Skip to content

Book of the term

Every term we feature a rare and interesting item from our collection.

Trinity Term 2023

Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris
by John Parkinson

As Spring is the time of new life and regrowth, when thoughts turn to gardens, if you have one (whether to maintaining your carefully manicured lawns and beds, or trying to keep rampant nettles and thistles at bay), it seemed appropriate to have a book on gardening. So here is one of the first gardening manuals written in English: Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris, or, A garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permitt to be noursed up; with A kitchen garden of all manner of herbes, rootes, & fruites, for meate or sause used with us, and An orchard of all sorte of fruitbearing trees and shrubbes fit for our land, together with the right orderinge planting & preseruing of them and their uses & vertues.

Its author, John Parkinson, came to London in 1585 at the age of fourteen, to be apprenticed to Francis Slater, an apothecary. This profession was very similar to that of the modern-day pharmacist – apothecaries prepared medicines, which they sold to physicians and surgeons, as well as to the public, and gave general medical advice. As merchants who bought in goods wholesale, they were represented in London by the Worshipful Company of Grocers, but by the early seventeenth century felt this was no longer adequate and formed the Society of Apothecaries, which was granted its royal charter in 1617. Parkinson was by now a fully-fledged apothecary, and a highly respected one; he was appointed to the Court of Assistants of the new Society, which together with the Master and Wardens formed its governing body. But institutional distinction and administration held no great appeal for him; at the beginning of 1622 he was granted permission to step down from his role, leaving him free to devote himself to his real passion: his garden.

Access to a garden was essential for an apothecary, as so many remedies were prepared from plants and herbs. Parkinson’s garden was situated in Long Acre, west of the City of London; Long Acre survives as the name of a street, north-west of Covent Garden, but all trace of Parkinson’s garden has disappeared, so we know neither its precise location nor its extent. However, we know something of the plants which he grew there, as among the papers of the botanist John Goodyer (c.1592-1664) are two copies of a list of plants marked up with the letters C, F and P in the margins, which are assumed to refer to his fellow plant-collectors William Coys, John de Franqueville and John Parkinson. The second list, which has dated additions, has a P against 264 entries, which suggests a garden of some size; as well as traditional medicinal plants, such as camomile (used to relieve the symptoms of a cold), there are plants recently introduced from overseas, such as the Virginia creeper.

New plants for his garden were collected from a wide circle of friends and fellow plant-lovers: the physician Robert Fludd brought him plants from the garden of the University of Pisa; his Yucca bush came from John de Franqueville, who had been given it by the son of the French king’s gardener, Jean Robin, who grew it from a Yucca given to him by the English herbalist John Gerard. Parkinson probably financed the plant-collecting expedition made to Spain, Portugal and North Africa by the Flemish Dr William Boel in 1607-8; he was also a close friend of the Tradescants, father and son (whose extensive collection of botanical and other specimens and curiosities was acquired by Elias Ashmole and formed the basis of the Oxford museum which bears his name). Nor were his contacts exclusively male: Mistress Thomasin Tunstall is credited with sending him roots of the Lady’s Slipper orchid, and other plants.

It may seem surprising that the eminent apothecary Parkinson covers the flower garden, kitchen garden and orchard in his book, but says little about the medicinal uses of the plants he describes. For the kitchen garden and the orchard, he describes how the produce is used as food; for the ‘garden of pleasant flowers’, which takes up three-quarters of the volume, each entry includes ‘The place’ (where the plant can be found growing), ‘The times’ (of its flowering), and ‘The names’ (both Latin, and variant names in English), and for some ‘The vertues’, stating, but only briefly, what ailments they may be used to treat. However, he makes several references to his intention of bringing out a fourth part, the ‘garden of simples’ (medicinal herbs). This became Theatrum botanicum – The theater of plants, published in 1640 when Parkinson was 73, a monumental work of over 1700 pages, in which nearly 4,000 plants are described, with their properties.

Parkinson died in 1650, and was buried at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, close to his beloved garden.

The title Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris has caused some head-scratching over the years, as it seems to mean something like ‘The earthly Paradise in the sun of Paradise’. But the word Paradisus originally meant simply a pleasure-garden or park – giving ‘Park-in-sun’s earthly Paradise’.

Previously featured volumes

The History and Antiquities of the Exchequer of the Kings of England
by Thomas Madox

Travels in the interior districts of Africa : performed under the direction and patronage of the African Association
By Mungo Park

Cottoni Posthuma: Divers choice pieces of that renowned antiquary Sir Robert Cotton, Knight and Baronet

The Priviledges of the Baronage of England, When they sit in Parliament
by John Selden