I’ve never bothered much with gardening books as the aspirations of design and planting are too often targeted beyond my capabilities, budget or modus operandii. I do however possess basic instruction manuals on the hows, whens, and whys of horticulture and in less judicious moments have been taken in by eye-candy books of country gardens, meadow planting, and that most seductive of styles – container gardens. When it comes to emulation though, something seems to be lost in translation.
A recent visit to a charity shop had me browsing through the usual collection of cast off books with those hyperbolic titles like: ‘A Perfect Border this side of Eden’, ‘Sumptuous gardens on a shoe string ‘, ‘Brilliant ideas for shade gardening’.1 None of them were of interest but then this small, yellowing A5 journal caught my eye:-
‘My Garden’ – ( ah! if only I had one!)
It was the date that drew my attention, January 1934, and reading further, soon realised that I’d stumbled on a piece of gardening history – a First Edition – and all for the princely sum of £2.99
I suppose at this point I should have donned white gloves, cellophane wrapped, and e-bayed it but the contents were intriguing and in turn they drew me into reading, from cover to cover. The articles were written in that faded style, which combines the slightly pompous with the learned, in a breadth of English language that we have almost forgotten.
The contributors range from friends of the editor to influential writers including the very popular Beverley Nichols, darling of ‘The Woman’s Journal’, best-selling author and garden journalist supremo. 2 One can snigger at some of the spoof-like titles and names: ‘Irises on a Chalk Garden‘ by Sir Arthur F Hort, Bt, V.M.H., 3 or ‘Roses – My First Love‘ by W.C. Thorn, whilst the advertisements raise a smile of nostalgia for a time of lost innocence. Here Pratten & Co Ltd invite us to learn more about their sun & slumber chalets. Note how polite and non pushy adverts were once upon a time!
From the very Personal Foreword the editor and owner, Theo A. Stephens, outlines ideas and ambitions for his ‘Intimate Magazine for Garden Lovers’. Intended to fill the gap between weekly gardening papers and the learned encyclopedic journals of horticulture, it is aimed at the middle to upper echelons of the income bracket, priced at 1/- per month. 4 Or as Courtney Page, the Hon. Secretary of the National Rose Society, and obviously a very grand dame, puts it:
“This little book will not only tell us all about Gardens, but will go a long way to produce a wholesome interest and help to create not only a new England but the revival of the glories of the countryside and the stately homes of England”
It may not have revived Elysian fields in old England but interspersed with mono prints of grand gardens and flower portraits, the articles would have both entertained and informed. They still contain nuggets that may have been lost in the annals of time and thus I feel it’s worth digging through and creating a regular posting of Leaves from ‘My Garden’. Watch this space.
1. My imaginary titles – which sound emminently marketable, if only I could find some content!
2. I liked Beverley Nichols’ article so much that have now ordered his wartime gardening book: ‘Green Grows the City
3. VMH is the Victoria Medal of Honour, awarded to British horticulturists resident in the UK whom the Royal Horticultural Society Council considers deserving of special honour by the Society
4. Journal selling at 1/- or 1 shilling (20 shillings =£1.00) when the average level of incomes was £189.60
History in the Making: To put the book in its historical context , January 1934 saw the establishment in the UK of The National Council for Civil Liberties whilst 10,000 attended Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists rally in Birmingham. Meanwhile Germany and Poland signed a non-aggression pact and Nazi Germany passed the “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring”. Over in the USA, the FDR devalued the dollar in relation to gold at $35 per ounce whilst Babe Ruth signed a contract for $35,000.