The history of gardens and the impact of gardens on the lives of our predecessors, is something that I have become increasingly aware of. Initially this was through my work as Mistress Agnes and her sojourns in the herb gardens of the seventeenth century. Then when I wrote Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs, I looked at gardens of the rich and poor in Stuart England. This expanded into a more general study of gardening history and I now give talks on seventeenth century gardens and the historical use of healing herbs. You will have to wait until tomorrow, when ‘H is for Herbs’, for more on that topic.
For ordinary folk, gardens have only become places of leisure and pleasure comparatively recently. The gardens of our ancestors were to provide necessary produce for the family. The wealthy however have embraced the role of gardens for ornament and relaxation for more than 500 years. I recently completed a course on healing gardens. Healing not only in the provision of medicinal plants but also healing in the therapeutic sense. Gardens, whether we spend time in them or work in them, assail all our senses and can promote a sense of well being. Their plants, their wildlife and even just the fresh air can all help to heal a troubled soul.
My ladies who are contributing their memories of 1946-1969 are currently writing about homes and gardens. How well do you remember the gardens in your life? Sometimes garden memories are more powerful than those of interior spaces. Specific plants can also evoke memories of people and of past events. Have you recorded your recollections of the gardens of your past?
Regular, pre A to Z Challenge readers, of this blog will recall that I have had extensive building work done to my home recently. This has given me the opportunity to think carefully about how my tiny garden will look now it no longer needs to impersonate a World War 1 trench. Yes, I shall pay homage to the seventeenth century origins of my cottage but I will not be a slave to this. There are many helpful books for those wanting to recreate gardens that reflect a certain historical period. I have listed a few below. I shall also be incorporating some family history into my garden.
Alongside more conventional ways of recording our family history, gardens can be used to do this. Can you include plants to represent members of your immediate family? For ancestors who had a flower name the choice is easy; my grandmother was called Ivy, no problems there. Alternatively, select a plant that they were fond of, or that you associate with them. Add flowers that featured in wedding bouquets. If no particular plant springs to mind, then what about a garden ornament? An anchor could denote an ancestral fisherman, a milk churn a dairyman forebear, or a pitch fork for a farm labourer. Those of us who find the past a pleasant place to live, can use our gardens to surround ourselves with representations of the past, creating a place of peace and serenity in the present.
Jennings Anne Tudor and Stuart Gardens 2005 English Heritage
Peachey, Stuart Farmhouse and Cottage Gardens 1580-1660 1996 Historical Management Associates Ltd.