From The Telegraph UK By Gordon Rayner, 23 Jan 2015
Henry VIII's horticultural manual revealed
The world's oldest gardening manual, part of Henry VIII's library, to go on display at Buckingham Palace
Portrait of Henry VIII at the National Maritime Museum
He was certainly an expert on dead-heading, but Henry VIII’s gardening tips would also have included fertilising squashes with the ashes of cremated humans and planting lettuce in a ball of goat manure, a new exhibition reveals. The Tudor king’s personal copy of the world’s first gardening manual, believed to be the inspiration for the lost garden of Whitehall Palace, is to go on display at Buckingham Palace.
Written more than 700 years ago, the Latin text includes instructions on how to lay out a “royal garden,” including instructions on building walks and bowers “where the king and queen can meet with the barons and lords when it is not the rainy season.”
The leather-bound volume was part of the king’s library, which acquired it on the death of its previous owner, Richard Rawson, the king’s chaplain and advisor on his divorce from Catherine of Aragon in 1543.
Written between 1304 and 1309 by Petrus de Crescentiis, a lawyer from Bologna, the Ruralia Commoda contained advice on how to grow giant leeks, how to produce cherries without pits and growing different coloured figs on the same tree.
It tells gardeners that “cucumbers shake with fear at thunder,” while a squash will bear fruit after precisely nine days if planted in the ashes of human bone and watered with oil. To get the tastiest lettuces, the manual recommends planting lettuce seed together with a radish, nasturtium and colewort inside a ball of goat manure.
The leather-bound manual is illustrated with woodcuts
Its instructions for planning a royal garden are equally precise. It should occupy a plot of at least 20 acres, its size and perfection an expression of a king’s status, wealth and mastery over the environment. It should include fragrant herbs because they “not only delight by their odour, but…refresh the sight.” A bench made out of turf and flowering plants, a highly fashionable feature at the time, was a must. The overall effect was that “the king will not only take pleasure, but…after he has performed serious and obligatory business, he can be renewed in it.”
The book was acquired by Henry at around the time he built the Great Garden at Whitehall Palace, which burned down in 1698. A portrait of Henry, Jane Seymour and their children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth by an unknown artist, which shows the newly-planted garden in the background, is to be displayed next to the book.
Vanessa Remington, curator of the exhibition, said: “This is no coffee-table book, but a real, thumbed-through and annotated gardening manual, showing that its various owners referred to it time and time again. Although it is impossible to know, it is tempting to think that Henry VIII may have sat in his library and looked through it for inspiration.”
The Maze at Hampton Court
Henry laid out the gardens at Hampton Court (pictured) and Whitehall Palace at the time he acquired the book. Neither Tudor garden survives.
The 11in x 16in volume is illustrated with woodcut prints, including a drawing of the supposedly deadly mandrake root, resembling a naked man with leaves growing from his head.
Ms Remington said: “What is really appealing about it is that on the one hand it is full of sensible advice about how to prevent soil drying out, about grafting and pruning, that we still do today, and on the other it contains quirky tips that are very much of that era. It shines a new light on Henry, a different aspect of his king-making, one that we haven’t really got any other evidence of.”
The manual, which has never been translated into English, stayed in the royal library until 1757, when it was transferred to the British Library, and later went through several private owners before being re-acquired for the Royal Collection by Queen Victoria.