I'm sure Malcolm is on the right track here, but hasn't gotten any further than I have. The earliest text I know of in "The Sprig of
Thyme/ Seeds of Love/ Garners Gay" complex (probably the most
common in English folk song), is "The Seed of Love", down in the
list of ballads at at Ancient Ballads, Poems and Songs, 1857. We find that the text there is
attributed to a Mrs. Fleetwood Habergham who died in 1703.
I'm a bit suspicious here that Mrs. Habergham's song may have
been from a broadside ballad that's not now known, but that's not
certain by any means. On my website in the Scarce Songs 1 file is
"An Excellent new Song, Called, The Young-Mans Answer to the
Maids Garden of Tyme", 1696. This is an obvious answer to the
"Sprig of Thyme/ Seeds of Love" song whatever it's exact text was
originally. Moreover, "The Young Man's Answer" is the original
(and unexpurgated) version of "The Gardner Lad (Child #219). One can
nearly pull a reasonable version of "The Seeds of Love" out of
"The Young-Man's Answer", but what song then would the latter
That 'answer' bit is still a somewhat puzzling, because whe don't have a really good fit for it.