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OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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A Timeline of Early Sources of Information
about Gardens and Plants

Classical period, 600-476
Medieval period: Early Middle Ages, 476-1000 CE
High Middle Ages, 1000 - 1300 CE

Roman gardenClassical Period, 600-476 CE

Red text indicates sources that were especially important
in the Middle Ages

700 BCE


In Book II of Works and Days, Hesiod provides an almanac-style guide for farmers.

469-399 BCE


A key resource for the scientists of the early Middle Ages, this Greek physician wrote 87 treatises and many herbal prescriptions using  hundreds of different plants. The treatments of the Hippocratic corpus, ascribed to him but probably not written by him, references more than 400 plants, with treatments tailored to specific disorders or conditions. In his day, experts on medicinal plants were known as rhizotomi, root-diggers.

384-322 BCE Aristotle De Plantis, other studies of nature

c. 371-287 BCE


One of the most important sources of early medieval botanical information. A student of Aristotle and the heir of his botanical garden in Athens, Theophrastus wrote about plants in the Historia de Plantas (Accounts of Plants) and De Causis Plantarum (book 9, sections 9-12); he is considered the Father of Botany.

c. 330 BCE Diocles of Carystos Diocles, a Greek physician, is referenced in ancient sources as the author of an early Greek herbal, now lost. Only traces survive, in works by Aristotle and Theophrastus.

271 BCE


In the works of Epicurus, gardens are sites of recreation, contemplation, and education.

c. 250 BCE


Theocritas' Idylls, short poems describing pastoral life, contain knowledgeable descriptions of plants and their habitats; tradition says he had studied medicine.

234-149 BCE


In De Agricultura, Cato describes farming, with an emphasis on vineyards and olive orchards, but also praising cabbage and discussing asparagus.

c. 127-40 BCE Asclepiades of Bithynia Though only fragments of his works remain, he is remembered for attacking the work of Hippocrates, and for promoting a new theory of disease.

120 BCE


Physician to kings, Crateuas created the earliest illustrated herbal, of which fragments survive in the 6th century Codex Vindobonensis, a beautiful MS that contains the great herbal of Dioscorides.

116-29 BCE


Varro's De Re Rustica (On Rural Topics) describes Roman agricultural life and practice.

100 CE Pamphilos Synonyma, a ABC of plant name synonyms in several languages

70-19 BCE


The Georgics of Virgil is a compendium of Greek and Roman writings on agriculture and rural life.

37-34 BCE

Nicolaus Damascenus

Nicolaus Damascenus is the probable author of the pseudo-Aristotelian work De Plantis (On Plants).

c. 10 CE Sextius Niger His Greek On [medical] Materials is known only from citations by Dioscorides and Pliny
c. 1-50 CE Scribonius Largus

In 43 CE, Scribonius accompanied the Roman emperor Claudius when he invaded Britain. His Compositiones, or prescriptions, include many herbal treatments.

40 - c.70 CE Columella

The most important Roman write on the topic of Agriculture, Columella is the author of the 12-volume De Re Rustica (On Rural Topics) and is probably the author of the shorter De Arboribus (Trees).

23/4 -79 CE Pliny the Elder

The 37 volumes of Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia (Natural History) presented the sum total of natural science known to the Roman world in the first century CE. Books 12 through 27 dealt with agriculture, horticulture, and the medicinal uses of plants.

c. 25-50 BCE Celsus

Aulus Cornelius Celsus wrote De Medicina, a medical treatise that offered a useful summary of contemporary Greek medical practices.

Dioscorides, from the Vienna codex, Wikimedia Commonsc. 40 to
90 CE

A Greek physician and army surgeon, Dioscorides compiled the 5-volume De Materia Medica that served as Europe's primary authority on medicinal plants for nearly 1,500 years. Two well-known versions were the 6th century "Lombard Latin" translation, and the 11th century alphabetized version.

61-113 CE Pliny the Younger

Nephew of Pliny the Elder (noted above), his letters describe the villa gardens of Italy.

90 CE Frontinus

De Aquae Ductibus (On Conducting Water), describes water systems for gardens and farms.

98-117 CE Soranus

Soranus of Ephesus was a Greek physician who lived in Rome. Of some 20 works he wrote on medicine, survivors include a 6th century Latin translation of Gynecology, as well as fragments of his writing on fractures and on bandages, and a Latin translation of his work on acute and chronic diseases.

c. 129-215 CE Galen

Physician to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, Galen was a noted anatomist who had firsthand knowledge based on dissection. He wrote several treatises on medicine, and his theories of health care were followed for more than a millennia.

c. 130 BCE Nicander of Colophon Nicander's family, from the city of Colophon in Turkey, were hereditary priests of Apollo; in his various works (two of which deal with venoms and poisons) he names some 300 plants.
138 CE Hadrian

Hadrian, of Hadrian's wall fame, created elaborate and beautiful gardens at his villa near Tivoli; remnants survive to the present.

c. 200 BCE

Nicander of Colophon Nicander's family were hereditary priests of Apollo; in his various works (two of which deal with venoms and poisons) he names some 300 plants.
200 CE Quintus Gargilius Martialis Gargilius wrote De hortis (About Plants) which dealt with botany, horticulture, and medicine; only fragments of this survived, primarily in the 4th century work of Pliny the Elder.
300-400 CE Marcellus Empiricus

De Medicamentis Empiricis, written in Roman Aquitania in what is now France, draws on the work of such auctoritas as Pseudo-Apuleius, Scribonius Largus, and Pliny the Elder. It includes folk remedies, magic charms, Celtic lore, and, in some of the charms, the oldest examples we have of the Gaulish/Celtic language.

400-500 CE Pseudo-Apuleius

The Latin Herbal of Apuleius Platonicus ascribed to Apulieus was not actually written by him, and is thus referred to as "Pseudo-Apuleius." It is derived from Pliny and Dioscorides; a number of illustrated copies of this herbal were made on the continent and in Britain, and it was translated into Old English in the 11th century.

c. 410-
c. 460 CE

Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius wrote two of the most influential books on farming in the Middle Ages, De Insitione (On Fruit Trees) and Opus Agriculturae (Farm Work) a month-by-month account of farming that discusses vegetables and field crops. This works appears in both continental and British medieval manuscripts.

460 CE


Gaius Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius, known also as St. Sidonius Apollinaris, was a poet, diplomat, and bishop, He describes his villa (and its gardens) near Auvergne, in Gaul (now France).

Medieval gardenEarly Middle Ages, 476 - 1000 CE

Red text indicates sources that were especially important
in the
Middle Ages

c. 500 CE

Unknown Alfabetum Galieni (Galen's Alphabet) was not written by Galen, but is in fact based on much earlier Greek sources. A collection of medicinal "simples," prescriptions based on a single plant, it was widely known throughout the Mediterranean world.
c. 500 CE Aetius of Amida This Byzantine physician wrote Sixteen Books on Medicine, in which nearly 420 different plants are discussed.
  Alexander of Tralles

His Twelve Books on Medicine detail treatments for disorders that include depression, pleurisy, and head wounds.

c. 640 Paul of Aegina Practica deals with about 500 different medicinal plants
c. 500 CE Cassianus Bassus "Scholasticus"

Cassianus wrote Selections on Agriculture, including a chapter on horticulture; his work was included in the 10th century Geoponika compiled in Beirut by Vindonius Anatolius for Constantine VII.

c. 500 CE Pseudo-Dioscorides Ex herbis feminis (Of Women's Plants) describes health care for women, using 71 plants. Curae herbarum (The Care of Plants) provides information on 61 medicinal plants.
c. 525-605 CE Alexander of Tralles

His Twelve Books on Medicine detail treatments for disorders that include depression, pleurisy, and head wounds.

c. 560-636 CE Isidore of Seville Isidore's Etymologiae was the best known encyclopedia of the Middle Ages; in Book 17, chapters 6-11, it provides a list of plants by their Greek and Latin names, and their etymologies.
c. 600 CE Pseudo-Hippocrates Dynamidia, Book I, describes about 85 medicinal plants
c. 600 - 1200 CE English charters The earliest charters involve grants to religious institutions; later on, lay people are both donors and recipients. The property descriptions sometimes include information about plants, trees, and gardens. The charters are usually in Latin, but later charters sometimes have sections in Old English.

673- 735 CE


Bede's De Natura Rerum (On Natural Things), includes comments on monastery kitchen gardens.

  700-1066 CE Regesta Regum Anglorum

The Regesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings), includes Mercian charters from 700 and 800 CE, West Saxon charters of the 800s, and all charters from 900-1066, and provide a unique glimpse of the landscape of Britain during the early Middle Ages.

742-812 CE


Charlemagne experimented with plants in his own garden and oversaw plantings on his royal estates. He issued imperial edicts, or capitularies, to guide civil, military, and ecclesiastical affairs. The Capitulare des Villis specified a list of plants to be grown on royal estates. The inventory of his royal estate at Asnapia provides detailed information about farmsteads in 9th century France.

c. 780-856 CE Rabanus Maurus A Frankish Benedictine who became ArchbIshop of Mainz, Germany, Maurus' De Universo, Book XIX.viii, describes vegetables and aromatic and common plants found in the garden.
800 CE Bald The Leechbook (Laecboc, or Healing Book) of Bald is an Anglo-Saxon medical text whose first section deals with external disorders; the second, with internal conditions.
809-849 CE Walafrid Strabo The Hortulus or Little Garden,  originally entitled De Cultura Hortorum (The Cultivation of Gardens), describes Walafrid's small garden at the monastery in Reichenau.
819- 826 CE St. Gall The "Plan of St. Gall" is the earliest preserved ground plan for an ideal building complex, here the monastery at Reichenau. It shows in some detail two monastery gardens and an orchard, including the names of plants to be grown.
809-873 CE Hunain -- Hunayn ibn Ishaq

Hunayn, pictured in a medieval manuscript

Johannitius in Latin, Hunayn translated Dioscorides' De Materia Medica from Greek into Arabic.
c. 850 CE Nicholas of Damascenus De Plantis (About Plants) survived only in Arabic until translated into Latin in the 12th century.
865-925 CE Rhazes --
Muhammed ibn Zakariya Rhazi
Wrote many books on health and medicine, among them Man la Yahduruhu Al-Tabib, a medical guide for the general public; Al Hawi or Contines Liber, on healthy living;  and al-Tibb al-'Mansuri, The Book of Medicine for Mansur.
867-9 CE Inventory of the Abbey of St. Maur des Fosses Found in the folios of an ancient Bible, this inventory describes the 9th century monastery and gardens of St. Maur des Fosses, located about 7 miles from Paris.
950 CE Vindonius Anatolius Geoponika, a collection of early Greek agricultural and horticultural information, was probably compiled in Beirut by Vindonius Anatolius for Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII.
High Middle Ages
1000 - 1300 CE
c. 955-
1015 CE
Aelfric Aelfric, Abbot of Eynsham, wrote the Colloquy Nominum Herbarum (Conversation about the Names of Plants) and a Latin-Old English vocabulary to help Anglo-Saxon students learn Latin. Both contain a wealth of horticultural terms.
980 CE Lacnunga Lacnunga (Remedies) is an Anglo-Saxon medical text that contains prescriptions and charms.
980-1037 CE Avicenna   Avicenna, or Ibn Sina (full name: Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Sina), was a Persian scholar and physician whose writings were studied and applied by physicians for more than 500 years. His works include The Book of Healing, The Cannon of Medicine, and 40 other medical works.
d. c.990 CE Haly Abbas --
Ali ibn al-'Abas al-Majusi,
Haly Abbas may have been a Zoroastrian; he wrote the Kamil al-sina'a al-tibbiya, a medical compendium dedicated to his patron, who was al-Maliki, a generous king.
1000 CE Macer Macer Floridus (perhaps the pseudonym of Odo de Meung) wrote De Viribus Herbarum (On the Powers of Plants), which deals with 77 herbs and their uses in treating specific conditions.
c.1087 CE Constantine the African Believed to have come to Italy from Africa with several herbals, his Liber Pantegni is a translation of parts of Haly Abbas' Kitab al-Maliki, and this was the text used by the Schola Medica in Salerno. His Tegni translates Galen's work.
1000 CE Gerard of Cremona Gerard translated the works of Ibn Sina/Avicenna from Arabic into Latin.
1000 CE Herbal manuscripts in Britain Vernacular as well as Latin herbals were produced in Britain, among them the Bury St. Edmonds Herbal.
1127 CE Stephan of Antioch Stephen translated Haly Abbas' Maliki into Latin.
1035-1123  CE De Lapidibus Marbode, Marbodius (or, his real name, de Marboeuf), Bishop of Rennes, was born in Angers, France; his De Lapidibus (On Stones) discussed the healing powers of stones and also of herbs, and was Europe's most popular lapidary over several centuries.
1086 CE Domesday Book A census as well as an inventory of property and the taxes paid on it, the Domesday Book was completed at the command of William the Conqueror, and provides glimpses of early gardens in Norman England.
1110-1154 CE Henry of Huntingdon   Archdeacon of Lincoln, Henry wrote De Herbis (Of Plants). His garden may be the one described in "The Square Garden of Henry the Poet."
1135 CE Canterbury The waterworks plan of the monastery attached to Canterbury Cathedral provides insight into a 12th century Norman monastery garden.
1157-1217 CE Alexander Neckham A prolific author, Neckham (AKA Nequam, Neckam) wrote two works that included descriptions of gardens and plants, De Naturis Rerum (On Natural Things) about the contemporary state knowledge in the natural sciences), and De Laudibus Divinae Sapientiae (In Praise of Divine Wisdom).
d. 1161 CE Matthaeus Platearius Matthaeus derived his Liber de simplici medicina (AKA, the Circa instans) from Galen
c.1245 CE Bartholomeus Anglicus De proprietatibus rerum (On the Properties of Things)
c. 1280 CE Albertus Magnus De vegetabilibus et plantis (On Vegetables and Plants)
c. 1290 CE Rufinus Liber de virtutibus herbarum (Book of the Virtues of Herbs) is taken from Macer, Dioscorides, and the Circa instans, but about 20% is original to Rufinus, including unusually careful plant descriptions.


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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt


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