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John Parkinson - Summary

Date of Birth: 1566

Date of Death: 1650

Gender: male

Nationality: English

Notable dates

  • Started his apprenticeship with apothecary Francis Slater. 1585

  • Finished his apprenticeship with Francis Slater. 1593

  • Became a founding member of the Society of Apothecaries. 1617

  • Elected junior warden of Society of Antiquaries 1620

  • Elected junior warden of Society of Apothecaries. 1620

  • Publication of his first book, "Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris, or, a Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers...with a Kitchen Garden...and an Orchard." 1629

  • Publication of his second book, "Theatrum botanicum." 1640

  • Buried 06/08/1650

Occupation: Apothecary, herbalist, botanist

Narrative:

John Parkinson, born in 1566 or 1567 (probably in England), wrote the first substantial book on English gardening, and was one of the first British botanists.

He started his working life in medicine, beginning his apprenticeship to a London apothecary, Francis Slater, at Christmas 1585 and completed serving it in 1593. He went on to become one of the most respected apothecaries in Britain. When the Society of Apothecaries was established in December 1617, John Parkinson was one of the founding members, and served on its governing body, the Court of Assistants. He contributed to the first Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, produced by the College of Physicians. He was elected junior warden of the Society of Apothecaries in August 1620 but at the beginning of 1622, he asked for, and was granted, permission to give up his duties in the Society.

Parkinson then concentrated on his garden in London's Long Acre and started researching and writing his first book: 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 & preseruing of them and their vses & vertues collected by Iohn Parkinson apothecary of London 1629.

The book included descriptions of around 1,000 plants, giving information about their origins, alternative names and medicinal properties. Almost 800 of the plants were illustrated. Parkinson dedicated the book to Queen Henrietta Maria and, in return, was given the title Botanicus Regius Primarius (First Botanist to the King) by King Charles I.

He worked for years on his second book, Theatrum Botanicum (short title), which was published in 1640. In it, he described approximately 3,800 plants and their medicinal properties, and referenced many other authors of herbals and botanical books.

John Parkinson was a close friend of John Tradescant the Elder. He had close ties with many other leading plantsmen, herbalists, gardeners and botanists of his time, such as William Coys, John Gerard, Vespasian Robin, and Maathias L'Obel (also known as Lobelius). He collected new varieties of plants through people that he knew abroad and, as early as 1607 had funded William Boel's plant-collecting expedition to Iberia and Africa. Parkinson was the first person in Britain to grow the Spanish double-flowered daffodil. 

He died in the summer of 1650 and was buried at Saint Martin-in-the-Fields in London on 6 August 1650. He continued to be celebrated in the 19th century. One of the statues in the Palm House, Sefton Park, Liverpool, commemorates John Parkinson.

Sources:

Burnby, Juanita, ‘Parkinson, John (1566/7–1650)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21372> [accessed 18 May 2008]

<http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/iss/library/speccoll/bomarch/bomapril05.html > [accessed 18 May 2008]

English Short Title Catalogue (online at British Library web site) <http://estc.bl.uk/

Further reading:

John Riddell. 'John Parkinson's Long Acre Garden 1600-1650', Journal of Garden History, Vol. 6, no.2, 1986, pp. 112-124.