THOMAS HYLL, A TRULY GREAT ELIZABETHAN GARDENER
Thomas Hyll, born in 1529, was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and his gardening books are written in Elizabethan English, based on a sound knowledge of the classics taught in the grammar schools at this time of the Renaissance. In all his books, including his major work, The Gardener’s Labyrinth, Hyll makes frequent reference to Greek and Roman authors, but there is no doubt that it is his ‘forty years experience in the Art of Gardening‘ that make this book a fascinating, practical and useful source of advice for organic gardeners of today.
Each short chapter of The Gardener’s Labyrinth is written as a mini-treatise or self-contained essay on a particular theme, but the text is not divided into paragraphs, and this makes it difficult to read. So in the following quotations from The Gardener’s Labyrinth first published in 1577, paragraphs have been introduced, and the spelling and puctuation have been modernised to make for easier reading.
In this first chapter, Hyll discusses the invention of garden plots, saying that ‘The worthy Pliny reporteth that a garden plot in the ancient time at Rome was none other than a small and simple enclosure of ground, which through the labour and diligence of the husbandman, yielded a commodity and yearly revenue unto him.’
‘But after the age and people were reformed and brought by the instruction of the Epicure to a more delight of themselves in coveting to feed on dainty herbs and sallets (salads), with meats delectable, and taking an earnester care for the pleasing of their mouths, they laboured to become skilful, and to use a greater care about the apt dressing of garden plots, by well fencing and comely furnishing of their ground with sundry needful and delectable trees, plants and herbs.’
Here Hyll writes of the care, diligence, art and skill required which he says will be rewarded with ‘these two commodities, utility and delight: the utility yieldeth the plenty of herbs, flowers and fruits right delectable, but the pleasure of the same procureth a delight, and as Varro writeth, a jocundity of mind.‘
This chapter discusses the ‘best ground for a garden‘. The ground must be ‘neither very dry, nor clayey, nor sandy and rough. For the clayey ground of itself, over-bindeth: but the sandy and rough in a contrary manner, so that neither is wont to nourish plants nor retain water.’
Hyll then quotes Pliny as saying that a garden plot should be ‘very well cleansed of stone, and that the earth prove not full of chaps (cracks)’. For Hyll, only ‘the best and gentle or worthiest earth shall be chosen, in which you mind to commit your seeds‘.
This chapter is concerned with the best way of improving the various soil types, and, as in modern organic gardening, the answer for Hyll lies in the addition of organic matter in the form of animal manure or dung. ‘Of necessity may every ground well agree, to be mixed and turned in with dung.’
So ‘if the earth shall be found naughty (poor) or unfruitful, as the clayey, sandy and chalky, then ought the same to be amended after the mind of the skilful, with marl (limy soil) and dung laid three foot deep, and well turned in with the earth. If the earth be perceived over-thin and lean, then to be mixed and holpen by a fat (fertile) earth; or to a barren and over-dry ground may be mixed a moist and very fat earth.‘
In this chapter, Hyll deals with the irrigation and watering of the garden plot, recommending ‘to have a well or pump in a garden, unless some running water, as either ditch or small river be near adjoining, for that a sweet water sprinkled on young plants and herbs giveth a special nourishment. If a well be lacking in the garden, then dig a deep pit in some convenient place of the garden, to draw water out of the same. For a garden ground needeth often to be watered, through which all seeds committed to the earth, as Pliny reporteth, both sooner break forth and speedeier spread abroad.‘
He goes on to say, ‘If a well or pit cannot be made in the garden, then frame up a square pit or cistern levelled in the bottom with brick and lime to receive the rain-water falling, with which in the hottest summer days you may water the beds of the garden.‘
Here Hyll recommends that for practical reasons, the garden plot should be placed ‘near to the house, for the oftner recourse and diligence to be bestowed by the owner‘, and that in cold countries such as Britain, the garden should be south-facing: ‘It should lie open to the South, especially in a healthful place, for a garden plot all the day comforted by the open face of the South quarter, is procured to yield the sweeter and timelier fruits, in the seasons of the year.‘
Chapters 7 and 8
These chapters deal in great detail with the different types of protection to be built around the garden plot ‘to prevent the injuries to be wrought and done by robbers and thieves, fowls and beasts’. There are descriptions of the enclosure methods of the ancient Romans, the best being walls of mortared stone or brick, but the ‘surest and of least cost’ being made with brambles and briars.
Chapter 8 ends with Hyll recommending more attractive forms of hedging for contemporary garden, such as ‘white thorn artly laid‘ or hedges of ‘the privet tree which at this day are made the stronger through the yearly cutting‘ which causes them ‘to grow the evener and thicker, to the beautifying of the garden ground.’
Chapters 9 and 10
These two chapters are entirely concerned with ancient writings on the pros and cons of adding animal manures to the soil. ‘There were in ancient time, as Pliny recordeth, certain witty (intelligent) husbandmen (farmers) that wholly refused and forbade the dunging of gardens placed nigh to the dwelling houses: in that this dunging might not only infect the air thereabout but cause also the crescent (growing) things to prove both unsavorier and more corrupt‘.
According to Hyll, the Greek poet Hesiod, who ‘wrote very cunningly of husbandry, omitted the dunging of fields and garden plots, contented rather to counsel unto healthfulness, than willed the same to fertility. It was supposed enough at that time to have fattened (fertilised) the fields and garden plots with the leaves and empty cods (pods) of the beans, peas, tares, and such like, turned workmanly in with the earth in due season of the year, and not to have employed or dunged the ground with a rotten and pestilent matter, incommodius to man and the plants‘.
Hyll agrees that the wholescale application of fresh manure is detrimental, and to be avoided. ‘Which wise men have well found out, in that the sowen plants sprung up in such an earth, yield for the most part a harmful quality to the daily feeders upon them, hardly to be amended‘.
Hyll insists that dung is essential, because ‘earth not dunged is both cold and stiff‘ and ‘good dung doth procure a good and battle (rich) earth the better‘ and ‘helpeth and amendeth the evil and naughty (poor) earth.’
However, dung must be applied and used in the correct manner, because otherwise ‘the ground by the over-much dunging may be burned altogether’. He therefore agrees with the Roman writer Columella that it is better ‘to dung the earth’ little and often, rather than to apply it all in one go. Beds where plants are to be sown in the spring should, be manured the autumn before, ‘about St Martin’s Day (11th November), that the same lying all the winter through, may so be dissolved by the time of committing seeds to the earth‘.
Similarly, ‘the plot prepared for the winter seeds ought to be well turned in with dung about the end of September, and the seeds committed to the earth after the ground be well moistened with showers‘.
So anxious is Hyll that young seedlings should not be ‘burned‘ by planting them directly into fresh manure, that he advises preparing a thin layer of earth, and spreading dung ‘neither too thick or too thin on that earth. Above that, let another course of earth be raked over of a reasonable thickness, workmanly (skilfully) handled and done, and see that your plants be set handsomely into the ground, and in a chosen time.’
This chapter deals with ‘the worthiness and excellency‘ of different kinds of dung. ‘The ancient Greek writers of husbandry affirm that the doves dung is the best, because the same possesseth a mighty hotness. The dung also of the hen and other fowls (is) greatly commended for the sourness. Asses dung is next commended as this causeth the most sweet and pleasantest herbs and roots‘.
‘The third in place is the goats dung, being most sour, which ensueth (resembles) the sheeps dung yet fatter (stronger). After this both the ox and cow dung, next the swines dung, worthier than the oxen or kine (cattle), but greatly disallowed by Columella for the mighty hotness that burneth the seeds immediately bestowed in the earth. The vilest and worst of all dungs, after the opinion of the Greek writers is the horses and mules if either of these be bestowed alone in the earth; yet with the sour dungs mixed, either will profitably be abated or qualified.’
Hyll himself gives no indication of his personal opinion of the virtues of various manures, but is particularly concerned to to point out the dangers of using anything other than fresh manure: ‘The same is to be learned of every gardener and husbandman that they fatten not the earth if it be possible with dung of one year (one year old)‘ because, ‘besides that it is of no utility, it engenders also many noisome worms and kinds of vermin‘.
He does however feel obliged to give Columella’s opinion. ‘But of the contrary mind is Columella, who willeth the earth to be fattened (fertilised) with dung which hath lain a year, and not above; on the grounds that it ‘bringeth forth least weeds, and possesseth as yet a sufficient strength for the turn‘.
It is interesting to note that when modern organic gardening experts insist that animal manures added to the garden should always be well-rotted, they are following the advice of the ancient Roman author Columella.
This chapter concerns the layout and design of the garden. ‘Before I treat of the sowing of gardens, it behoveth to admonish you, that it much availeth in a garden, to frame seemly walks and alleys, for the delight of the owner, by which he may the freelier walk hither and thither in them, and consider thoroughly all the matters to be wrought and done in the garden‘.
There must also be planning and forethought. ‘The gardener shall employ his diligence that the garden ground to be levelled and sown in the springtime be digged and dunged about the end of harvest, when as yet the cold season and frosts be not approached, nor bitter weather begun.’
‘And the quarters of the garden which the gardener would in the harvest time have covered with the salad, pot herbs and roots, ought to be turned up in the month of May.’
And when the sowing time approacheth or draweth near, then shall the garden ground be diligently raked, weeded, and purged, both of the stones and unprofitable roots; the earth be dunged and orderly digged that the dung with the earth be well dissolved and mixed together. After this digging and dunging again the second time, and the earth levelled, may the garden be beautified in apt places with seemly herbs, before the quarters and the beds be workmanly trodden out by the gardener.’
The herbar (arbour) in the garden may be framed with ash poles or the willow, either to stretch, or to be bound together with oziers or wires, that the branches of the vine, melon or cucumber, running and spreading all over, might so shadow and keep both the heat and the sun from the walkers and sitters thereunder.
The gardener that would set rose trees to run up by the poles of the herbar ought workmanly to begin and do the same by the middle of February, the beds before well reared with a stony and dry earth, and not with dung. The owner may also set the jasmine tree bearing a fragrant flower, the musk rose, damask rose, and privet tree in beds of dry earth to shoot up and spread over this herbar, which in time growing yieldeth a delectable smell, much refreshing the sitters under it.
However, the creation of such an arbour is ‘laboursome, for which cause the more number (of gardeners) in England plant vines to run and spread over the upright herbs..’
After the plants have been put in, the alleys are ‘trodden out, and levelled by a line, as either three or four foot broad (wide), and cleanly fitted out with river or sea sand, to the end that showers falling may not offend the walkers, by the earth cleaving (clinging) to or clogging their feet.
The purpose of these alleys and walks is that ‘the owner may diligently view the prosperity of his herbs and flowers, and for the delight and comfort of the wearied mind.‘
The creation of raised beds is fully described in this chapter, and the advice to create beds no more than three foot wide, so that the gardener may reach to the middle of the bed without treading on the soil and the seedlings in it, chimes with advice in modern organic gardening books.
‘The quarters well turned in, and fattened with good dung a time before, and the earth raised through the dunging, shall in handsome manner by a line set down in the earth, be trodden out into beds and seemly borders, which beds (as Columella witnesseth) raised newly afore with dung, and finely raked over, with the clods dissolved, and stones purged forth, shall be artly trodden out, into three foot of breadth, and into what length the owner of gardener will: but to such a breadth especially trodden forth, that the weeders’ hands may well reach into the midst of the same, lest they thus going to the beds, and weeding forth the unprofitable herbs and grass, may in the meantime tread down both the seeds shooting up, and plants above the earth‘.
Hyll also recommends the creation of narrow paths between the beds for the gardeners to work from when tending the beds. ‘To the help of which, let the paths between the beds be of such a reasonable breadth (as a man’s foot) that they passing along by, may freely weed the one half first, and next the second half left to weed.’
Hyll then discusses the heights of the beds, quoting the ‘worthy Neopolitain‘, Palladius Rutilius, as saying ‘in a moist and watery garden plot, that the beds be reared two foot high, for the better prospering of the seeds committed to the earth. But in a dry ground, the edges of the beds aised a foot high shall well suffice.’
This chapter Hyll describes what we would now call seed beds, as the seeds are put into a well-prepared bed and then ‘removed‘ later into a permanant site. These are the beds previously described as being best manured in September of the preceding year. Firstly the salad beds: ‘Then one or two of the beds in the month of March, and in the increase of the moon, may he sow with lettuce and purslane seeds, for these sooner spring up in the month of March than February, to be removed in the beds, after the plants be shot up half a finger high.’
‘In those beds may he also sow the parsley, rocket, sorrel, endive, and divers (various) other salad herbs, which after they be somewhat come up, may be thinner set in other beds.‘
Hyll is concerned with the quality of the seeds: ‘Have beside a special regard to your seeds that they be neither too old, withered, thin, and empty, and the borders of those beds may you bestow with the seeds of the artichoke, well two hand breadth asunder (apart).’
Then the herb beds, for growing herbs that can be used dried for culinery or decorative or strewing purposes: ‘In another bed you may sow fine seeds, to have pleasant herbs that may be kept dry for the pot or kitchen in the winter time, and those which yield delectable flowers, to beautify and refresh the house, as the marjoram, french balm, thyme, hyssop, basil, savoury, sage, marigold, buglas, borage and sundry (various) others‘.
Then the art of growing various highly-prized more exotic fruits and trees to be put into tubs or containers so that they can be moved under shelter as necessary: ‘The gardener may try these seeds in beds, lying open to the warm sun, as the orange, lemon, pomecitron, pomegranate, the myrtle and date, but these ought to be fenced by a succour (sheltered by a windbreak) on the north side, that the cold air (wind) hinder or let not the coming up of them. When the citron or any of these be well sprung up, the gardener ought to remove and set them into proper chests (containers) filled with light earth which at will and pleasure may be rolled hither and thither, for the better avoiding of the sun’s great heat, and bitter cold air, by standing under a cover or penthouse made for the only (sole) purpose).‘
Cucumbers, citrons and all types of gourds can be sown ‘in another bed being of good length, and placed to run over the arch-harbour‘ whilst melons are grown separately in a long and narrow bed with ‘deep furrows at each side made‘
To protect seeds from ‘birds and other fowls‘, Hyll advises that ‘the white thorn be laid on the beds‘, and he advises gardeners to ‘bestow your seeds in beds rather in the month of March than February, as they will germinate more quickly in the warmer weather, and therefore ‘speedier appear above the earth‘ .
Since time immemorial, young garden plants have had to be protected fromthe cold and the frost. These days, we have horticultural fleece, which when lightly laid on beds of seedlings, allows the penetration of sunshine and rainwater, whilst providing a warm environment and protection from frost. In Hyll’s time, the only remedy was that suggested by the ancient Romans, viz the use of a covering of straw:
‘But if the gardener feareth lest the seeds committed to the earth should be in danger through the bitter cold air, and suns’s heat following, the beds may then be covered with mattresses of straw in such manner that they hinder not through their weight the crescent (growing) things coming up.
This may be done ‘in setting first up sundry forked sticks at each corner, and in the sides of the beds, on which long rods (are) laid, reaching to each corner and at the ends, as Columella willeth: these done, let him wittily lay on the mattresses in covering and defending the young plants from the cold or heat.‘
Hyll then points out that the straw mattresses may be taken off ‘when the sun shineth warm’ for the speedier increasing of the plants springing up.’
This chapter deals with the sowing of larger vegetables in separate beds according to type: navew roots (turnips), coleworts and cabbages (cabbages and other brassicas), leeks and chives, onions and chibouls (Welsh or spring onions), scalions and garlick (shallots and garlic).
Major herbs had individual beds that reflected their importance to the Elizabethan household. Hyll even suggests the creation of camomile benches and a delightful little labyrinth (knot garden or maze) of low hedges of hyssop, thyme and winter savory:
‘After these it shall be right profitable to level a bed, only for sage, another for hyssop, the like for thyme, another for marjoram, a bed for lavender, another for rosemary and southernwood, a bed for savory and hyssop, beds for costmary, basil, balm, and running thyme: yea a bed for camomile, for the use of benches to sit on, and a delectable laybirinth to be made in the garden (if room will so serve) with hyssop and thyme, or the winter savory only‘.
In the garden besides, to sow and plant divers (various) physick herbs and pleasant flowers shall be to great use and commodity, in that these, beside their delectable sight, yield a commodity to our bodies in curing sundry griefs as well in women as in men; for which cause, it shall be necessary to sow beds of physick herbs next to these, (such) as the blessed thistle, the Roman wormwood, the sperage (asparagus), herb Mercury, gentian, dittany, herb fluelline, harts tongue, bugloss, self-heal, liverwort, lungwort, stecados, valerian, spikenard, lionsfoot, mugwort, herb patience, angelica, betony, and many others.’
Chapters 16 and 17
In these chapters, Hyll makes some suggestions as to how to deter garden pests, as ‘All worthy writers agree that in vain the husbandly gardener shall travail (work), if the seeds bestowed in the earth happen after to be damaged either of worms and other creeping things, or otherwise scraped up and wasted by birds, or else harmed by any other injury‘.
If seeds are steeped shortly before sowing ‘in the juice of houseleek or singreen, they shall not only be without harm preserved from birds, ants, field mice, and other spoilers of garden herbs, but what plants shoot up of these shall after prove the better and worthier’.
If houseleek is not available, ‘the gardener may use the soot cleaving on the chimney, which gathered a day before the bestowing of the seeds in the earth, and mixed for a night with them, doth the like defend the seeds in safety.’
Hyll then quotes some of the more outlandish recommendations of Pliny and Palladius to preserve seeds ‘in safety from all evil and garden monsters‘, including a ‘decoction of river crevices (crayfish)‘ to deter birds. Whilst Virgil counsels sprinkling seeds with ‘water of nitre‘ or brine. Apuleius advises moistening seeds with wine, or mixing lentils in with them, or dragging a ‘speckled toad by a line in the night time round about the garden‘.
Chapters 18 and 19
These chapters deal with the times of ‘bestowing‘ the seeds in the garden. Hyll tells us that whilst Columella advised sowing seeds ‘in the increase of the moon‘, other classic writers such as Varro warned that even then seeds can be ‘hindered through some evil constellation, which of the skilful is named an influence of heaven‘.
Far more practical to modern ears is the advice of Palladius who describes the ideal conditions for sowing as ‘under a fresh and sweet air, and moistened gently by some spring or sweet water running by’ and ‘in the warm season of the spring, (such) as in May.‘ Following from this, Hyll’s sensible advice is not to sow when ‘the garden ground is naturally cold, or all the day received but a weak comfort of the sun, through his short presence, or else in cold countries, as at York and farther north’, but to wait until ‘the middle of spring, or in the month of May, in warm and calm days‘. As modern authors would say – until all danger of frost is past.
Chapters 20 and 21
In these chapters, Hyll describes the phases of the moon, the aspects of the planets, and the signs of the zodiac most propitious for the’ bestowing of seeds and dainty herbs‘.
So complex are the calculations advised by all the Greek and Roman authors that even Hyll has to admit: ‘Yet I fear me, that the common sort of men will suppose these rules to extend somewhat beyond their capacity, which for zeal I bear unto my country, moved me notwithstanding to utter and put such matter into their heads, procuring them thereby to request the counsel of some skilful (astrologer), that both may make clear these precepts, and instruct them in other rules alike, if need requireth‘.
This chapter begins with Hyll quoting the rather more prosaic and obvious advice of Florentius (a Greek writer of husbandry) who claims that ‘the naturalness of the ground, the clemency of heaven, the favour of the weather, and age of the seeds, procureth that the seeds being bestowed in the ground, do either speedier or later shoot up into plants. For which cause, the dainty seeds committed to the earth in a fair and warm day, the place hot or lying open to the sun, and seeds new, do far speedier shoot up, than those that being sown in a contrary season, place and ground.‘
There then follows a long list of the germination times of various herb and vegetable seeds beginning with spinach, rocket, basil and navew (turnip) which ‘break (germinate) and appear above the earth, after the third day, if a warm air succeed‘, and ending with parsley seeds, which ‘do commonly break and appear above ground by the fortieth day following…‘.
Hyll makes a special mention of ‘seeds in like manner of the cucumber‘ which he says if ‘steeped in milk or luke warm water for a night, and committed to the earth, under a warm air, do far speedier break (germinate) and appear above ground‘.
Moisture is essential: ‘Those seeds committed to the earth in moist places do speedier shoot up than bestowed in dry ground‘, whilst ‘seeds or sets bestowed in shadowy (shady) places, although the earth be well laboured before (beforehand) do rarely or very seldom prosper, and yield their flower‘.
The entire chapter is dedicated to the art of weeding, Hyll explaining ‘that after the seeds being workmanly bestowed in the beds, the gardener’s next care must be, that he diligently pull up, and weed away all hurtful and unprofitable herbs annoying the garden plants coming up‘.
Hyll notes the controversy over weeding, particularly with the harsh use of the rake. He himself is adamant that ‘the gardener shall not attempt or begin the weeding of beds with the hand before the plants well sprung up shall seem to cover their proper beds’. Even then, ‘in this plucking up and purging the garden beds of weeds and stones, it ought rather to be exercised with the hand (rather) than with an iron instrument, for fear of feebling the young plants yet small and tender of growth‘.
Even with hand-weeding, ‘the gardener must take heed that he does not too boisterously loose the earth, nor handle much the plants in plucking away of the weeds, but the same purge so tenderly that the roots of the young plants be not loosed and feebled in the soft earth‘.
Treading on the beds is not advisable as ‘The walking or treading often about the beds means that the weeds are caused the harder to be plucked up’ and Hyll is adamant that weeding should always be done when the earth is moist and soft. ‘Here remember, that you never take in hand or begin the weeding of your beds before the earth be made soft through the store of rain falling a day or two before.‘
This chapter is entirely concerned with watering and irrigation. Timing is essential: ‘This watering of the beds ought rather to be done (as Pliny witnesseth) in the morning, soon after the sun rising and at the evening when the sun possesseth a weak force above the earth‘.
Hyll advises against over-watering: ‘And in this watering of the beds, the gardener must have a special care and regard, that he moisten not the plants too much, lest cloying them too much with water, they after wax feeble and perish‘.
He commends river water as best, and warns against the application of very cold water, saying that: ‘if the gardener be forced to use well-water, drawn especially out of a deep well, or the water of some pit, he ought then to let (it) stand for two or three days together, or at the least for certain hours in the open air, to be warmed of the sun, lest (it) being new drawn up, and sprinkled forth on the beds both raw and cold may feeble and kill the tender young plants coming up‘.
Herbs in particular should be watered ‘with the water temperate warm. And this water ought gently to be sprinkled forth on the bed with a watering pot ….as by a breast or nourishing pap…where they otherwise by the hasty drowning with water, are much annoyed, and put in hazard of perishing‘. Hyll also advises on the making of liquid feed by mixing manure into the water: ‘To the water standing in the sun, if the owner or gardenier mix a reasonable quantity of dung, after his discretion, this mixture… gently watered or sprinkled abroad procureth a proper noursihment to the tender plants and young herbs coming up.’
Hyll describes the most desirable and ‘handsomest‘ type of watering pot as that ‘much used in the chiefest gardens about |London‘, having the body made ‘wholly of copper with a long pipe full of little holes on the head‘.
He then describes and shows the use of a large pump, in an illustration entitled ‘The maner of watering with a Pumpe in a Tubbe’.
He describes how best to ensure a constant supply of water at all times to plants such as the ‘cucumber, melon, gourd and sundry others‘, by setting a leaning pot of water beside each one, with a ‘tongue’ of cloth acting as a wick, ‘which manner of doing is termed filtring‘.
This chapter deals with the techniques involved in growing certain food plants as large as possible. ‘The husbandman or gardener which would have plants grow unto a greater bigness than customable ought to remove after four or five leaves be well come up, and set them again, as out of one bed bestowed into another, and like from one border into another‘. In this, Hyll follows ‘the skilful Neapolitain, Palladius Rutilius’ in advising that such plants ‘require to have tops of the leaves, and ends of the roots cut off, whereby they may the freelier grow up broad in tough or big in roots.’ These plants are the ‘colewort (brassicas), cabbage, lettuce, great leek, navew and rape (types of turnip)‘.
Certain flowering plants such as ‘the marigold, daisy, columbine, primrose, cowslip, sweet John, gilly-flowers, carnations, pinks and sundry other delectable flowers are procured to increase the bigger, fairier, and doubler if the owner of gardener do often change these into beds‘.
However, ‘spinage, arach, dill, asparagus, sorrel, chervil, parsley and divers others of like sort‘ must not be removed into other beds.
This short chapter is concerned with the best methods of planting out seedlings and young plants, or growing them on in new beds, which Hyll describes as ‘setting’ plants in the ground: ‘First, in the settting of herbs or flowers, be sure that you choose no stalk or slip that hath blossoms or buds on it, or those which are spangled (spotted or marked), for such will hardly ever take or grow.’
Hyll is adamant that it is the ground and the roots of the plants that must be moistened, and not the top part of the plant, the stem and leaves: ‘When you set any herb, flower or plant, you must the next day a little moisten the ground in the morning and so keep the ground moist until they be well rooted by watering. The best watering which is certain is to make a hole with a dibble a little from the herb or plant, a slope to the root, and so water the root under ground, for water rotteth and killeth above ground. Never water but in a morning, except in June or July, and then you may (also) water about four of the clock in the afternoon. ‘
Hyll is very keen that the the roots of the plants are given plenty of water, with the stems being set firmly and sturdily in drier soil above, which will prevent evaporation and drying out: ‘For setting of any thing, be sure to make the earth very wet, then half a foot (six inches) over lay on dry mould (compost), making it so close (with beating it with your spade) as you can, then set in your herbs and plants, thrusting the earth very hard to the root.‘
Practically unreadable today, this lengthy chapter consists of a miscellany of short tips (type of soil, month of sowing, and phases of the moon) for various vegetables and herbs in no apparent order, and which are individually dealt with in more detail in the thirty seven individual chapters of the second part of the Gardener’s Labyrinth.
This chapter begins with one of Hyll’s most famous and most quoted passages: ‘The life of man in this world is but a thraldom (slavery) when the senses are not pleased‘.
‘And what rarer object can there be on earth, (the motions of the celestial bodies excepted), than a beautiful and odoriferous garden plat artificially composed, where he may read and contemplate on the wonderful works of the great Creator, in plants and flowers? For if he observeth with a judicial eye, and a serious judgement their variety of colours, scents, beauty, shapes, interlacing, enameling, mixture, turnings, windings, embossments, operations and virtues, it is most admirable to behold, and meditate upon the same‘.
The rest of the chapter is in similar vein to the preceding chapter, consisting of a miscellany of short tips for growing beautiful and scented flowers, amplified and repeated in the second part of the book.
This chapter consists of a list of herbs with practical tips on growing and propagating, whether by sowing, root division, or by setting slips (taking cuttings).
In this chapter, Hyll first describes how he has been able to propagate and grow a rosemary hedge, and recommends rosemary for bowers and arbours: ‘
In this sort I have set rosemary, which in two years have spread and covered a wall, and grown almost two yards in height. I have also known bowers and arbours made all of rosemary, which was wondrous sweet and pleasant.’
Hyll then describes various plants that will make good hedges, and informs the reader how to ensure that perennial herbs survive the winter: ‘ In August, cut all your herbs within a handful of the ground. Then will they get head against winter, and it will preserve them the better from hard weather. And in the end of September, sift earth or good mould (compost) upon them, to cover the roots well, otherwise the frost and rain will beat the earth from their roots, that your herbs will be in danger of killing. And such herbs as you intend to keep against winter, cut often to keep them from seeding (for seeding doth kill most hearbs) and so they will live the better in winter.‘
Instructions follow on how ‘to dry herbs for broth, or for chests: ‘Dry them in platters in the sun in August in their flowers, as winter savory, thyme, marjoram, pennyroyal, mints, balm. rosemary tops, marigolds, lavender, rose leaves, &c. Gather them as you dry them, when you see the morning fair and hot, and the herbs dry‘.
This chapter describes the best times to gather roots, flowers, leaves, herbs and fruits and seeds and how to conserve them:’And this for a general rule observe that all those to be gathered, (such) as the herbs, flowers, roots, fruits and seeds are to be done in a fair and dry season, and in the decrease of the moon. The herbs which the owner mindeth to preserve are afore to be clean picked and cleansed, and dried in the shadow (shade), being a place open to the south, not moist, and free from smoke and dust. These after are to be put in leather bags, rather than into canvas, the mouths at the hanging up fast tied, and into wooden boxes of the box-tree, to the end (that) the herbs may not lose their proper virtue.‘
Hyll is very critical of pharmacists who sell herbs in bundles exposed to the open air and dirt: ‘So that the apothecaries in mine opinion are very negligent, which hang up the phsick herbs in their open shops and warehouses, through which the virtue of these not only breathe away, but the herbs (become) charged and clagged with dust, cobwebs, dung of flies, and much other filth‘.
His advice on conserving seed over winter is that ‘The finer seed are to be preserved in leather bags, or in earthen vessels, having very narrow mouths, or else in glass bottles, or galley glasses very well stopped. But the seeds of the onions, chibols, and leeks, as also of the poppy, are to be preserved in the husks and heads‘.
Then follows advice on conserving root vegetables fresh: ‘For the preserving of roots, the owner ought to learn and exercise two means, the one for keeping them fresh, and the other for the round roots, (such) as the navew (turnip), radish, carrot, and others of like sort, and to preserve them dry.
The way and means to keep and preserve roots fresh is to bury them in a cellar, in either gravel or sand, well turned upon them, or in a garden ground reasonably deep digged, even so deep as the gardener doth for the radish and the navew in the earth, to enjoy the commodity of them for the greater part of the winter‘.
The preservation of dried herbal roots for medicinal use is quite a different matter. Hyll says that ‘the owner or gardener(after the plucking of roots out of the earth) ought to wash them very clean with conduit or spring water, after to cut away all the small and hairy roots, which done, to dry them in a shadow (shady) place free from the beams of the sun, as being somewhat dark, if so be these are slender and thin of rind, (such) as the roots of the fennel, succory, parsley, endive, borage, bugloss, asparagus, and sundry others like.‘
‘But if the roots be thick of rind, of a gross essence and big, then may the owner lay them to dry in the sun at noonday, (such) as the root of gentian, the earth apple (potato), bryony, rapontick (rhubarb), aristolochia, or any others like‘.
However culinary herbs, ‘herbs which a man would use for the kitchen, ought rather to be gathered with a knife, somewhat above the earth, when these are shut up in their perfect growth, (such) as the beets, succory, arach, borage, marigold, colewort (cabbage), endive, clary, rocket, basil, marjoram, lettuce, parsley, mercury (good King Henry), and many others.‘
This chapter is a superb treatise on methods of pest control, both ancient and modern, in which Hyll quotes so much from ancient classical authors that it becomes quite difficult to ascertain which methods he himself has used and believes to be effective.
‘There is none so dull of eyesight (as I believe) who not thoroughly perceiveth and seeth how that the garden riches be diversely annoyed and harmed by divers creeping worms (crawling insects) and beasts, as well above as under the earth‘.
The statement that: ‘The coleworts (brassicas) and all pot herbs are greatly defended from the gnawing of the garden fleas by radish growing among them’ is largely incomprehensible to the modern reader, as is the suggestion that ‘the eager or sharp vinegar doth also prevaile, tempered with the juice of henbane, and sprinkled on the garden fleas.’
‘Palmer worms (caterpillars) or canker worms (maggots)’ are dealt with in various ways, whilst the gardener may ‘chase snails from the kitchen herbs if he either sprinkle the new mother of the oil olive, or soot of the chimney on the herbs.’
Chapters 33 – 35
These chapters continue in the same vein as the previous one, this time advising the killing of moles by smoking them out with brimstone, and the killing of ‘pismires or ants‘ with olive oil, and, quoting Paxanius as saying that if the gardener ‘shall burn certain ants or emots in the middle of the garden, the others of the same savour will creep away.‘
Hyll himself claims that ‘the emots (ants) will not creep on the plants or trees if the gardener shall diligently sprinkle the bodies and stems of them with the powder of the bitter lupins and mother of oil, well mixed or boiled together.’
The cures or preventive measures against ‘serpents, scorpions, toads, garden mice, weasels‘ and other supposed pests listed in in these chapters are so outlandish, superstitious and distasteful to the modern mind that there is no point in repeating them here.
Suffice it to say that it is in the field of pest control that the modern organic gardener has such advantage over the classic and Renaissance writers on gardening. The simple covering of vegetable crops with polypropylene horticultural fleece to prevent attacks of all flying insects such as carrot fly, cabbage moths and butterflies, and the simple application of minute amounts of diatomite (diatomaceous earth) to kill crawling insects with exoskeletons such as ants and woodlice are so much more effective and less cruel than the superstitious, primitive methods prescibed by previous generations.