The Detailed Diary of John Evelyn
Today is the birthday of the English Gardner and writer John Evelyn who was born on this day in 1620.
Evelyn kept a detailed diary for 66 years, and he had an excellent understanding of trees. In 1664, Evelyn wrote a treaty called A Discourse of Forest Trees. It was basically an appeal to his fellow countrymen to plant trees. The English Navy was growing, and they desperately needed timber to build more ships.
Over his lifetime, Evelyn updated his Discourse of Forest Trees a total of three more times; the final edition was released immediately after his death.
In honor of Thanksgiving, which is now less than a month away, let me share this excellent quote by Evelyn about the benefits of chestnuts:
"Chestnuts are delicacies for princes and a lusty and masculine food for rustics, and able to make women well-complexioned."
Evelyn had a devoted passion for gardening. And, here's a little known fact: Evelyn was the first garden author to publish a book about salads (or Sallets). Listen to the benefits of salad as described by Evelyn:
"By reason of its soporiferous quality, lettuce ... still continues the principal foundation of the universal tribe of Sallets, which is to cool and refresh, besides its other properties... including beneficial influences on morals, temperance, and chastity."
(FYI: Soporiferous means Inducing or tending to induce sleep. Some lettuce secretes lactucarium - a milky fluid found in the base of the lettuce stems. It is known as lettuceopium because of its sedativeand pain-relieving properties. It has also been reported to promote a mild sensation of euphoria.)
It was John Evelyn who wrote:
"The gardener’s work is never at end, it begins with the year and continues to the next. He prepares the ground, and then he plants, and then he gathers the fruits."
"Gardening is a labour full of tranquility and satisfaction; natural and instructive, and as such contributes to the most serious contemplation, experience, health and longevity."
Bear in mind Evelyn's appreciation for the amount of work a garden requires as I tell you this little story about him.
In 1698, John Evelyn had owned his estate for 40 years. Everyone who knew it said it was magnificent - both inside and out. It was decorated to the nines. Of all that he owned, Evelyn’s garden was his pride and joy.
That year, the Russian Czar, Peter the Great, brought an entourage of 200 people to England to visit William III. In a gesture of hospitality, William volunteered John Evelyn‘s home to host the Czar and his people during their visit. Evelyn and his wife graciously moved out to give the Czar his privacy.
Well, it wasn’t long before Evelyn‘s servants began sending him urgent messages begging him to return.
When Evelyn came home, he walked into a nightmare. The whole estate had been trashed. Priceless paintings had served as dartboards. His floors were ruined, windows were smashed; even the garden was destroyed.
The servants told how the 6'8 Czar had played a game with his friends, where they put him in one of Evelyn's wheel barrels and then raced him through the garden beds, crashing into walls, trees, and hedges. It was a complete disregard for the sanctity of Evelyn's garden. For twenty years, Evelyn had nursed along a hedge of holly that had turned into a glorious living wall. It was ruined. The party even managed to knock down part of the stone wall that surrounded the garden.
It must have been a scene akin to the movie Animal House.
Evelyn immediately sent word to the king about what had happened, and arrangements were made straight away to move the czar to other lodgings. King William settled with Evelyn to have his property restored - his home needed to be gutted and rebuilt from the floors up.
John Evelyn was 78 years old when this happened to him. I'm sure there was no amount of restitution that could restore the years of love he had spent in his garden. He lived for another eight years before dying in 1706.