In a letter to Sir Thomas Browne about his proposed magnum opus on gardens, John Evelyn stated his purpose: "to refine upon some particulars, especially concerning the ornaments of Gardens, which I shal endeavor so to handle that persons of all conditions and faculties, which delight in Gardens, may therein encounter something for their owne advantage."
In his Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens, Evelyn indeed produced a rich document, an assemblage of the horticultural knowledge and wisdom of the seventeenth century. An intriguing intellectual whom many have called a virtuoso, Evelyn was a garden designer, a noted author and translator of garden books, and a founding member of the Royal Society in 1660, where experimental science was at the heart of intellectual debate. Interlacing in his work practical, literary, and philosophical approaches to landscape architecture, Evelyn created the first large-scale encyclopedic work on the science and art of gardening.
Evelyn never saw his great work published. Until now, the entire Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens has never appeared in print. In an impressive transcription, John E. Ingram makes the document—of which only a single folio volume remains—accessible to a wide range of scholars. Complete with Evelyn's extensive marginalia, interlineations, and tipped-in addenda, the manuscript is expertly organized by Ingram to preserve the meaningful complexity of Evelyn's original.
The Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens was composed over a period of forty years, and Ingram's transcription reveals the challenge Evelyn faced in writing in—and for—a rapidly evolving intellectual culture. The work also displays many of Evelyn's own illustrations, including drawings of garden layouts, diagrams of inventions for plant and tree cultivation, and plans for the artificial and natural embellishment of the land, all of which were to contribute to the beauty and utility of the gardens.