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John Evelyn

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 27 May 2009

Rana Mitter and Claire Tomalin discuss the life and work of diarist, gossip and horticulturalist John Evelyn, who although now eclipsed by the fame of his friend Samuel Pepys, was the other great chronicler of the 17th century.

Like Pepys, Evelyn lived through and wrote about one of the most fascinating periods in British history - witnessing the deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London in 1666. His special interest, however, was in horticulture, and in his day was famous for Sylva, a book about trees, and Directions for the Gardiner, an account of his garden at Sayes Court.

Evelyn wrote one of the earliest gardening calendars, listing each month's prime flowers and vegetables, and how best to dress and prepare a salad. He fought briefly for the Royalists during the English Civil War, escaped to Italy where he studied anatomy, and on his return to London helped to found the Royal Society. He also wrote Fumifugium, the first book written on the growing problem of air pollution in the capital.

  • John Evelyn

    On Night Waves, a great chronicler of the 17th Century – not Samuel Pepys, but his friend and fellow diarist, John Evelyn. Like Pepys, Evelyn lived through and wrote about one of the most fascinating periods of British history – witnessing the deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the Great Plague, and the Fire of London. He was also a leading expert on horticulture, and as Evelyn’s gardening books are published in a new edition, the award winning biographer Claire Tomalin – herself a keen gardener – talks to Rana Mitter about Evelyn’s extraordinary life and the window he provides in our green fingered past.

    The Diary of John Evelyn is published by Everyman's Library

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