Sunday 22 April 2018

Fearful cucumbers and planting in human ashes - Henry VIII's gardening tips

Henry VIII's copy of the Ruralia Commoda forms part of the new exhibition at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
Henry VIII's copy of the Ruralia Commoda forms part of the new exhibition at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

As the king of England, Henry VIII would have had no shortage of advisers and confidants during his 37-year reign.

But it seems the notorious monarch was in receipt of some distinctly ropey green-fingered advice.

Bizarre horticultural tips are contained in the world's first gardening manual, written more than 700 years ago and acquired by Henry around 1543.

Among the medieval text's gems are suggestions that squashes will bear fruit after nine days if they are planted in human ashes and watered with oil, and that cucumbers shake with fear at the sound of thunder.

And if you want to grow tasty greens, planting a radish, lettuce seed, nasturtium and colewort inside a ball of goat manure is suggested as the best way to achieve success.

The well-thumbed text also contains questionable tips on how to grow giant leeks, produce different-coloured figs on the same tree and transform basil into mint.

The book is among more than 75 items from the Royal Collection going on show at a new exhibition in Edinburgh on the garden in art.

Written in Latin between 1304 and 1309 by Petrus de Crescentis, a wealthy lawyer from Bologna in Italy, Ruralia Commoda was the only publication of its kind during Henry VIII's reign.

It entered the king's library upon the death of its previous owner Richard Rawson, the king's chaplain and adviser on his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

As well as providing a wealth of gardening advice, the manual includes a section on how to create a royal garden and may have provided inspiration for Henry's lost garden at Whitehall Palace.

According to the book, the size of the garden and the perfection of the trees and plants within it were an expression of a king's status and wealth.

The author said a royal garden should occupy a plot of 20 acres or more, and the planting of fragrant herbs is recommended because they "not only delight by their odour , but... refresh the sight".

The royal garden should include walks and bowers "where the king and queen can meet with the barons and lords when it is not the rainy season", and should be surrounded by suitably high walls.

The new show at the Palace of Holyroodhouse also features works by masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.

Among them is a pen and ink da Vinci drawing of the plant Job's tears, dating from around 1510, which shows the artist's desire to understand the structure and growth of plants.

Another highlight is a magnificent Sunflower Clock, produced in the 18th century by the Vincennes porcelain factory.

The clock is made up of delicate porcelain flowers that surround a dial made from brass shavings to imitate the centre of a sunflower, a symbol of the Sun King Louis XIV.

The exhibition, Painting Paradise: The Art Of The Garden, opens on Friday at the Queen's Gallery and runs until February 26.

Press Association

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