Nature’s alchemist : John Parkinson, herbalist to Charles I Anna Parkinson London : Frances Lincoln, 2007 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 335 p. : ill., maps, ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 325-326) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
John Parkinson‘s beautiful Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris – A Garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permit to be noursed up [With a Kitchen Garden of All Manner of Herbes, Rootes, & Fruites, for Meate or Sause Vsed with Vs, and an Orchard of All Sorte of Fruitbearing Trees and Shrubbes Fit for Our Land. Together with the Right Orderinge, Planting & Preserving of Them and Their Uses and Vertues] – inspired many botanists, herbalists and plantsmen of his time. Who was this man who wrote so engagingly about plants? Why was so little known about a man who was a key influence on the flowering of English garden in the seventeenth century? Now, for the first time, John Parkinson can be seen as a man whose story reveals the excitement and agony of those turbulent times.
His lifelong passion for plants was intimately bound up with the new dawn of scientific enquiry. We follow him from a humble childhood in Lancashire to a career as an apothecary in London which would bring him to high office under Charles I. We see how he tried, with his medical colleagues, to create a new ‘common wealth’ vesting his effort in writing the most comprehensive and scientific herbal there had ever been in English.
Yet as a Catholic he kept a low profile avoiding both the reforms and the slaughter of Cromwell’s assassins quietly growing an extraordinary range of flowers for ‘delight and pleasure’ in his notable garden in Covent Garden. He carefully recorded them all and had them engraved for his wonderful books by the German artist Christopher Switzer. This biography is a worthy tribute to an outstanding gardener and also throws fresh light on an extraordinary period in British history.