Tag Archives: Edwardian Horticulture

Edwardian (Horti)culture 4: The Italian Garden

'At Torre Galli' by John Singer Sargent, 1910 (Royal Academy of Arts)

‘At Torre Galli’ by John Singer Sargent, 1910 (Royal Academy of Arts)

‘The cult of the Italian garden has spread from England to America, and there is a general feeling that, by placing a marble bench here and a sun-dial there, Italian ‘effects’ may be achieved. The results produced, even where much money and thought have been expended, are not altogether satisfactory; and some critics have thence inferred that the Italian garden is, so to speak, untranslatable, that it cannot be adequately rendered in another landscape and another age.
Certain effects, those of which depend on architectural grandeur as well as those due to colouring and age, are no doubt unobtainable; but there is, none the less, much to be learned from the old Italian gardens, and the first is that, if they are to be a real inspiration, they must be copied, not in the letter but in the spirit’ (Edith Wharton, Italian Villas and their Gardens, 1904)

Edwardian (Horti)culture 3: Slinking out with a Spade

'Dorelia McNeill in the Garden at Alderney manor' by Augustus John, 1911 (National Museum, Wales)

‘Dorelia McNeill in the Garden at Alderney manor’ by Augustus John, 1911 (National Museum, Wales)

‘If I could only dig and plant myself! How much easier, besides being so fascinating, to make your own holes exactly where you want them and put in your plants exactly as you choose instead of giving orders that can only be half understood from the moment you depart from the lines laid down by that long piece of string! In the first ecstasy of having a garden all my own, and in my burning impatience to make the waste places blossom like a rose, I did one warm Sunday in last year’s April during the servants’ dinner hour, doubly secure from the gardener by the day and the dinner, slink out with a spade and a rake and feverishly dig a little piece of ground and break it up and sow surreptitious ipomæa and run back very hot and guilty into the house and get into a chair and behind and book and look languid just in time to save my reputation’ (Elizabeth Von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, 1898)

Edwardian (Horti)culture 2: Getting the Right Gloves

'Pink Aquilegia, Yellow Foxgloves, Cow Parsley' by Christiana Herringham (Royal Holloway)

‘Pink Aquilegia, Yellow Foxgloves, Cow Parsley’ by Christiana Herringham (Royal Holloway)

June 2nd. – It must be admitted that one of the great drawbacks to gardening and weeding is the state into which the hands and fingers get. Unfortunately, one’s hands belong not only to oneself, but to the family, who do not scruple to tell the gardening amateur that her appearance is ‘revolting’. Constant washing and always keeping them smooth and soft by a never-failing use of vaseline – or, still better, a mixture of glycerine and starch, kept ready on the washstand to use after washing and before drying the hands – are the best remedies I know. Old dog-skin or old kid gloves are better for weeding than the so-called gardening gloves; and for many purposes the wash-leather housemaid’s glove, sold at any village shop, is invaluable’ (Mrs C. W. Earle, Pot-Pourri From a Surrey Garden, 1897).

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.