Thomas Hill is the creator of the first gardening manual in English, published around 1563 and going through many, many printings. This listing comes from the facsimile version of 1608 at archive.org. A 1597 printing is available at Google Books.
It’s an awesome little manual, and I was surprised at how much of the gardening advice is still the same advice I follow today, as are many of the same problems. There are wonderfully quirky instructions on how to deal with things like hail, and moles, and all the things that still make me crazy to this day. It goes to show that the basics of how it’s done have not changed much at all, despite the ever-present claims in the 21st century of new ways to garden being devised and developed.
The list below is strictly about what plants are listed as useful plants in this first English gardening manual. I left out one or two plants because I could not reliably identify the plant he was talking about. Other plants are listed in modern spellings if it was clear that the plant indicated was the same (lettus is plainly lettuce). Some plants, those I felt were sufficiently estranged from modern spelling to warrant better identification, are listed with both Hill’s spelling and the modern spelling. A few plants are listed by additional common names and some modern Latin names.
I was very pleased to note that I have most of these in my garden already.
Without further ado…
Plants Described in The Arte of Gardening
Blete (Amaranthus blitum or purple amaranth)
Beets, white and red
(note that according to the gardeners at colonial williamsburg, actual colewort has been extinct since about 1815. They suggest planting cabbage and harvesting them before they form heads[*] Other reputable historians believe that “collard” may be a corruption of “colewort” and use collard greens. [**] I prefer collard greens and kale, myself, as they are easier to grow.)
land cress (upland cress, a garden cress, Barbarea verna)
running thyme (thymus serpyllum)
garden thyme (thymus vulgaris)
Wood lily (lily of the valley)
Navew (a kind of small turnip, a Brassica campestris)
parsnips and yellow carrot
melons and all kinds of the pumpkins
beans of Egypt (hyacinth beans)
(Note that hyacinth beans are edible but reportedly poisonous if not harvested and cooked correctly. If you are not comfortable with that, you might instead grow scarlet runner beans or fava beans.)
Other pre-1601 plant lists I’ve gathered:
A Kitchen Garden from Leonhart Fuchs
A list of edibles pictured in Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta
And, proving once again that good ideas NEVER occur in a vacuum:
UMass Amherst has created a common person’s pottager garden at their Renaissance Center. It made my heart super happy to see that much of their plant list is, again, similar to mine, indicating to me that both projects are on the right track. 😉 My academic discipline might be psychology, but mad research skillz translate across all disciplines. Here is a link to their blog post describing their 2014 plant list and lay out. I would run naked through the streets if that is what it took to get a viable set of slips from their Renaissance strawberries!