Historically, gardeners mixed herbs, flowers and vegetables to create gardens that were not only utilitarian, but also a place of beauty and refreshment. Many of the plants grown in 17th and 18th century gardens are still grown today. Known as heirlooms, or plants that are at least 50 years old, these open-pollinated seeds produce the plants modern plants come from. When two plants are intentionally cross-pollinated to create a new improved variety, it is known as a hybrid.
Vegetables were an essential part of 17th and 18th century gardens. Common plants such as runner beans, pumpkin, squash, white Lisbon onion, pear-shaped red and yellow tomatoes, spinach, radish, turnip, black-seeded Simpson lettuce and red drumhead cabbage were grown in almost every kitchen garden. Gardeners who were lucky enough to have a greenhouse grew many of these plants year-round. The vegetables grown in greenhouses, which were heated with coal, the sun and composting manure, during the winter months not only fed their family, but the excess was sold locally to those who did not have a way to grow their own produce, according to "The Forcing Book," published in 1897.
Herbs appealed to gardeners in the 17th and 18th century because they had multiple utilitarian uses. In addition to the medicinal herbs popular during that time, herbs were valued for their use as a seasoning. Other common uses for herbs during this time included making soap from soapwort, fibre and natural dyes. The fibre from plants such as flax was spun into yarn, and then often woven into cloth. Popular plants included chervil, lovage, tansy, lemon balm, feverfew, rosemary and nigella.
Sunflowers, marigolds, foxglove, Nicotiana sylvestris, black-flowered hollyhock, old-fashion roses and single-flowered columbine added colour to the garden. Flowers were cut and turned into nosegays, which were tiny hand held bouquets. The language of flowers was well known and secret messages were sent using flowers grown in the garden. The flowers grown during the 17th and 18th century are still prized today because of their intense fragrance and the ability to save seeds. Many of these plants will self-seed in the garden if the seeds are allowed to drop.