Longing for Spring: researching a historical garden

In just a few months, on July 1, Elisha Magus, book 2 in my Dark Apostle series, will hit the bookstores. Needless to say, I am thrilled. But when my window shows a snowy landscape, and my radio suggests that there is, in spite of having passed the official start date of spring, more snow in the air, thinking of summer seems a long way off.

And so, I am digging back into my research archives for a bit of research I did for Elisha Magus years ago, in the first draft. At the time, I was deep in the throes of Research Rapture, or how else would you explain a sudden obsession with English gardens? I was creating a little royal lodge in the New Forest, and I wanted to give it a more feminine touch to suggest the princesses who also visited there, so I had written in a flower garden, indulgent and frivolous.

A frosty rose in Cambridge, UK

A frosty rose in Cambridge, UK

But, being me, I couldn’t just throw in some descriptions of flowers and keep on writing. What would grow in the garden? What would be flowering at the time of the book? Internet, to the rescue! Thankfully, there are numerous specialists even more obsessive than I, like the good people at the Cowper and Newton Museum, who have graciously posted a list of all the flowers in their restored historical garden. This is a start, as they only use plants definitively known to have come to England prior to 1800, the time of William Cowper’s death. I, of course, am writing about 450 years prior to that. . .

So the list needs annotating. I have my version of the list in front of me, still residing in my research notebook. It took some doing to track down the flowers mentioned, to cross off those I couldn’t date to prior to 1350, and to make note of the appearance of the others. Some of these have medicinal uses (“Ox-eye Daisy, good for chest complaints”) or symbolic and ritual uses that sparked other ideas, like the fact that Periwinkle is said to be proof against witchcraft. A few flowers make specific appearances in the book as a result.

I also learned about the Devil’s Bit Scabious, a plant said to be so useful for so many cures, that the devil bit off its root in annoyance, leaving the plant to stay very short. Naturally, most of this is completely irrelevant, and the ultimate description of the garden remains brief and decorative, aside from mentions of a few plants Elisha can recognize–as it should be. But I enjoyed planting my little garden. Knowing just a bit more about Elisha’s world made it possible for me to visualize the scenes in that setting, the smells he would experience, the cetewall attracting butterflies, the foxgloves both useful and dangerous. Any detail that can bring me, and my reader, inside the story is a detail worth learning about.

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About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in fiction, history, medieval, research, Uncategorized, worldbuilding and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Longing for Spring: researching a historical garden

  1. The Middlegate Key says:

    Reblogged this on The Middlegate Key.

  2. Pingback: Elisha Magus Book Day! With footnotes. . . | E. C. Ambrose

  3. Pingback: 64 Historical Research with E.C. Ambrose | The Kingdoms of Evil

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