Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Garden Tools - & a bit about John Evelyn

John Evelyn & Depictions of Early Gardening Tools

During the early 1990s, John E. Ingram, then the research archivist & curator of special collections at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, was working to transcribe diarist John Evelyn's (1620–1706) Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens in Three Books, which was languishing unpublished as MS 45 at the British Library in London.
Detail John Evelyn (1620-1706) by Hendrick van der Borcht, 1641.

Evelyn was a pivotal figure in 17th century intellectual life in England. He traveled, collected & read books and was intent on introducing a more sophisticated European high culture not only to his friends but to all of England. He had the leisure to do that thanks to a family fortune amassed by manufacturing gunpowder for Elizabeth I.

Evelyn worked for 40 years on his Elysium project, the purpose of which he wrote to a friend, "to refine upon some particulars, especially concerning the ornaments of Gardens, which I shal endeavor so to handle that persons of all conditions and faculties, which delight in Gardens, may therein encounter something for their owne advantage."

The main reason the project took 40 years and ended abruptly before its completion is that Evelyn loved lifting ideas & whole sections from the books he was collecting to incorporate into his Elysium manuscript, which was filled with notes in the margins, wholesale changes, & completely new insertions. He might have had the classics conquered; but science & horticulture were racing ahead of Evelyn, and he was determined to keep up, cribbing as fast as he read.

Evelyn peppered his manuscript with illustrations of garden layouts and embellishments for gardens & grounds. More important to this discussion, he included two pages of sketches of tools & small structures for nurturing new plants to be used in the garden. "Since Gardining...hath as all other Arts and Professions certaine Instuments and tooles properly belonging to it."
Evelyn (1620-1706) by Robert Walker, 1648.

Evelyn's work Elysium does open a world of connections between the changing philosophy of cultural, social & political thought and its reflection in gardens from Greek & Roman times to Evelyn's age.

During the 1980s, an article in the Journal of Garden History suggested that even Evelyn's depictions & discussions of garden tools might have "more subtle meanings" than mere illustrations, that perhaps they might be "charged with symbolic values," emblems for Evelyn's "gardiner" & the world beyond. After all, Evelyn wrote, "What is our Gardiner to be, but an absolute Philosopher!"
Well, back to the tools. (By the way, Dr. Ingram's transcription was published in 2001, go to to find it. You won't regret your purchase, if you are at all interested in gardening or in the intellectual life of 17th centrury England.)

One of Evelyn's unfinished chapters was to have been about ‘Watering, Pruning, Plashing, Nailing, Clipping, Mowing and Rolling.’ We could have used that in a discussion of tools, but his advice wasn't always that practical. For garden rollers, he recommends marble columns procured from the classical ruins in Smyrna.

Elysium is not a practical work like his Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest Trees (1664); Kalendarium Hortense: or; The Gard’ners Almanac (1664), a guide to gardener’s task, month by month throughout the year; or Acetaria: a Discourse of Sallets (1699), a proof that vegetarians could eat & live.

Elysium is not entirely void of practicality, but it is unabashedly aristocratic in both aesthetics & philosophy and full of irrelevant digressions, of which I am a huge devotee and part-time practitioner.
Early Garden and Agricultural Equipment.

Evelyn was certainly not the first to illustrate gardening and agricultural tools. Early manuscripts often depcited gardening. Two of my favorites are from 1410 Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry.
Detail Vincennes Castle in France. 1410 Depiction.
Detail Paris. 1410 Depiction.

A more mundane engraving of instruments for grafting, engraving appeared in Leonard Mascall's, The Art of Planting and Grafting, in 1572. And an engraving of pruning tools appeared in Jean de La Quintinie, The Compleat Gard’ner in 1693.

Page of Garden Tools from John Evelyn's (1620–1706) Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens in Three Books.

Tools & equipment Evelyn felt were absolutely necessary for a garden depicted on this page include:
iron-clad spades,
pickaxe and shovel,
sieves and screens,
instruments peculitar to the surveyor
a planting lattice...for regular planting and setting of rootes and flowers...
turf lifter,
turf edger,
stone roller,
and long pruners.

Garden Tools from John Evelyn's (1620–1706) Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens in Three Books.

Evelyn continued with his depiction of mandatory garden tools & equipment on this page including:
3 different designs of watering pots,
water barrel,
water tanks,
forcing post,
protection cone,
bell glasses
hand light bedstead "furnished with tester and Curtaines of draw over and preserve the Choysest flowers, bing in their beauty, from the parching beames of the Sunn,
knife sharpener,
bird scarers (bells),
storage chest,
garden diary or register,
and traps.

In the Le Jardinier Solitaire by François Gentil & Louis Liger published in 1706, there is a list of the instruments necessary for a florist. Gentil wrote, As a Soldier can't fight without his Arms, so a Gardner can't work without proper Tools. The one is as necessary as the other.
This engraving from LE JARDINIER FLEURISTE by Le Sieur Liger d'Auxerre printed in 1787. Images taken from earlier publication Necessary Instruments for Gardening from Le Jardinier Solitaire by François Gentil, Louis Liger published in 1706.

1 Spade. The first instument the Gardener takes in his hand to learn a dexterity in turning up the Ground and working it smooth and even and it is chiefly used by Apprentices.

2 Shovel. Used for throwing Earth out of Trenches or Ditches or for throwing rakings into a Wheelbarrow or Dosser.

3 Rakes. This tool is in the Gardener's Trade. a symbol of Neatness. One for smoothing Beds and Plots, the other for cleaning the Walks.

4 Rakers. A necessary tool for keeping the Garden clean of weeds.

5 Displanter. Used for transplanting and for taking up all Flowers, that the Gardener is obliged to transplant from the place where they were sowed to another.

6 Prining knife. So necessary, that a Gardener ought always to have one in his pocket for there's a hundred occasions in the way of Gardening to make use of it.

7 Dibbles. For planting small flowers that have roots and for planting Bulbs.

8 Watering Pot. Nothing is more useful in a Garden than a Watering-Pot, so that a Gardner cannot be without it. It imitates the rain, falling from the Heavens.

9 Beetle. This serves to smooth the Walkes and hinders most effectively the growing of Weeds upon 'em.

10 Flower Basket. A Gardener that cultivates Flowers, ought to have Baskets by him, to gather the Flowrs in upon occasion. This sort of Basket, shew a Gardener's Neatness and the genteel way of his Profession.

11 Sieve. 'Tis by this that the Earth is reduced almost to Dust and is rendered fit for receiving Anemones, Rannunculas, and other fine flowers.

12 Saw. 'Tis used for cutting the Branches which he can't lop with his knife.

13 Transplanter. Used for raising together with the earth, plants for transplanting.

14 Garden Pot. A Gardner ought to have good store of Pots to put some Flowers in, that grow better fo than in full Earth, such as Pinks, Bears-Ears, Tube-roses, &c. These may be either of plain Earth, or of Dutch Ware, the former are much larger, for holding Jessamins, Clove-Gill-flowers, and such other Plants.

15 Plainer, or Rabot. Tho you run the Rake never so often along the Walks and Paths of a Garden, it will leave some Roughness which is easily rectified with an Inftrument call'd a Rabot; and therefore a neat Gardiner ought not to be without it.

16 Paillassons or Panniers of Straw. This is very necessary to keep out the Froft, which would hurt the Flowers that are sowed, especially those who can't bear much cold.

17 Mallet. Used with the Chisel for lopping the Branches, that can't be so neatly taken off with the force of one's hands.

18 Wheelbarrow. To carry the Stones and Rakings of a Garden, to, places appointed to receive 'em ; or, to carry Earth, or Mold, to improve such Grounds as are hungry.

19 Handbarrow. To carry into the Greenhouse, Trees or Shrubs, set in Boxes, which a Man can't carry upon his Arm. Tis likewise of use for carrying Dung upon the Beds.

20 Catterpiller Sheers. For removing Catterpillers, which would otherwise deftroy all- It has a Handle ten foot long fitted to it, that it may reach to the upper Pans of a Tree. They clip, or cut the end of the Branch upon which the tuft of Catterpillers is lodg'd.

21 Garden Sheers. They are of use for trimming the Box, Yews, and other Trees and Shrubs, that serve to embellish a Garden.

22 Double Ladder. For trimming the upper part of the Arbour, or high Bower.

23 Pickaxe. For raising the Plants that adorn the Borders...or for giving some small Culture to Trees and Shrubs.

24 Rolling Stone. For smoothing Walks after they are raked.

25 Hook. A Gardener that has Rows of Greens to dress, can't trim them well without a hook, which is used after a certain way.

26 Glass Bell. A Forist can't be without this unless he has a mind to run the risk of losing his Plants, such as are soon in Beds immediately after the end of Winter.

27 Straw Bell. Proper for covering Plants newly transplanted in order to guard them from the Heat or the Sun, which might annoy them at first.

28 Garden Fork. For spreding and disposing of Dung upon the Beds.

29 Trowel. By the help of which a Flower Gardener takes up Plants with Earth around them.

30 Hurdle. For passing the Earth through. Of great use for separating the good Earth from the Stones.
1761 Frontispiece Le gentilhomme cultivateur ou corps complet d agriculture. Paris.

Richard Bradley, an English garden writer who was appointed the first Professor of Botany, Cambridge University in 1724, and whose books were owned widely throughout the British American colonies, also included a page of garden tools in one of his books published about 20 years after John Evelyn's death.
Garden Tools from Richard Bradley's Survey of Ancient Husbandry and Gardening in 1725.

Garden Tools in Colonial America & The Early Republic
18th-century Depiction

By 1734, garden tools made in the colonies were being advertised for sale in local newspapers.LATELY set up at Trenton in New Jersey, a Plateing and Blade Mill, by Isaac Harrow, an English Smith, who makes ...GARDEN SPADES...COMMON SHOVELS, SCYTHES...BROAD AXES,...CROSS CUT SAWS...BARK SHAVERS, HAND SAWS...HAY KNIVES...TOBACCO KNIVES... GARDEN SHEERS...DITCHING SHOVELS, All Persons that have occasion for any of the above named Goods, may be supplied by George Howell, Lastmaker in Chesnut Street, Philadelphia, or by the Maker at Trenton aforesaid, at reasonable Rates as any that come from England.
Pennsylvania Gazette September 12, 1734.

Garden tools were considered valuable property in colonial British America. According to the Camden County Historical Society in New Jersey, in 1763, Adam Reed of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, accompanied his local constable to a spot where they found Mr. Reed's stolen property "hid in the ground." Among the purloined articles unearthed were four grubbing hoes, four shovels and two spades.
'Recueil des Planches du Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de l'art Aratoire et du Jardinage' (1802)

In another instance cited during the Revolutionary War, John Jones of Southwark left personal tools in the care of Captain Christian Grover "at the time of the approach of the enemy" to Philadelphia. In 1778, Mr. Jones advertised for the return of his property, promising that whoever returned his belongings would be "rewarded in proportion to their trouble or expense." Among his prized possessions were two spades, five garden hoes, one grubbing hoe and two dung forks.
18th-century Depiction

Late in the 18th century, Evan Truman, blacksmith, and Thomas Goucher, a cutler by trade, provided garden tools to the public from their Philadelphia locations at the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle. Goucher advertised his skill in making "all kinds of edge tools and all sorts of hoes," while Truman's wares included ditching shovels, grubbing hoes, weeding hoes, picks and mattocks.
18th-century Depiction

On a much smaller scale, one-man cottage industries also provided garden tools in early America, as a listing from Stafford's 1800 Philadelphia City Directory attests: "Genter, Charlotte; rake maker; above Brown on St. John's Street."
18th-century Depiction

Whether these garden tools belonged to the gentry or to the everyday gardener or farmer, they were essential in the agricultural society that dominated early America. In the early decades of the 19th century, garden writers did not just write of the appropriate tools for the garden, some also sold them.
18th-century Depiction

At the Philadelphia shop of nurseryman Bernard M'Mahon (c. 1775–1816), author of the 1806 The American Gardener's Calendar, one corner was devoted to the various "spades, shovels, rakes, hoes, reels, lines, trowels, edging irons, garden shears, watering pots, pruning, budding and grafting knives so necessary for gardening."
Early 19th-century Depiction

It was not until the growing industrial economy of the mid-19th century, that manufacturers catalogues replaced list of tools in garden books. By then gardening was becoming a back-to-nature preoccupation of the industrial work force as a leisure-time activity.

By the early 19th century, as both disposable income and printing sophistication grew, some catalogues depicted gardening tools in color.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.
Figures Pour L'a Lmanach du Bon Jardinier. Outils de Jardinage. Early 19th-century Depiction.