Just a couple of weeks ago I referred to my much-prized and well-thumbed copy of The Gardener’s Perpetual Almanack, published by Thames and Hudson, quoting a passage from it. Well, I have been thumbing through its well-read pages yet again, and found this charming entry for 7 December.
“In this month, little can be expected to be done as to Gardening, and therefore may be termed to the careful Gardener a Month of Rest, wherein he ought to take care of himself in providing wholsome, nourishing Diet, warm Cloaths and good Fires; yet let him look after such things as yet require his Care, especially in the Green-house, or Conservatory, which now will prove an easie Task, the main being to keep the Windows and Doors well closed, and lined with Matts or other Conveniences, to prevent the piercing Air entering through Crevices; for now the Orange-trees are most likely to be in danger, and therefore if the Weather be extream, assist them with the kindly heat of Fire, but not too much, for that does more harm than cold.”
Leonard Meager wrote these words in his book, The Gardener’s Almanack, published in 1697, and they are as true today as they were more than 300 years ago. His magnum opus was The Complete English Gardener, first published in 1670, a book which went through many editions, including the 10th in 1704, the probable year of the author’s death. Despite the fact that much of his writing on horticulture is still available today … surviving copies of his original books for enthusiasts with many hundreds of pounds to spend on a single volume, and reprints for those of more modest means … little is known about Leonard Meager. He was probably born in 1624 and was employed as a gardener by Philip Holmlan of Warkworth in Northamptonshire, who encouraged his experiments in horticulture. In his mid-forties when his first book was published, Meager regretted his ‘want of learning’: but it is certainly possible that this very ‘want of learning’ ensured that his books were very practical in nature; and no modern author would complain about the success of The English Gardener, or a Sure Guide to Young Planters and Gardeners, in three parts, which was first printed in London in 1670 and ran through nine editions between then and 1697, after which is was retitled The Compleat English Gardener, and included a supplement by the mysterious ‘S.G.’. (A second edition under this title appeared in 1710); and, also in 1697, The New Art of Gardening; with the Gardener’s Almanack was published in London, with a second edition following in 1732, quite a number of years after the author’s death.
Gardening is one of the oldest healing arts; and Leonard Meager who, in his mid-70s, had advised people “to spend time in the garden, either digging, setting out, or weeding, for there is no better way to preserve your health,” certainly proved this adage with his own long life. But, although he also wrote that, “A small plot of ground well-ordered turns to greater advantage than a large one neglected,” I intend to take his advice that, “In this month, little can be expected to be done as to Gardening, and therefore may be termed to the careful Gardener a Month of Rest, wherein he ought to take care of himself.” I shall, on the whole, be content to settle for a nourishing diet, for warm clothing and for efficient central heating; and I shall try to prevent cold draughts from disturbing my own comfort in the home as well as ensuring that I keep the door and windows of my greenhouse closed against the winter weather. And if the urge to don workwear and hie me into the garden does come upon me, I shall try to resist it until the days lengthen and the temperature rises.
Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society