John Parkinson’s beautiful Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris inspired Anna Parkinson from an early age. Who was this man who wrote so engagingly about plants? Was he a relation, as her father believed? And why was so little known about a man who was a key influence on the flowering of the English garden in the 17th century? Intrigued, she set out to find the answers.
Now, for the first time, John Parkinson can be seen as a man whose story reveals the excitement and agony of those turbulent times. His lifelong passion for plants was bound up with the new dawn of scientific enquiry and the struggles of faith. We follow him from a humble childhood in Lancashire to a career as an apothecary in London which would bring him to high office under Charles I. We see how he tried, with his medical colleagues, to create a new ‘common wealth’ to replace the old monastic system, vesting his effort in writing the most comprehensive and scientific herbal there had ever been in English. Yet as a Catholic he kept a low profile, quietly growing an extraordinary range of flowers for ‘delight and pleasure’ in his notable garden in Covent Garden. He carefully recorded them all and had them engraved for his wonderful books.