Tag Archives: edwardian gardening

Edwardian (Horti)culture 1: How to Begin

'Down the Garden' by Spencer Gore, 1912 (Museum of London)

‘Down the Garden’ by Spencer Gore, 1912 (Museum of London)

‘Many people who love flowers and wish to do some practical gardening are at their wit’s end to know what to do and how to begin. Like a person who is on skates for the first time, they feel that, what with the bright steel runners, and the slippery surface, and the sense of helplessness, there are more ways of tumbling about than of progressing safely in any one direction. And in gardening the beginner must feel this kind of perplexity and helplessness, and indeed there is a great deal to learn, only it is pleasant instead of perilous, and the many tumbles on the way only teach and do not hurt.’ (Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899).

Edwardian (Horti)culture Network: Introduction

Ethel Walker, 'The Garden', c.1899 (Bradford Art Galleries)

Ethel Walker, ‘The Garden’, c.1899 (Bradford Art Galleries)

Starting next Monday and running for a fortnight, the ECN blog will be featuring a series of extracts from the advice manuals, diaries, memoirs, and novels of several Edwardian female horticulturalists. While there had been a lengthy history of amateur female gardeners and botanists, it was not until the very end of the nineteenth century that women were finally admitted to the ranks of professional horticulturalists. In 1891 the Horticultural College, Swanley, began to admit women, becoming a female-only College in 1903; six years later Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) and Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) became the first women to win the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Victoria Medal of Honour.[1]

It was during the Edwardian period that there emerged a distinct tradition of female-authored publications about gardening. According to Deborah Kelloway, ‘before 1895 no important gardening manuals had been written by women’: it took Alicia Amherst’s influential A History of Gardening in England (1895) to pave the way for writers as diverse as Elizabeth Von Arnim (1866-1941), Theresa Earle (1836-1925), and Gertrude Jekyll to set down the trowel and begin describing their knowledge and experiences on paper.[2] Rich and varied in style, preoccupation, and tone, these extracts provide a marvelous glimpse into the professional and private lives of these pioneering Edwardian women.

[1]Donald L. Opitz, ‘“A Triumph of Brains over Brute”: Women and Science at the Horticultural College, Swanley, 1890–1910’, Isis, Vol. 104, No. 1 (March 2013), pp. 30-62; Deborah Kellaway (ed.), The Virago Book of Women Gardeners, London: Virago Press Ltd., 1995, pp. xv.

[2] Kellaway (ed.), Women Gardeners, pp. x-xii.