Friday, May 25, 2018

Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Spring

by Margaret Porter

Tulips and primula

'Planting and gardening addes much to the Health and Content of Man.'  Moses Cook, 1676

'My Garden, like my Life, seems to me every Year to want Correction and require attention.'  Alexander Pope, 1736

This is the fourth and last seasonal gardening guide, with information taken from 17th and 18th century sources in my personal library. I took the photographs either in historic gardens in England or in my own 21st century gardens, in which I grow heritage plants. The previous three entries are:  
Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Summer and Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Autumn, and Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Winter.

With the advent of spring, garden tasks multiplied, in the past as they do nowadays. Seedlings and young plants established on hotbeds had to be planted out in prepared sites where they could thrive, grow and bear. The onset of warmer weather meant that pleasure gardens would serve areas for display of flowers and fruit, enjoyment, and relaxation, hence the need to continuing the tidying begun in winter's waning days. Printed garden guides provided explicit instructions to the professional as well as the common gardener.

Bluebells in springtime


'First sturdy March with brows full sternly bend,
And armed strongly, rode upon a Ram,
The same which over Hellespontus swam:
Yet in his hand a spade he also hent,
And in a bag all sorts of seeds ysame,
And fild her wombe with fruifull hope of nourishment'
                           Edward Spenser, The Faerie Queene

In the kitchen garden. Ensure that cucumber and melon hot beds are properly warm, with lively but moderate heat. Sow seeds of both throughout the month. Make new hot beds for moving transplants. Transplant cabbage and lettuce plants, and plant cauliflowers in rich ground. Sow broccoli, cabbage, savoy, spinach, onions, leeks, radish, carrots, beans, peas, turnips, celery, parsnips, tomato or love-apple, asparagus, chervil, coriander, parsley, basil, and other pot and medicinal herbs. Plant cuttings of rosemary and rue. Dress existing asparagus and artichoke beds, forking or lightly digging, then raking. Plant potato beds and Jerusalem artichokes. Shake the nut trees to loosen pollen from the catkins; this will fertilise the flowers. 

In the fruit garden. Prune fig trees, cut out branches overtopping the wall. Plant fruit trees of all kinds on walls, as espaliers, or as standards. Train young apricots, peach and nectarines planted against a wall. Prune and train apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Prune raspberries of deadwood and thin live shoots. Prune vines. 

In the flower garden. Sow tender annuals in hot beds. Add fresh earth to potted plants. Guard auriculas in pots from too much wind, cold, and frost. Support heavy hyacinth flowers to prevent toppling. Plant ranunculus and anemones. Plant biennial and perennial flower seeds. Transplant perennial plants. Prune shrubs. Plant additional  shrubs and evergreens. Lay turf for new grass walks, clean gravel walks of weeds and litter.

Garden produce: Winter spinach, some cabbages and savoys, broccoli, red and chard beets, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, endive, all sorts of salad herbs. 

From the hot beds: Cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, purslane. In warm borders: mint, tarragon, tansy, sage, parsley, marigolds, burnet, sorrel, hyssop, winter savory, rosemary, other pot herbs.

Persian iris
Plants in flower: Various sorts of crocus, double snowdrop, several sorts of narcissus, Persian iris, spring cyclamen, several sorts of daffodils, early turnips, crown imperials, hyacinths, violets, hepaticas, wall-flowers, alyssum, primroses, dog's tooth violet, hearts ease or pansies, wood anemones, hellebores.

Crown imperial


Hearts ease


Tree and shrubs in flower: Apricot, almond, daphne mezereon, cherry plum, spurge laurel, laurustinus, cornelian cherry, honeysuckle.

Medicinal plants to gather: Elder buds, nettle tops, liverwort, primrose, violet, watercress.

Greenhouse plants in flower: Ilex-leaved lantana, Spanish Jasmine, Aleppo cyclamens, geraniums of several sorts, cotyledon, African marigold, Canary campanula, coffee tree, purple lotus, gladiolus.


'And the buds and blossomes breathing forth pretious and pleasant Oders, rejoyce and delight the inward and outward senses.' Ralph Austen, A Treatise of Fruit Trees, 1653

'In Aprill about St George his day, you shall set abroad your citron and orange trees, as also such other trees as you had kept within house from St Martin's Day.' Richard Surflet, 1600

In the kitchen garden. Many vegetables sown in prior month may still be sown for successive crops. Transplant lettuce where there stand close. Thin radishes. Sow spinach. Plant early kidney beans in dry weather. Sow gourds and pumpkins. Sow broccoli for a winter crop. Sow borage, bugloss, clary sage, thyme, sweet marjoram, savory, burnet, sorrel, and hyssop. Continue to sow pot herbs. Also nasturtium and marigolds. Cuttings and slips of new growth from herbs can be planted, especially lavender and rosemary.

In the fruit garden. Continue planting fruit trees as required. With fumigating bellows, destroy insects that breed in this season and damage trees, pick off curled leaves. Protect blossoms and young fruit of trees from frost by covering with evergreen branches or mats, until fruits are as large as the end of a man's finger, or larger.

In the flower garden. Make a hot bed to receive annual seedlings planted the prior months. Continue sowing of tender annuals. Sow seeds of hardy annuals and other flowers in borders and elsewhere: convolvulus major and minor, Tangier and sweet-scented pea, nasturtiums, lupines, larkspur, poppy, hawkweed, candytuft, dwarf lychnis, nigella, stock, dwarf and large sunflower, lavatera, oriental mallow. Sow some in patches in in the borders. Water frequently in dry weather. Sow pinks, carnations, and polyanthus. Take especial care of hyacinths, tulips, ranunculus and anemone flowers now blooming--guard from heavy winds and rains by screening with mats. Plant tuberoses in hot beds or inside the hothouse. Place pots of auriculas on shelves of the auricula stage. Stake such flowering plants as require support.

18thC Sweet-scented pea

Garden produce: Turnip shoots, spinach, radishes, asparagus, pot-marjoram, late celery and endive, chervil, young onions, leeks, scallions, borage, sage, rosemary, young carrots sown in autumn. From the hot-beds: cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, purslane, early cabbages.

Fritillary & daffodils
Plants in flower: Anemones, ranunculus, polyanthus, auriculas, tulips, crown imperials, hepaticas, hyacinths, narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, violets, muscaria, snowdrop, flag iris, cyclamen, Double white violet, anemone, double daisies, fritillaria, Persian lily, lungwort, lily of the valley, hearts ease, periwinkle.

Trees and shrubs in flower: White and purple and blue lilac, Persian lilac, laburnum, peach, pear, cherries of all sorts, plum, almond, hawthorn, Italian honeysuckles, Yellow jasmine, coronilla, dogwood, horse chestnut, spirea, azaleas.




'There is no flower can be more glorious than the Poppy.' John Worlidge, 1677


In the kitchen garden. Melon beds and cucumber frames require especial care--early plants in frames will now show fruit. Maintain sufficient warms in the beds while fruit is setting. Admit fresh air to the plants each day by propping the glass. Shade the plants from the sun on the brightest days. Plant out the gourds and pumpkins sown in April. Plant out the tomato or love-apple plants sown earlier. Cut asparagus for the table. Transplant lettuce. Plant more beans and peas for later crops. Continue to sow pot herbs and propagate medicinal plants from slips and cuttings.

In the fruit garden. Train new shoots of wall trees. Thin apricots, peaches, and nectarines where the tree is too heavily laden with fruit. Water new-planted trees. Clear vines of all useless shoots. Train all shoots that have fruit upon them. Uncover fig branches in warm weather to prevent mold. continue to repair espalier frames. Transplant fruit trees. Look carefully after bullfinches, at this season they do great mischief to fruit trees by packing off blossom buds and can destroy all garden fruit in two or three days.

Parrot tulip
In the flower garden. When tulips cease flowering, cut away the seed pod from the top of the stalk and allow the leaves to wither. In dry weather transplant autumn flowering bulbs, and separate off-sets from the main bulb. Plant out tender and less hardy plants from hot beds into the ground. Transplant the perennial flowering plants that were sown in March. Mow grass walks and lawn, and keep gravel walks tidy. Continue to support tall flowering plants.

Garden produce: Cabbages, savoys, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, turnips, red beets, salsify, cardoons, spinach, potatoes, artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, sage, parsley, sorrel, mint, tansy, tarragon, sallet herbs, mushrooms, endive, celery, chervil. Pot herbs and aromatic plants: winter savory, hyssop, thyme, lavender, rosemary, pot-marjoram, burnet.

In the pleasure garden. Plant out carnations in pots to flower and place in a warm situation. Sow seeds of auricula and polyanthus in pots or tubs of light, rich earth. Add fresh earth to auricula pots. Near the end of month, stir the surface of flower beds, and clear them of weeds and moss. At end of the month transplant Canterbury bells, French honeysuckle, daisies, rose campion, foxgloves, pinks, sweet william, bachelors' buttons, campanulas, thrift, scarlet lychnis, columbines, goldenrods, and other fibrous-rooted plants. On dry frosty nights cover beds of ranunculus, anemones, and tulips to protect from injury. Rake and clean in the wilderness, because the flowers under the trees are beginning to bloom. Edge the grass walks and lawns, and roll them when the ground is soft. Make hot-beds for tender annual flowers.

Lawn roller

Garden produce: Radishes, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, sorrel, mint, winter savory, borage, bugloss, young onions, chives, asparagus, peas, beans, early artichokes, cauliflower, young carrots in protected locations, cucumbers, melons, purslane, kidney beans on hot beds, mushrooms, parsley, coriander, chervil, cresses, mustard, burnet, tarragon, spring herbs for soups.

Lily of the valley
Medicinal plants for gathering: Sorrel, wood sorrel, lily of the valley, pimpernel, watercress, ground ivy, dead nettle, fumitory, columbine, tansy, stonecrop, woodruff, mandrake leaves, dandelion, betony, groundsel, borage, horse tail, cranesbill, burnet, lungwort.

Fruit for gathering: Cherries, strawberries in warm soil, late in the month gooseberries and green currants in warm situations.

In the forcing frame: Apricots, peaches, cherries, strawberries, other early fruits.

Plants in flower: Late tulips, anemones, ranunculus, lupines,  lily of the valley, daisies, thrift, valerian, sage, rosemary, veronica, geraniums, Armenian perennial poppy, peonies, monkshood, stock gillyflowers, wallflowers, Solomon's seal, ladies' mantle, tuberose, lady slipper, Welsh poppy, double white narcissus, harebells, iris, flag-leaved iris, spiderwort, bellflower, double feverfew, ladies' smock, snapdragon.

Trees, shrubs, and vines in flower: Yellow jasmine, lilacs, honeysuckles, whitethorn, Guelder rose, cinnamon rose, monthly rose, damask rose, burnet-leaved rose, Scotch rose, horse chestnut, laburnum, flowering almond, perfumed cherry, Portugal laurel, dwarf medlar, myrtle, double-flowering cherry, viburnum, dogwood, privet, flowering ash, common broom, clematis.

Blush damask rose

Blush burnet rose

Double flowering cherry

Having closed out the seasonal guides to the gardening year, I hope they will prove informative and perhaps useful to my fellow authors, as well as interested historical fiction readers.

Flag iris


Everlasting pea

English Garden History: Summer Guide
English Garden History: Autumn Guide
English Garden History: Winter Guide

Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, whose other publication credits include nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans, is her latest release, available in trade paperback and ebook. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

[This article is an Editors' Choice, first published on March 22 2016]


  1. What a really beautiful post! Lifted my spirits..lovely flowers! Thank you.

  2. Beautify post. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Springtime is a miracle in England, every year. You captured that.

  4. Very Lovely, thank you for posting, those of us far away can only enjoy the lovely English gardens via post like yours. It put me in mind of the nursery rhyme.
    Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
    How does your garden grow?
    With silver bells, and cockle shells,
    And pretty maids all in a row.

    That it is a religious allegory of Catholicism, with bells representing the sanctus bells, the cockleshells the badges of the pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James in Spain (Santiago de Compostela) and pretty maids are nuns, but even within this strand of thought there are differences of opinion as to whether it is lament for the reinstatement of Catholicism or for its persecution.
    Thank you and Happy Easter

  5. Just lovely and breathe taking in scope! Thank you!


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