Gardening up north

Wrap up warm, don your wellies and grab your umbrella – its time to celebrate the Rainy City’s summer garden festival again. Dig the City 2015 kicks off tomorrow and runs until Thursday 6th August, and appropriately here at the library we’ve been looking at the first gardening book written specifically for those of us who garden in northern climes.

A new orchard and garden was first published together with The country housewives garden in 1618. Our copy is actually from 1638, but the book was highly popular and was reprinted many times over the course of the seventeenth century.

Even in the (exceptionally long) title, William Lawson’s book makes it clear that, unusually, he is aiming his book at northern readers and equally unusually he has added a gardening book written for women:

A new orchard and garden, or, The best way for planting, grafting, and to make any ground good for a rich orchard: particularly in the north and generally for the whole kingdome of England, as in nature, reason, situation and all probabilitie, may and doth appeare. With the country housewifes garden for hearbes of common use, their vertues, seasons, profits, ornaments, variety of knots, models for trees, and plots for the best ordering of grounds and walkes. As also the husbandry of bees, with their seuerall uses and annoyances, all being the experience of 48 yeares labour, and now the third time corrected and much enlarged, by William Lawson. Whereunto is newly added the art of propagating plants, with the true ordering of all manner of fruits, in their gathering, carrying home and preservation.

Lawson was a long-lived Yorkshire parson and a real ‘hands on’ gardener: he declares his book to be written from ‘my meer and sole experience, without respect to any former-written Treatise’. His two passions were orchards and bees and he covers all aspects of his subjects, soil management, planting and pruning, the construction of beehives, the control of various ‘nuisances’ (including birds, deer and moles) and the harvesting of fruits and honey.

Lawson refers several times to the difficulties of the local environment and warns his fellow northern gardeners to ‘meddle not with Apricockes nor Peaches, nor scarcely with Quinces, which will not like our cold parts’. He also stresses how important it is to keep bees in weatherproof accommodation using a good northern term to explain that the ‘nesh Bee can neither abide cold or wet’!

However, he writes lyrically of the pleasures of an orchard: ‘your trees standing in comely order which way soever you look … your borders on every side hanging and drooping with Feberries, Raspberries, Barberries, Currents and the roots of your trees powdred with Strawberries, red,white and green, what pleasure is this?

Interestingly, in his advice to the country housewife, Lawson advises that every household should maintain two gardens, a kitchen garden and a flower garden. He suggests that the reason for this is that ‘your garden flowers shall suffer some disgrace if among them you intermingle onions, parsnips etc’.

The woodcuts which illustrate the book are delightful (Lawson tell us that he instructed the publisher to expend ‘much cost and care … in having the Knots and Models by the best Artizan cut’) They include patterns for knot gardens (the little prancing horse and the man with a sword represent topiary designs) and images of gardeners, sporting some very jaunty headwear, digging and planting.

Lawson’s summary of the satisfaction to be gained from gardening remains as true today as it was for his seventeenth century readers: ‘whereas every other pleasure commonly fills some one of or senses, and that only, with delight, this makes all our senses swim in pleasure’.


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