John Evelyn

The 66 Year Diary

Today the English Gardner and writer John Evelyn recorded in his diary that he met with the dowager Queen Henrietta Maria.
John kept a detailed diary for 66 years, and he had a devoted passion for gardening. As a result, his diary has been a treasure for garden historians over the years.
And, here's a little known fact about John Evelyn: he was the first garden author to publish a book about salads (or sallets as they were spelled at the time).
Check out the benefits of eating salad as described by John:

"By reason of its soporiferous quality, lettuce ... still continues [to be] the principal foundation of … Sallets, which ... cool and refresh, [and have] beneficial influences on morals, temperance, and chastity."

(FYI: Soporiferous means Inducing or tending to induce sleep. Here John is referring to the fact that some lettuce secretes lactucarium - a milky fluid found in the base of the lettuce stems. It is known as lettuce opium because of its sedative and 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 an 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 labor full of tranquility and satisfaction; natural and instructive, and as such contributes to the most serious contemplation, experience, health, and longevity."

And, keep in mind John'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, John'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. John and his wife graciously moved out to give the Czar his privacy.
Well, it wasn't long before John's servants began sending him urgent messages begging him to return.
When John 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 John's wheelbarrows and then raced him through the garden beds, crashing into walls, trees, and hedges. It was a complete disregard for the sanctity of John's garden. For twenty years, John 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.
John 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 John 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.

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
John Evelyn
John Evelyn

Leave a Comment