Gardening Advice from a Squint-Eyed Monk

I’ve written several posts on early gardening books, but today’s post goes back even further. It’s about the first gardening book in European history which dates from around 830-40AD.

It  was written by a Benedictine monk who spent most of life  on an island in the Bodensee [Lake Constance]  in south-west Germany. His name was Walafrid, although  he also called himself Strabo which means squint-eyed or cross-eyed. We know a surprising amount about him given the long time gap because he was quite a significant figure both theologically  and diplomatically. However most of his theological writing, has  been long forgotten and instead he’s remembered for another part of his life.  Yes you guessed correctly: Walafrid was a keen gardener.

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Margaret Waterfield

Some of the posts on here have been a long time in the making. Today’s is one such. When I was researching a post about garden writer Mrs Earle way back in 2015  I discovered that a piece she  written had been illustrated by an artist named Margaret Waterfield.  I liked the paintings and thought she might make another good subject.I then discovered that there was very little known about and after a quick browse of my bookshelves and several google searches I gave up until this summer when I decided to give it another more serious go.

Most of Margaret ‘s work seems to have been done in the late 19th and early 20thc  and then she faded from public view long before her death in 1953. Although there was a brief outburst of interest in her and her work in the late 1980s which led to two short articles, I’m still unable to put together anything like a full biography but when you see the range and quality of her work  I hope you’ll agree that she deserves renewed attention and further research.

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Early Garden Picture Books

When printing first reached western Europe books rarely had illustrations, and when they did they tended to be simple rather crude woodcuts which were few and far between. The quality of images improved gradually and by the mid-16thc books of architecture and even garden design were beginning to appear, beautifully illustrated and sometimes even with very little text.  The coffee table book had arrived except that of course at that point there was no coffee.

 

Amongst the earliest and finest of these books were several  by Hans Vredeman de Vries, a Dutch engineer, architect and artist.

He was the first person to present the garden as a work of art in its own right, so  it’s with him that I’m going to start this look at early images of garden design. His influence soon spread far and wide and copies and echoes of his work can be found all over western Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Know Your Onions….

Let’s start with a startling fact. What’s the world’s most global food crop? Is it Wheat? Rice? Potatoes?  or even the tomato that I wrote about recently? It’s nothing so obvious, rather it is the humble brown, red or yellowish bulb that you’ve probably got piled up in your kitchen right now: the onion. According to the UN onions are grown in virtually every country on earth. They tolerate almost every climatic zone,  and are widely used in all major cuisines, making them arguably the only truly global ingredient.

You might also think that an onion is an onion is an onion, although you’d probably recognise there are ones with brown papery skins,  others with red and some with yellow or white. And when you start to start to think about you’ll probably recall that the insides also vary in colour, and shape and that maybe the taste and strength can vary too.

But have you heard of Birmingham’s Onion Fair ? Do you know where the phrase in the title comes from?  Who or what is an Onion Johnny? Do you know your Ailsa Craig from your James Keeping or Bedfordshire Champion?  Like most of us I’d guess probably not,  So read on to find out more about them and their history…

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Fontainebleau

France is famous for its  grand gardens such as Versailles, Vaux le Vicomte and Fontainebleau  which  are the living proof of the superiority of man over nature and -only half in jest – of France and the French over everybody else.

I’m a Francophile but even I sometimes wonder whether some of these gardens are almost “too great and grand for their own good” and need to be re-assessed afresh.

 

I visited Fontainebleau again earlier this week with a group of Gardens Trust members as part of a tour looking at important French gardens mainly in the Loire Valley. Fontainebleau was our first port of call. It’s just over 30 miles [55km] south east of Paris and is unusual because its gardens, created over  the last 500 or so years,  include examples of most of the most important stylistic developments in garden design.  Unsurprisingly Fontainebleau is  not merely  a national monument but a UNESCO World Heritage site.But is what you see today anything like they were when they were  created and are they worth their reputation?

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