Sallets and the Father of British Gardening

Virtual Gardener – Summer 2010

Let us now praise the sallet (salad.) This menu item, healthy or haute, is ever present on 21 century tables. Not so a mere 400 years ago, when a dish of arugala was fit for a rabbit, not a king. How did sallets gain acceptance in the dining rooms of royales and common men alike? Through the work of John Evelyn (1620-1706) essayist, diarist, lobbyist, and horticulturalist, who praised their virtues.

Born into a wealthy family of gunpowder manufacturers, Evelyn created an explosion of his own with his essays, diaries and books, among them “Sallats,” the first cookbook for same, which proved that vegetarians could eat and live. You can read it online at

This book and others by Evelyn are in the Julia Appleton Cross Rare Book Collection at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum and will displayed and discussed at the July 18, 2010 program “Sallets.” The second half of the class will feature re-creation of recipes from this book by Chef Cynthia Triolo.

Begin at the British Library where you will find an excellent introduction to the life of this influential man who was at the center of 17th century English society and learning. Look at the Roald Dahl-esque drawing of gardening tools and remember it. Go through the “Discover More” brief and informative links there.

Now, on to The 1648 portrait of Evelyn by Robert Walker depicts a very different Evelyn. Instead of the patrician, rational, critic, we see a romantic, symbolic and philosophical Evelyn. This is the side revealed when he was engaged in gardening. In fact, Evelyn said, “What is a gardener to be, but an absolute philosopher.” Scroll down a bit and you will see that drawing of gardening tools again. The first two readers to name all 35 tools get a nice prize. Email answers to me by July 31 and the winners will be announced online. The list of tools just below the image should help a bit.

More?, search “Evelyn” and get the gardens he visits and likes and, of infinitely more interest, the gardens he visits and doesn’t like. His wit is sweet and sharp.

See modern day images of his own garden, Sayes Court, at, search “Evelyn.” This garden is being restored and the 12 apostle’s yew tree avenue is straight and true. His designs for Groombridge, detailed like a general’s battle plans. Sayes Court boasted a holly hedge 160′ in length, 7′ high and 5′ wide. When Evelyn left Sayes Court and moved to Wooton, Sayes new owner was Peter the Great, who enjoyed wheelbarrow rides under the holly’s great limbs.

In London, they named a community garden after Evelyn at
vids.myspace. Yes, it’s worth the trip, after all this is the man considered by many to be the “Father of British Horticulture.” In the midst of burgeoning ship building, and the rise of the glass and iron industries, he had the foresight to insist that trees be planted to replace the ones felled and, not to his surprise: 1,000,000,000 trees were planted.

At, that source of all knowledge, search John Evelyn to find other things that named after him: a rose, a bar, a gossip column, a School for Women, and Crabtree & Evelyn (who knew?)

Deeper still? See his political quick stepping at and his clever affiliations at

Evelyn’s swan song, “Elysium Britannicum” is referred to as the “missing masterpiece of the literature of gardening.” Containing drawings and descriptions of every kind of garden design, ornament, and element in the world of horticulture, it was never completed nor published. The manuscript is currently housed in Christ Church, Oxford, but you can view it online at

Finally, a culinary connection to bring it all full circle:

Yes, “The Man Who Would Be a Locavore” even had an opinion about cheesecake.

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at