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John Parkinson (botanist)

John Parkinson
An engraving of Parkinson from his monumental work Theatrum Botanicum (1640), reprinted in Agnes Arber's Herbals (1912).
Born 1567
Died Summer 1650 (aged 82–83); buried 6 August 1650
Probably London, England
Residence London, England
Nationality English
Fields Herbalism and botany
Known for Publishing Paradisi in Sole, Paradisus Terrestris (1629) and Theatrum Botanicum (1640)

John Parkinson (1567–1650; buried 6 August 1650) was the last of the great English herbalists and one of the first of the great English botanists. He was apothecary to James I and a founding member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in December 1617, and was later Royal Botanist to Charles I. He is known for two monumental works, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (Park-in-Sun's Terrestrial Paradise, 1629), which generally describes the proper cultivation of plants; and Theatrum Botanicum (The Botanical Theatre or Theatre of Plants, 1640), the most complete and beautifully presented English treatise on plants of its time. One of the most eminent gardeners of his day, he kept a botanical garden at Long Acre in Covent Garden, today close to Trafalgar Square, and maintained close relations with other important English and Continental botanists, herbalists and plantsmen.


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
  • Published works 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Gallery 6
  • Further reading 7


Parkinson, born in 1567, spent his early life in Yorkshire. He moved to London at the age of 14 years to become an apprentice apothecary.[1] Rising through the ranks, he eventually achieved the position of apothecary to James I, and a founding member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in December 1617; until 1622 he also served on the Court of Assistants, the Society's governing body. In addition, he assisted the Society in obtaining a grant of arms and in preparing a list of all medicines that should be stocked by an apothecary.[2] He was on the committee that published their Pharmacopœia Londinensis (London Pharmacopœia) in 1618.[3]

Then, on the cusp of a new science, he became botanist to Charles I.[4] Anna Parkinson, a "distant descendant"[1] of Parkinson and the author of a new popular biography of him, asserts that in 1625 when Charles I's bride, Henrietta Maria of France, came at the age of 15 years to live at St. James's Palace, "he took on the role of introducing the young queen to horticulturally sophisticated circles."[5] When he summed up his experience in writing Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (Park-in-Sun's Terrestrial Paradise, 1629 – "Park-in-Sun" is a pun on "Parkinson"), with the explanatory subtitle A Garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permit to be noursed up, it was natural that he dedicated this work, which he called his "Speaking Garden",[2] to the queen.[5] Blanche Henrey called the work the "earliest important treatise on horticulture published in England",[6] while the Hunt catalogue described it as "a very complete picture of the English garden at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and in such delightful, homely, literary style that gardeners cherish it even to the present day."[7]

Narcissi, Paradisus Terrestris 1629. 8. Great Double Yellow Spanish Daffodil

Parkinson actively sought new varieties of plants through his contacts abroad and by financing William Boel's plant-hunting expedition to [8] ("I thinke none ever had this kind before myselfe nor did I myself ever see it before the year 1618 for it is of mine own raising and flowering first in my own garden".)

His piety as a Roman Catholic is evident from Paradisi in Sole. In his introduction, Parkinson saw the botanical world as an expression of divine creation, and believed that through gardens man could recapture something of Eden. Nonetheless, a short French poem[9] at the foot of the title page warned the gardener against hubris and in having excessive regard for his efforts, for whoever tries to compare Art with Nature and gardens with Eden "measures the stride of the elephant by the stride of the mite and the flight of the eagle by that of the gnat".[2] However, struggles between Protestants and Catholics compelled Parkinson to keep a low profile.[5] He did not attend any parish church.[10] At the height of his success, the English Civil War (1642–1651) tore his family apart.[5]

Parkinson's London house was in Ludgate Hill, but his botanical garden was in suburban Long Acre in Covent Garden,[5] a district of market-gardens, today close to Trafalgar Square. Not much is known about the garden, but based on a study of the writings of Parkinson and others, John Riddell has suggested[11] that it was at least 2 acres (8,100 m2) in size and probably surrounded by a wall. Four hundred and eighty-four types of plant are recorded as having been grown in the garden.[2] Thomas Johnson and the Hampshire botanist, John Goodyer, both gathered seeds there.[4]

An illustration of a Double Daffodil from the second edition of Paradisi in Sole (1656).

Parkinson has been called one of the most eminent gardeners of his day. He maintained close relations with other important English and Continental botanists, herbalists and plantsmen such as William Coys, John Gerard, John Tradescant the elder (who was a close friend), Vespasian Robin, and the Frenchman Matthias de Lobel (also known as Matthias de L'Obel or Matthaeus Lobelius). Together, they belonged to the generation that began to see extraordinary new plants coming from the Levant and from Virginia, broadly speaking. In his writings, de Lobel frequently mentioned the Long Acre garden and praised Parkinson's abilities. Parkinson, on his part, edited and presented in Theatrum Botanicum the papers of de Lobel, who had spent the final years of his life in Highgate supervising the gardens of Edward la Zouche, the 11th Baron Zouche.[2]

Parkinson died in the summer of 1650, and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 6 August.[12] He is commemorated in the Central American genus of leguminous trees Parkinsonia. Paradisi in Sole also inspired the children's writer Juliana Horatia Ewing (1841–1885) to write the story Mary's Meadow,[13] which was first published from November 1883 to March 1884 in Aunt Judy's Magazine (1866–1885), produced by her mother Margaret Gatty. In the story, some children read Paradisi in Sole and are inspired to create their own garden. The magazine received much favourable correspondence about the story, and in July 1884 it was suggested that a Parkinson Society should be formed. The objects of the society were to "search out and cultivate old garden flowers which have become scarce; to exchange seeds and plants; to plant waste places with hardy flowers; to circulate books on gardening amongst the Members... [and] to try to prevent the extermination of rare wild flowers, as well as of garden treasures."[2]


Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris describes the proper cultivation of plants in general, and is in three sections: the flower garden, the kitchen garden, and the orchard garden. It does not include specific growing instructions for each type of plant, but at the start of each main section Parkinson provides instructions on "ordering" each type of garden, advising on situating and laying out a garden, tools, soil improvement, grafting, planting and sowing and the types of plants that should be included in each type of garden. It contains illustrations of almost 800 plants in 108 full-page plates. Most of these were original woodcuts made by the German artist Christopher Switzer, but others appear to have been copied from the works of Matthias de Lobel, Charles de l'Écluse and the Hortus Floridus[14] of Crispijn van de Passe the Elder.[2]

Illustrations of parts of an oak tree from page 1386 of Theatrum Botanicum (1640).

In Paradisi in Sole Parkinson hinted that he hoped to add a fourth section, a garden of simples (medicinal herbs).[2] He delivered the promise in his other great book, the monumental Theatrum Botanicum (The Botanical Theatre or Theatre of Plants) which he published in 1640 at the age of 73 years. The release of this work was delayed due to the popularity of Thomas Johnson's edition of John Gerard's book The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597).[15] Theatrum Botanicum, with 1,688 pages of text,[10] describes over 3,800 plants and was the most complete and beautifully presented English treatise on plants of its day. It was the first work to describe 33 native plants, 13 of which grew near Parkinson's Middlesex home. Some of these plants, such as the Welsh poppy, the Strawberry Tree and the Lady's Slipper, were very common but had gone unnoticed or at least unrecorded.[2] He intended the book to be a reliable guide for apothecaries, and it remained so for more than a hundred years after his death.[5] Parkinson presented the work to Charles I, who conferred on him the title "Botanicus Regis Primarius" ("Royal Botanist of the First Rank") though this came without a salary.[10]

Published works

Frontispiece of Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629) by German artist Christopher Switzer. Of interest is a depiction of a Vegetable Lamb of Tartary near the river behind the figure of Adam.
  • Parkinson, John (1629). Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris: Or A Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers which our English Ayre will Permitt to be Noursed Vp. With a Kitchen Garden of All Manner of Herbes, Rootes, & Fruites, for Meate or Sause Vsed with Vs, and an Orchard of All Sorte of Fruitbearing Trees and Shrubbes Fit for Our Land. Together with the Right Orderinge, Planting & Preserving of Them and Their Uses and Vertues Collected by Iohn Parkinson Apothecary of London. London: Printed by Hvmfrey Lownes and Robert Yovng at the Signe of the Starre on Bread-Street Hill.
    • Parkinson, John (1656). Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, or, A Choise Garden of All Sorts of Rarest Flowers with their Nature, Place of Birth, Time of Flowring, Names, and Vertues to Each Plant, Useful in Physic or Admired for Beauty: To which is Annext a Kitchin-Garden Furnished with All Manner of Herbs, Roots, and Fruits, for Meat or Sauce Used with Us, with the Art of Planting an Orchard... All Unmentioned in Former Herbals. London: Printed by R.N. and are to be sold by Richard Thrale at his shop at the signe of the Cross-Keys at S. Pauls-gate, going into Cheap-side.  Folio.
    • Parkinson, John; Alfred H. Hyatt (comp.) (1904). A Garden of Pleasant Flowers: Being a Description of the Most Familiar of Our English Garden Flowers from the Famous Collection of John Parkinson. London: T.N. Foulis. 
    • Parkinson, John (1904). Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris... Faithfully Reprinted from the Edition of 1629. London:  
    • Parkinson, John (1975). Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, etc. [The English Experience; no. 758]. Amsterdam; Norwood, N.J.: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum; Walter J. Johnson.  Facsimile of the 1629 edition without the letterpress title page, made from copies in the Bodleian Library.
    • Parkinson, John (1976). Paradisi in Sole, etc. New York, N.Y.: Facsimile of the 1629 edition.  
    • Parkinson, John (1976). A Garden of Pleasant Flowers. New York, N.Y.; London:  
    ; in others it is printed (dated 1635). Later editions and reprints: woodcut. In some copies the title page is Folio  
  • Parkinson, John (1640). Theatrum Botanicum : The Theater of Plants. Or, An Herball of a Large Extent, Containing therein a More Ample and Exact History and Declaration of the Physicall Herbs and Plants that are in Other Authours, Encreased by the Accesse of Many Hundreds of New, Rare, and Strange Plants from All the Parts of the World, with Sundry Gummes, and Other Physicall Materials, than hath beene hitherto Published by Any before; and a Most Large Demonstration of their Natures and Vertues. Shevving vvithall the Many Errors, Differences, and Oversights of Sundry Authors that have Formerly Written of Them; and a Certaine Confidence, or most Probable Conjecture of the True and Genuine Herbes and Plants. Distributed into Sundry Classes or Tribes, for the More Easie Knowledge of the Many Herbes of One Nature and Property, with the Chiefe Notes of Dr. Lobel, Dr. Bonham, and Others Inserted therein. Collected by the Many Years Travaile, Industry, and Experience in this Subject, by Iohn Parkinson Apothecary of London, and the Kings Herbalist. And Published by the Kings Majestyes Especiall Priviledge. London: Thomas Cotes.  Folio. Reprints:
    • Parkinson, John (1967). A Fragment from Theatrum Botanicum, "or An Herball of a Large Extent". Falls Village, Conn.: Herb Grower Press. 
    • Parkinson, John (1982). Theatrum botanicum: Or an Herball of a Large Extente. [S.l.]: Remous. 


  1. ^ a b Richardson, Tim (2007-12-01). by Anna Parkinson"Nature's Alchemist: John Parkinson, Herbalist to Charles I"10 best Christmas reads: .  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cahill, Hugh (April 2005). "Book of the month: Paradisi in sole, paradisus terrestri". Information Services and Systems,  
  3. ^  .
  4. ^ a b Linh Tran. "Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants, or, An Herbal of a Large Extent".  
  5. ^ a b c d e f Parkinson, Anna (2007-11-17). "John Parkinson: An ancient alchemist's wisdom [print version: Unearthing an ancient alchemist's wisdom]".  
  6. ^ Henrey, Blanche (1975). British Botanical and Horticultural Literature before 1800: Comprising a History and Bibliography of Botanical and Horticultural Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland from the Earliest Times until 1800. London:  
  7. ^ Hunt, Rachel McMasters Miller (1991). Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt. New York, N.Y.: Maurizio Martino. 
  8. ^ Parkinson 1629, p.103 .
  9. ^ The poem reads:
    Qui vent parangonner l'artifice a Nature
    Et nos pares a l'Eden indiscret il mesure.
    Le pas de l'Elephant par le pas du ciron,
    Et de l'Aiglele vol parcil du mouscheron.
  10. ^ a b c Wroe, Ann (2008-01-17). "Herbalist to the King [print version: True to his roots]".  
  11. ^ Riddell, John (1986). "John Parkinson's Long Acre Garden 1600–1650". Journal of Garden History 6 (2): 112–124. 
  12. ^ There is no extant memorial to Parkinson at St Martin-in-the-Fields. The present church was completed in 1726 and in the process records of the locations of all original burials were lost. Ledger slabs from earlier memorials exist, but James Gibbs, the architect of the new church building, used them as paving stones and there is no clear record of which slab is where: personal e-mail communication between Jacklee and Mr. Chris Brooker, Parish Clerk of St Martin-in-the-Fields, on 3 December 2007.
  13. ^ Later republished in book form as  
  14. ^ van de Passe, Crispijn [the Elder] (1614[–1617]). Hortus floridus in quo rariorum & minus vulgarium florum icones ad vivam varamq[ue] formam accuratissime delineatae et secundum quatuor anni tempora divisae exhibentur incredibili labore ac diligentia Crisp. Passaei junioris delineatae ac suum in ordinem redactae [Floral Garden in which are Exhibited Images of Rather Rare and Less Common Flowers, in Living and True Form, Delineated Very Accurately and Divided According to the Four Seasons of the Year, Exhibited by the Unbelievable Labour and Diligence of Crispus Passaeus the Younger, Delineated and Brought Back into their Own Order]. Arnheimij [Arnhem]: Ioannem Ianssonium [?Jan Janszoon the Elder]. 
  15. ^   Later editions were published in 1630 (publisher and place of publication unknown), and 1633 and 1636 (London: Adam Islip, Ioice Norton and Richard Whitakers). The book has been republished in the following versions:
  16. ^ "'"Author Query for 'John Parkinson.  


The Endive, illustrated in the second edition of Paradisi in Sole (1656).
  • Cahill, Hugh (April 2005). "Book of the month: Paradisi in sole, paradisus terrestri". Information Services and Systems,  
  • Parkinson, Anna (2007-11-17). "John Parkinson: An ancient alchemist's wisdom [print version: Unearthing an ancient alchemist's wisdom]".  


Further reading

  • Anderson, Frank J. (1977). An Illustrated History of the Herbals. New York, N.Y.; Guildford:  
  • Cahill, Hugh. "The Later Herbals". Exhibitions. King's College London. Information Services and Systems. Archived from the original on 12 May 2007. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  • Parkinson, Anna (2007). Nature's Alchemist: John Parkinson – Herbalist to Charles I. London:  
  • Tomasi, Lucia Tongiorgi (1997). An Oak Spring Flora: Flower Illustration from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Time: A Selection of the Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Works of Art in the Collection of Rachel Lambert Mellon. Upperville, Va.; New Haven, Conn.: Oak Spring Garden Library; distributed by  

Some works listed in this section were obtained from Cahill, Hugh (April 2005). "Book of the month : Paradisi in sole, paradisus terrestri". Information Services and Systems,  

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