A Miscellany for Garden-Lovers: Facts and Folklore Through the Ages

A Miscellany for Garden-Lovers: Facts and Folklore Through the Ages

by David Squire


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A Miscellany for Garden-Lovers: Facts and Folklore Through the Ages by David Squire

A beautiful gift book for any gardening enthusiast, with plenty of history, lore, and anecdote

The craft of gardening—its rich history, wisdom, and folklore—is presented here to entertain, inspire, and stimulate the imagination. A Miscellany for Garden-Lovers takes a stroll through gardening curiosities from ancient Egyptian wisdom to the world of garden gnomes, providing plenty of information on the history and folklore of gardening as well as the development of tools and practices. From the discovery of early garden tools to rhymes and healing gardens, there is everything here for the aspiring gardener or the experienced horticulturalist. Illustrated throughout with historical woodcuts and images, this beautiful book makes a perfect gift for anyone with an interest in gardens, gardening, and history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780857842749
Publisher: UIT Cambridge
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Series: Wise words Series
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 860,028
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

David Squire is a horticulturist and the author of more than 80 books, many of them gardening and plant-related, including The Bee-Kind Garden. He has received the Garden Writers of America Quill and Trowel Award.

Read an Excerpt

A Miscellany for Garden-Lovers

Facts and Folklore Through the Ages

By David Squire, Fiona Corbridge

UIT Cambridge Ltd

Copyright © 2011 David Squire
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85784-274-9


Early Garden Tools

Early gardening tools were robust and varied, with many groups of early settlers worldwide developing and refining their own range of equipment. Additionally, tools become specialized to undertake specific garden tasks – for example, for tilling the soil and improving its drainage, or for grafting and pruning. Some tools, especially those used to prune plants and robustly cultivate soil, were developments from types earlier used in warlike situations.


Medieval spades were robust and heavy, made of wood and with cutting edges sheathed in metal to make them more durable. The handle was usually T-shaped: a simple and easily constructed design that could be quickly replaced if broken.


This soil-preparation tool was formed of a stout, round handle and a heavy, spade-like piece of metal set at a right angle to the handle. It was used for turning over and preparing soil, as well as levelling and forming ridges in preparation for crops to be planted.

A mamoty was an Asian derivation, available in several types and primarily used in soil preparation.


Early tools used in orchards were robust and the ones featured opposite (top) are in A New Orchard and Garden, published in 1618 by William Lawson (1553–1635). It was printed together with the first horticultural book written solely for women, The Country Housewife's Garden.


Dibbers have been used for several hundred years to form a hole into which roots of plants can be inserted, with soil then firmed around them. Sometimes, they were also used when sowing seeds. Here, a dibber is featured in The Gardener's Labyrinth, compiled by Thomas Hill (who probably also wrote under the name Didymus Mountain) and first published in 1577.


Walter Blith's The English Improver Improved, first published in London in 1649, contains a wide range of tools, some for trenching, others for digging, as well as early ploughs.


Wheeled barrows, formed of two handles with a wheel at the other end and able to carry a load, have been used for more than 2,000 years in China and Greece, as seen in agricultural records. In medieval Europe, wheelbarrows appeared sometime between 1170 and 1250, but remained a rarity until the fifteenth century.

Agricultural wheelbarrows of the 1800s were heavy, made of strong wood and often with sides that could be extended upwards to enable larger loads to be carried – but at the risk of the barrow turning over.

Handbarrows, with the appearance of a short stretcher that could be lifted and moved by two people, were used in agriculture and horticulture during the 1800s and early 1900s. Some were modified with low sides and even given legs so they could be put down more easily.


In the late 1800s there appears to have been an obsession with the removal of daisies from lawns, and several types of daisy removers were available. One of these was a daisy fork – it had a notched end for pushing under a daisy, with a handle at the other end for levering the plant out of the ground. Another daisy-removing tool was a daisy rake. This was drawn over a lawn.


During the 1800s, devices for spraying fruit trees with water were devised to clean both the tree and its fruit. This sprayer, formed of galvanized metal, was featured in the popular weekly gardening magazine The Gardener's Chronicle (founded in 1841 and continuing for nearly 150 years) in 1860.


The billhook had another life as a weapon of war and during the Middle Ages was frequently made with a sharp curved blade. Additionally, many were fitted with a spear-like head and had spikes added to the back. The English were well known for using these weapons in war and became known as billmen.

In gardens and on farms, billhooks were used to trim and prune trees and hedges. There were many shapes and types of the sharpened metal heads and these varied from country to country. Some billhooks had short handles; others had the head attached to a 1.2–1.8 m (4–8 ft) wooden handle for reaching high branches.


This illustration from Pusato's Giardino di Agricultura, published in Venice in 1593, details a wide range of agricultural tools.


Nowadays, only a few pruning tools are considered to be necessary, but in earlier times highly specialized ones were used. Here are a few of them:

1 Averruncator – 1.8 m (6 ft) long;

2 Folding pruning handsaw;

3 Bow-slide pruning shears;

4 and 5 Gooseberry pruning knife, straight and hooked blade;

6 Hand-sliding pruning shears;

7 Pruning knife with straight blade and smooth spatula;

8 Pruning knife and saw;

9 Budding knife with ivory spatula;

10 Gentleman's improved pruning saw with billhook;

11 Grafting knife with strong curved blade serving as a chisel, and spatula added to ease open the graft's edges.


As well as dibbers and trowels for moving and replanting plants, more ingenious tools were developed in Europe and North America. The transplanters shown here have blades that are opened to enable them to be inserted into the soil around a plant. Counter-pressure then closes the blades around the plant's root ball, so that it can be moved. Some transplanters had the appearance of two garden forks whose tines could be levered together when a plant was being moved.


During the 1800s, brass syringes became widely available for syringing plants, either with clean water or with chemicals to control pests and diseases. They were strong and rust resistant, with a long life.


Before secateurs, also known as hand pruners, became widely available, knives were used for pruning but needed skill to ensure that the cut was clean and the user escaped unharmed. It is claimed that secateurs were invented in 1815 by the Marquis Bertrand de Moleville, a French aristocrat and politician who had to flee France during the Revolution of 1789. At first they were not popular, but this changed in the late 1800s when the English garden writer William Robinson (1838–1935) promoted their use.

Early secateurs had two blades that crossed each other, with a spring to enable them to open easily after making a cut.


Birds, and especially starlings, cause a great deal of damage to plants and fruits. During the sixteenth century, the klopotec (sometimes klapotetz) was developed in wine-growing areas of Slovenia, Austria and Croatia. In Germany it was called the Windradi or Windmühle, while in England it became known as the wind-rattle or wind-clapper.

It was formed of several blades driving an axle that rotated and activated wooden hammers to produce a sharp rattling noise. The whole device was mounted on a high, strong pole.


Ladders were invariably needed to enable high hedges to be trimmed, as well as for pruning fruit trees and harvesting their fruits. Those made for use when clipping hedges often had a small platform at the top, while orchard ladders were invariably constructed with three legs (two with rungs between them and the other to give support when extended). This design was cheap to construct and enabled the pruner or picker to get close to the tree and the fruits. Apples needed to be picked individually and with care to prevent them from getting bruised, as this made them impossible to store.


In the middle to late nineteenth century, the Victorians' love of gadgets led to the invention of many new tools and devices. These included a watering can fitted into a bracket mounted at the top of a 1.5 m (5 ft) bamboo cane. The can was operated by pulling on a strong piece of string.


Inverting the Sod

Traditionally, sons of the soil would dig the soil with a spade in autumn and winter to improve its structure, killing annual weeds, exposing soil pests to frost and birds, and improving surface drainage. They would also mix in decomposed farmyard manure and vegetable waste from kitchens and gardens. It was hard work, especially if the soil was heavy and contained a large proportion of clay. But it was – and still is – a necessary part of gardening.


John Abercrombie (1726–1806) was a well-known disseminator of gardening information and in 1767 co-authored with Thomas Mawe Every Man His Own Gardener. The book went into several editions and this illustration was the frontispiece in one of them, made when he was 72.

As a young man, Abercrombie worked at the Royal Gardens, Kew, and later taught botany at the University of Cambridge. In later years he set up a successful market gardening business in North London. Also, he wrote many further gardening books and became known as 'the great teacher of gardening'.


The most popular and easiest method of digging is to dig to a depth of a spade's blade – about 27 cm (11 in.), known as a 'spit'. An initial trench is taken out across one end of the plot, and soil from the next trench to be dug is systematically inverted into it. Perennial weeds are removed, but annual types are put into the base of the trench, together with well-decomposed manure and vegetable waste.


This involves digging the soil to a depth of about 60 cm (2 ft). Initially, a trench about 30 cm (12 in.) deep and 60 cm (2 ft) wide is taken out across one end of the plot that is to be dug.

A garden fork is used to turn over soil in the base (the lower 'spit') to break it up. Soil from the next 60 cm (2 ft), adjacent to the first trench, is then turned into the trench and the soil in the base turned over by using a garden fork. The sequence is repeated until the plot is completely dug.


As its name implies, this is heavy, tiring work but sometimes necessary when endeavouring to break up an impervious layer low in the soil that prevents water draining from the surface and roots extending deep into the soil.

It involves progressively working down a plot of soil, digging it out to a depth of about 60 cm (2 ft) – keeping the topsoil separate from the lower 'spit' – and then using a garden fork to turn over soil in the trench's base to a further depth of about 27 cm (11 in.). Soil is then returned to the trench, first the subsoil, then the topsoil.


This is a way of digging land to leave an increased surface area open to the winter weathering effects of frost, rain and wind. It breaks down its surface and produces finer soil in spring, which assists in the sowing of seeds. Additionally, on slopes it enables excess rainwater to run off the land more freely. Light soils, with a high sand content, do not require ridging but where there is a high proportion of clay this is an ideal way to improve it.

Initially a wide trench, 30 cm (1 ft) deep, is taken out across the upper end of the plot which is to be dug. The land is then systematically dug, creating ridges by using soil from a series of three spadefuls to form them. In spring – before sowing seeds or planting crops – it is necessary to rake the area level.


The above early eighteenth-century illustration shows gardeners manuring the land, spreading the manure and then using a spade to dig it in. Animal dung, from horse manure to pigeon droppings, was decomposed with straw and then dug into the soil to improve its structure and provide growth nutrients for plants.

In earlier times, China and some other countries, including Korea, widely used human excrement as a fertilizer in regions where animal manure was not available or in limited supply.


In addition to methods of deeply cultivating soil, such as double digging and bastard trenching, the land for a few specific crops needed to be specially prepared – and none more so than for exhibition sweet peas. The soil was dug in autumn to three 'spits' deep, the broad trenches then left open to the weathering effect of rain, frost and wind and, in spring, soil was gradually replaced in them, ready for early summer planting.


Draining Soil

Keeping land drained but able to retain sufficient moisture for the growth of plants has been the desire of farmers and gardeners for thousands years. The Romans knew about land drainage and moisture conservation, with Pliny the Elder, Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella and Cato the Elder writing about farm management some two millennia ago. Since then, with the increasing need to bring larger amounts of land throughout the world into food production, the imperative to drain land has not gone away.


Fens are large, low-lying and marshy areas that need different drainage techniques from established agricultural land. It was not until the 1630s that there was effective drainage for the Fens in Norfolk, England. Large channels were cut, and pumps (first powered by wind, then steam; later, diesel and electricity) removed excess water. Unfortunately, the peat-based land has shrunk, leaving large areas below the high tide sea level.


The creation of trenches in which pipe drains could be laid was usually done with an ordinary spade. However, in heavy clay soil, a range of narrow-bladed spades and scoops were used.

In the illustration above, spade 'A' was used to dig out soil from the upper part of a trench; it had a piece of stout metal secured at a right angle to the shaft for pressing the blade into the soil. Spades 'B' and 'C' are narrower and were good for digging soil from the base of a trench. In addition, tool 'D' enabled loose soil in the bottom of the trench to be easily removed.

Drainage trenches were formed to have a slight slope, with the end reaching a drainage sump (filled with coarse rubble) or just channelled into a ditch or stream. The illustration above left shows a drainage pipe laid directly on soil in the base of a trench. Nowadays, however, it is recommended that you have a layer of gravel for the pipe to rest upon, 7.5–10 cm (3–4 in.) thick, with a similarly thick layer of gravel above. Soil is then placed over the gravel and allowed to settle.


Continually wet soil is cold and slow to warm up in spring, a season when many seeds are sown and plants put into the ground. Additionally, continually wet land is unworkable and if trodden upon, this consolidates it and further impairs drainage. Continually wet land also tends to be acidic, which encourages roots to decay.


Contour ploughing (or contour farming) was practised in ancient times by the Phoenicians (1200–539 BC) in Canaan, which covered most of the western and coastal part of the Fertile Crescent, where the birth of agriculture partly began some 10,000 years ago. Contour ploughing is the practice of ploughing across a slope, following its elevation, to control water run-off and possible soil erosion.

In contour ploughing, the cutting edge formed by a plough's blade has to be vertical, rather than at a right angle to the slope. This causes the flow of water running down the slope to slow, giving it more time to be absorbed by the soil.

This ploughing technique is used in many countries. In some areas of North America, it has reduced the loss of soil by 65 per cent.


Excerpted from A Miscellany for Garden-Lovers by David Squire, Fiona Corbridge. Copyright © 2011 David Squire. Excerpted by permission of UIT Cambridge Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
CHAPTER ONE Early Garden Tools,
CHAPTER TWO Inverting the Sod,
CHAPTER THREE Draining Soil,
CHAPTER FOUR Conserving Moisture in Soil,
CHAPTER FIVE Sowing Seeds,
CHAPTER SIX Early Plant Hunters,
CHAPTER SEVEN Plant Folklore,
CHAPTER EIGHT Weather Folklore,
CHAPTER NINE Pest and Disease Folklore,
CHAPTER TEN The World of Garden Gnomes,
CHAPTER ELEVEN Down on the Farm,
About the Author,
Other titles in this Series,

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