Tudor Gardens

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From "The Shakespeare garden"  by Esther Singleton


Several men of the New Learning, who, like Shakespeare, lived into the reign of James I, advanced many steps beyond the botanists of the early days of Queen Elizabeth. The old Herbals--the "Great Herbal," from the French (1516) and the "Herbals" published by William Turner, Dean of Wells, who had a garden of his own at Kew, treat of flowers chiefly with regard to their properties and medical uses.


The Renaissance did indeed "paint the lily" and "throw a perfume on the violet";-for the New Age brought recognition of their esthetic qualities and taught scholastic minds that flowers had beauty and perfume and character as well as utilitarian qualities. Elizabeth as Queen had very different gardens to walk in than the little one in the Tower of London in which she took exercise as a young Princess in 1564.


Let us look at some of them. First, that of Richmond Palace. Here the garden was surrounded by a brick wall and in the center was "a round knot divided into four quarters," with a yew-tree in the center. Sixty-two fruit-trees were trained on the wall.


This seems to have been of the old type--the orchard-garden, where a few old favorite flowers bloomed under the trees and in the central "knot," or bed. In the Queen's locked garden at Havering- atte-Bower trees, grass, and sweet herbs seem to have been more conspicuous than the flowers. The Queen's gardens seem to have been overshadowed by those of her subjects. One of the most celebrated belonged to Lord Burleigh, and was known as Theobald's. Paul Hentzner, a German traveler who visited England in 1598, went to see this garden the very day that Burleigh was buried.


He described it as follows:


"We left London in a coach in order to see the remarkable places in its neighborhood. The first was Theobald's, belonging to Lord Burleigh, the Treasurer. In the Gallery was painted the genealogy of the Kings of England. From this place one goes into the garden, encompassed with a moat full of water, large enough for one to have the pleasure of going in a boat and rowing between the shrubs. Here are great variety of trees and plants, labyrinths made with a great deal of labor, a jet d'eau with its basin of white marble and columns and pyramids of wood and other materials up and down the garden. After seeing these, we were led by the gardener into the summer-house, in the lower part of which, built semicircularly, are the twelve Roman Emperors in white marble and a table of touchstone. The upper part of it is set round with cisterns of lead into which the water is conveyed through pipes so that fish may be kept in them and in summer time they are very convenient for bathing. In another room for entertainment near this, and joined to it by a little bridge, was an oval table of red marble."


Another and accurate picture of a stately Elizabethan garden is by a most competent authority, Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86), who had a superb garden of his own in Kent. In "Arcadia" we read:


"Kalander one afternoon led him abroad to a well-arrayed ground he had behind his house which he thought to show him before his going, as the place himself more than in any other, delighted in. The backside of the house was neither field, garden, nor orchard; or, rather, it was both field, garden and orchard: for as soon as the descending of the stairs had delivered they came into a place curiously set with trees of the most taste-pleasing fruits; but scarcely had they taken that into their consideration but that they were suddenly stept into a delicate green; on each side of the green a thicket, and behind the thickets again new beds of flowers which being under the trees, the trees were to them a pavilion, and they to the trees a mosaical floor, so that it seemed that Art therein would needs be delightful by counterfeiting his enemy, Error, and making order in confusion. In the midst of all the place was a fair pond, whose shaking crystal was a perfect mirror to all the other beauties, so that it bare show of two gardens; one in deed and the other in shadows; and in one of the thickets was a fine fountain."

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This page contains a single entry by gardenadministrator published on September 23, 2009 10:24 PM.

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