First Garden Manual in the Western World
Written in Latin between 1304 and 1309 by Petrus de Crescentiis, a wealthy lawyer from Bologna in Italy, Ruralia Commoda was the only publication of its kind during Henry VIII’s reign.
Royal Collection Trust
The Queen’s Gallery
According to the manual, the size of the garden and the perfection of the trees and plants within it were an expression of a king’s status, wealth and mastery over his environment. A royal garden should occupy a plot of 20 acres or more, and the planting of fragrant herbs was recommended because they ‘not only delight by their odor, but … refresh the sight.’ The gardener should ‘between these plants … form turf in the fashion of a seat, flowering and pleasant.’ 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.
In such a garden ‘the king will not only take pleasure, but … after he has performed serious and obligatory business, he can be renewed in it.’ Glimpses of this advice put into practice can be seen through two archways in the painting The Family of Henry VIII. The manual also recommends that a very pure spring be diverted into the garden?–?a huge, tiered, circular fountain formed the focal point of Henry VIII’s garden at Whitehall.
As well as providing advice on creating ‘gardens for kings and other illustrious and wealthy lords’, Ruralia Commoda covered estate management, from hunting and falconry to wine production and keeping neat fields. It also revealed how to grow giant leeks, produce cherries without pits, grow different coloured figs on the same tree, preserve roses before they bloom, and transform basil into mint. Among the more unusual plants illustrated within the book is a mandrake?–?the root resembled a human figure, which was thought to scream when it was dug up, killing those nearby.