Tending One’s Own Garden: Husbandry, Weather Lore and Prognostication in Early Modern England

In his Essays, Civil and Moral, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) offers the following insight into gardening: “GOD ALMIGHTY first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures[1]”. Both a pleasure and, when it comes to agriculture, a necessity, this earthly practice was and still is strongly dependent on meteorological conditions, at the time believed to be controlled by God’s hand. Accurate weather predictions, crop preservation and protection techniques remained largely unknown to the farmer of the early modern period, whose crops were often destroyed by natural disasters. Whether they originated from the sky in the diverse forms of storms or frost, depending on the season, or from the ground, carried by pests and diseases, disasters were seen as a form of divine punishment, or trial by ordeal. Indeed, the failure of a crop was considered as the expression of divine desire and wrath, since undeserving sinful men and women would be punished by having to cope with the hardships and outcomes of the disasters themselves. With the increasing abundance of publications dealing with topics unrelated to religious matters, such as almanacs, which offered information regarding tide and moon cycles, a plethora of inexpensive pamphlets as well as more thorough volumes started to circulate massively during the Renaissance. Books dedicated to husbandry[2], intended for farmers and gardeners, started to circulate, proving instrumental in dealing with specific agricultural issues. They offered a range of gardening techniques, weather predictions and recipes for potions to encourage growth or eradicate pests. Although the level of interest in the matter would not match the level of scientific understanding, advice was based on experience and observation, adopting a deeply didactic format known as weather lore[3]. With an absence of efficient air and pressure measuring tools, prognostication based on practical knowledge only was an accepted method of weather prediction and would also play a key role in the organization of time throughout the farming year. To that end, each season, following a regular pattern, was mostly dictated by proverbs, beliefs and superstition. Though people accepted the postulate that it was impossible and ungodly to prevent disasters, they would offer observations, remedies and advice first orally, then in written form.

This paper aims at presenting a range of suggestions in dealing with natural disasters, as they are given in a selection of primary sources focusing on husbandry and farming methods, offering a variety of interpretations and recommendations in order to establish a pattern of prognostication and weather lore. It will first focus on the approaches used to understand the consequences of climatic issues on crops. It will then highlight weather forecasting methods as a budding empirical science, before turning to techniques Renaissance farmers used in the hope of mastering the elements.

Julie Van Parys-Rotondi (Université Clermont Auvergne)


  • Abenezrah, Kinki, An euerlasting prognostication of the change of weather collected and compiled for the common vse and profit of all countrey men. By Kinki Abenezrah, a wandring Iew, STC STC / 864:09 (2nd ed.) British Library 1625.
  • Anon., A Prognostication eueverlafting of ryght good effecte, frutefully augmented by thauthor, cōteyning playne, brief, pleafant, chofē rules to iudge the weather, by the sunne, Moone, Sterres, Cometes, Raynbowe, Thunder, Cloudes, with other extraordinarie tokens, not omitting the Afpectes of Planetes, with a briefe iudgement for euer of Plentie, Lacke, Sickneses, Death, warres, &. Opening alfo many natural caufes worthy to be knowen.  To their and other nowe at the laft are adoiuned diuerse general pleafāt Tables, with many cōpendiousnrules, eafy to be had in memorie, manifolde ways profitable to al maner men of underftāding : once againe publiffed by Leonar Digges Geentleman, in the yeare of our Lord 1556.
  • Anon., The husbandmans practife, or Prognostication for eueer. As teacheth Alberte, Alkin, Haly, and Ptholome. Imprinted at London in fleete ftreate, beneath the Conduite, at the Sygne of Saynt Iohn Euaungelift, by Hugh Iackson.
  • Anon., A table plainly teaching ye making and use of a wetherglas, 1 sheet ([1] p.) :. London: s.n.], 1631.
  • Hill, Thomas, A most briefe and pleasaunte treatise, teachyng how to dresse, sowe, and set a garden : and remedies agaynst wormes, flies, and fuche like, that noye Gardens, gathered oute of the principallest Aucthors which haue writtē of gardening, as Palladius, Columella, Varro, Quellius, Dopbdnes, learned Cato, and other manye moe. And nowe englifhed by Thomas Hyll Londiner. [1558 ?]

[1] Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral, The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909, Vol. III, Part 1. p. 117.

[2] OED 3.a. “The business or occupation of a husbandman or farmer; agriculture, cultivation; (deployment of) farming methods and techniques”

[3] OED 5.b. “† A body of knowledge, a science. Obsolete.”