Lambeth; by Sir John Sloane, who established the Physic Garden in Chelsea, and numerous others. It is curious to think how many of the plants now familiar everywhere made their first appearance in London, They were not reared elsewhere and brought to the large shows which are arranged in the metropolis to exhibit novelties to the public, but really London-grown. They were foreign importations, little seeds or bulbs, sent home to the merchants trading with the Levant, or brought back by enterprising explorers from the New World and carefully nurtured in the London gardens, that the citizens "set such store by." There were several of these "worshipful gentlemen" to whom the introduction of flowers is due, and of many a plant Gerard could say with pride, they "are strangers to England, notwithstanding I have them in my garden." Most plants were grown for use, but others "we have them," says Gerard, "in our London gardens rather more for toyes of pleasure than any vertues they are possessed with." Some of the first potatoes introduced were grown in London. Gerard had those in his garden direct from Virginia, and prized them as "a meat for pleasure." Jerusalem artichokes were brought to London by him, and grown there in early days (1617). Parkinson also had them, calling them "Potatos of Canada." Bananas were first seen in England in Johnson's the herbalist's shop in Snow Hill. At a much later date- early in last century-the fuchsia was made known for the first time to Lee, a celebrated gardener, who saw a pot of this attractive plant in the window of a house in Wapping, where a sailor had brought it as a present to his wife. So attached to it was she, that she only parted with it when a sum of eight guineas was offered, besides two of the young rooted cuttings. London can claim so many flowers, it would be tedious to enumerate them all. The first cedars in this country grew in the Chelsea Physic Garden, some of the first orchids at Loddige's Garden in Hackney, and many things have emanated from Veitch's Nursery, or the Botanical Gardens in Regent's Park, or the gardens which used to belong to the Royal Horticultural Society in South Kensington. The chrysanthemum in early days flourished in Stoke Newington, and one of the very first results of cross-fertilisation, which now forms the chief part of scientific garden work, was accomplished by Fairchild, a famous nurseryman at Hoxton, who died in 1730. [John Gerard (Nantwich, 1545 � February, 1611/12 in London [1]) was an English botanist famous for his herbal garden. Wikipedia, 2007] [John Parkinson (1567-1650) was the last of the great English herbalists and almost the first of the great English botanists, for he was apothecary to James I, and a charter member of the Society of Apothecaries in December 1617, and on the committee that published their London Pharmacopoeia, 1618. Wikipedia, 2007]