I used to think that my parent’s generation lived in an era that was unequaled in terms of rapid change. That generation endured the great depression of the 1930s and entered the 2nd World War at a time when the horse & Buggy was still prevalent, along with biplanes and squawky radio (the wireless) and at the end of the war were confronted with radar, jet aircraft and other modern marvels. During the 50s and 60s the pace of change accelerated and before long men were walking on the moon.
But the more I read about the Victorian era the more I became convinced that they lived in an era that was changing with equal speed, revolutionizing society with the marvels of the industrial revolution and that they were distracted by what were then modern inventions on an almost daily basis. I think that they were much like us.
We’ve commented a few times, unflatteringly, on the sense of Victorian taste and I think that the fast changing world around these people contributed to a lessening of standards in taste and style; the word tacky comes to mind and it is one that could fairly be applied to our own generation (think plastic). The same might be said for our children with their electronic gadgets and constantly connected lifestyle. If a fast-paced lifestyle leads to a blindness in style and taste then the future may be in poor taste indeed. At least the Victorians were redeemed, near the end of the era, and, at least within the realm of gardening, by a number of stalwart gardeners who, with due reverence to the past and conscious of the realities of the modern world, set out to reintroduce the subtle allure of natural beauty amidst restraint.
Their efforts are with us still and have been well documented in a book by Miles Hadfield, A History of British Gardening. First published in 1960, the book starts, briefly, with prehistory and then spans the ages from 1529 to 1939 (with an appendix written by Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe and covering 1939 to 1978). Mr. Hadfield has a rare sense of narrative in his telling of this tale combined with a truly astounding depth and breadth of knowledge for horticulture in general and gardening in particular. The book is a joy to read and the wealth of detail that he provides is sufficient to bring the past to life for us here today and to put it into some kind of context.
Here then is a brief contiguous excerpt from the book from the chapter Nature Returns As Science Advances 1883-1939 in two parts, The Robinsonian World and Hardy Plants And Clergymen wherein we again meet our old friend William Robinson as well as other eminent gardeners and designers from the era who had a hand in advancing the cause of garden design and practice that is very much with us today.
Note too that this excerpt is rich in authors and book titles for those who, like myself, are looking for horticultural writing masterpieces. It is lamentable that so many of these titles are unavailable, except in used book stores and clunky PDF file formats. I’m hoping that our present era will be able to provide us with properly formatted electronic copies of these literary gems so that the knowledge and lovely writing that they contain is not lost.
A History of British Gardening
Miles Hadfield (1903–1982)
First published in 1960
Penguin Books (paperback 509 pp, 1985)
NATURE RETURNS AS SCIENCE ADVANCES 1883-1939
THE ROBINSONIAN WORLD
Our last phase – and it is a long one – begins in glory, illuminated by the possible wonders of science, and ends with man appearing to have an hitherto unbelievable control over his plants and their pests and even their environments. As we advance the scene inevitably becomes more blurred, until we lose the focus almost entirely, and can pick out no more than a few of the brightest and darkest spots.
In the year 1883 was published William Robinson’s The English Flower Garden, treating of ‘the design and arrangement shown by existing samples of gardens in Great Britain and Ireland followed by a description of the best plants for the open-air garden and their culture’. The ‘existing gardens’ exemplify the triumph of the ‘natural’ style of gardening evolved by Robinson and his school, which is in general the style that has been maintained – perhaps only under the force of economic circumstances – ever since.
The origins of the Robinsonian manner go back much further than his own time. There are broad hints of them in Biddulph Grange and Wallington Bridge. It would probably be true to say, though it never seems to have been so stated, that Robinson’s aim was to obliterate the Paxtonian era and to pick up the threads again that Loudon let fall when he died in his wife’s arms. Surely it is significant that it was to Loudon that the first volume of Robinson’s earlier important achievement, the weekly journal The Garden, was dedicated?
The few facts – and they are extraordinary – that we seem likely ever to know of Robinson’s early life have been related by Geoffrey Taylor. He was born of humble Protestant parents in Ireland in 1838. By the age of twenty-one he was foreman in the gardens of the Rev. Sir Hunt Henry Johnson-Walsh, Bart., of Ballykilcavan, Stradbally, which position he had gained after entering them as a boy. He was in charge of a considerable range of glass-houses. In the famous severe winter of 1861 for some unexplained reason this bright foreman drew the fires from the houses, opened all the windows, and by the next morning was in Dublin. There he called on David Moore at Glasnevin – who rather surprisingly recommended him for employment under Robert Marnock* in the Royal Botanic Society’s gardens in Regent’s Park. [*Robert Marnock (1800-1889) belonged to the Loudon circle; he was Curator of the Royal Botanic Society’s Garden until 1869. During the 1840s he was in partnership as Marnock & Manley, nurserymen. He laid out a great many residences in the Picturesque manner.] Within two years he was in charge of the herbaceous section of the garden. He was also responsible for a small collection of English wild flowers. Collecting plants for this he came to know English wild flowers and the English countryside, with its cottage gardens, intimately. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that he came to love them passionately. From his observations he gradually conceived a vision of a garden contrived as a part of the natural scene but embellished by the choice and delightful representatives of the flora of other temperate parts of the world – from China to South America.
In his early London days Robinson must have devoted much time to his education. He was elected a member of the Linnean Society through Marnock, and learned to write the excellent and at times very forceful prose that made him nearly the equal of a Loudon. He also learned French so that he might go as a representative of Veitch and The Times to the Paris Exhibition of 1867. So it was that at the age of twenty-nine he left the Botanic Society’s garden and was henceforward a successful man, of increasing influence. Visits to France and an alpine walking tour followed, with the consequent Alpine Flowers for English Gardens (1870), to all intents and purposes the first British book on the subject. In that year Robinson visited, and delighted in, the United States of America, and also produced The Wild Garden, which was from time to time revised; in a late edition he described ‘the idea of the wild garden is placing plants of other countries, as hardy as our hardiest wild flowers, in places where they will flourish without further care or cost’. The title of his illustrations make this clearer: ‘Double Chinese paeonies in grass at Crowsley Park’, ‘Tiger lilies in the wild garden at Great Tew’, ‘Large white clematis on a yew tree at Great Tew’,* ‘A Liane in the North – Aristolochia and Deciduous Cypress’, ‘A beautiful accident – a colony of Myrrhis odorata‘ – and so on. [*Robinson delighted that Great Tew, with its associations with Loudon, should be early in the field with a wild garden.]
In these early years Robinson was working up his campaign against bedding-out, ‘pastry-work gardening’, the subjection of gardeners to ‘decorative artists’, and everything to do with the Crystal Palace. Generally, except in small matters such as plant names and the imagined sins of the authorities at Kew, he was not intolerant. An opponent of terraces and ‘railway embankment’ gardening, he saw the rightness and beauty of steep, falling terraced ground at Powis Castle; scornful of fantastic topiary, he delighted in the neatly cut yews of a Cotswold garden. His watchword was Pope’s: Good Sense.
In 1871 he used his savings to launch The Garden: An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture In All Its Branches. This was never a great financial success, but with frequent colour plates it attracted contributions from a number of highly talented amateurs belonging to the new school.* [*Many of them, it must be admitted, found him a rather trying person.] In 1879 he began Gardening (later, Gardening Illustrated), written for the new suburbians. It was an admirable paper, and very successful.
Robinson was first and foremost a writer – a writer of great imagination, knowledge, skill, and experience. He was also a keen practical gardener, not beyond cultivating those plants he affected to despise. His ideas of wild gardening were opportune. He came at a period when the host of hardy, self-reliant shrubs and plants from Western China were on their way; new gardens for a wealthy suburbia were being made in southern home counties – perfect homes for rhododendrons, magnolias, and so much that was now being introduced. And he arrived just prior to a period when labour costs were to rise and finally extinguish all possibilities of large gardens in the old manner. Nature was most helpful.
The Robinsonian tradition of gardening around the house is so well known that it need scarcely be described: wide, sweeping lawns, shapely beds filled with roses, shrubs, or hardy plants, and flowery creepers covering the walls. Always at the back of his mind was the image of a traditional English cottage garden.
One of his successes was the conversion of Shrubland Park in the 1880s to his style. He never, of course, triumphed finally over his enemies, but his success was, and remains, pretty substantial.
The Garden was a paper covering all aspects of gardening – including greenhouse plants and orchids! – except the ‘pastry-cake’ and ‘fountain-monger’s’ work. It had, however, particular requirements of its contributors. The first essential was a true interest in plants and skill in handling them. The second was a standard of good taste, and usually education.
It is profitless to ask how the Robinsonian garden would have developed if in about 1875 he had not met Miss Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). Miss Jekyll belonged to that class of society which had, for generations,* well earned the title gentlefolk. [*The most eminent of the family, Sir Joseph (1662-1738), a keen amateur of architecture who was concerned with the erection or restoration of thirty-nine houses, was a subscriber to James’s book.] Never wealthy and overpowering, never disappearing into obscurity, the Jekylls had a long tradition in which was embodied intelligence and culture. Brought up in a household where music and to some extent the other arts and sciences (particularly if they involved skilful handicraft) were encouraged, during a childhood spell of by no means unhappy loneliness, Gertrude Jekyll came to know flowers and trees and their qualities with an intimacy that was surprising, as she did the old Surrey craftsmen about her home.
In due time Miss Jekyll decided to become a professional artist, and travelled widely; she knew Ruskin, and in addition to painting became proficient in several crafts – notably that of gilding, which she learned in Italy. Throughout this period her interest in plants never left her. Shortly after meeting Robinson, with whose views, of course, she sympathetically agreed, she laid out a new garden in the then wilds of Surrey for her widowed mother. This work, and the articles that she was now writing for Robinson, brought her a wider reputation. In the 1880s she began to design gardens – the first, it is said, for a factory lad in Rochdale who wanted his plot to include as many varieties of plants as could be contained within its confines.
The style of gardening in which she excelled was well suited to the heathy woodlands of Surrey, with their oaks and birches, and the adjoining counties that she understood so well. Woodland and water, treated ‘naturally’ in the Robinsonian manner, were the principal element in their composition. Her own particular contribution to the garden was her artist’s sense of colour and planting for colour effect. And we should not underrate the critical faculties used in the selection of the best from the overabundance of plants now available; her standards were high, her choice often subtle and quite unswayed by the fashions of the wealthy.
There were, of course, other and earlier influences that brought about the Surrey school, but, not being writers, their names are not so well known. One of the most important was George Fergusson Wilson (1822-1902). A man of great versatility whose occupation in reference books is given delightfully and unusually as ‘inventor’, he was, in fact, a successful Russian merchant, who in 1842 was jointly responsible for a patent that enabled ‘malodorous’ fats to be used for candle-making – the profitable Price’s Patent Candle Company was the outcome. Settling at Heatherbank, Weybridge, he devoted his experimental and inventive powers to gardening. His own account relates that, impressed by the success of his sister with an orchard house built on the Rivers system in about 1855, he made one himself. Before long, although he had to do the pruning by candlelight, he was triumphant at shows. Old Mr. Rivers said it was because the wasps could read the moral of the old Spanish proverbs which Wilson had rather incongruously placed on the beams of his building.
His next venture was with lilies. Disregarding the advice of the experts, he bought cheaply large quantities of Japanese bulbs offered at an auction as ‘damaged by sea-water’. These he planted in cut-down wine-casks, which were put in the orchard house. Several new and rare kinds shortly appeared and flowered among the profusion of lily blooms that resulted. The ingenious Wilson was shortly acknowledged by the experts as the most successful cultivator and exhibitor of lilies in the country.
In 1878 he bought cheaply an estate then known as Oakwood at Wisley, near Ripley in Surrey. Here was agriculturally poor land, with ancient, undisturbed woods on a deep, acid, vegetable soil. Wilson saw this as an ideal habitat for his lilies, for irises, rhododendrons, and other plants. Here he made pools, and planted lavishly. Once again he succeeded; pictorially it was also a delight. When someone told him that it was a fascinating place but no garden, ‘I think of it,’ he said, ‘as a place where plants from all over the world grow wild.’ The influence of Wilson on garden history is profounder than is generally realized, for his Oakwood estate formed the nucleus of the present Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley Gardens.* [*Wilson was closely connected with the Society, of which he was at one time Treasurer.]
Robinson and his disciples were vociferous; the virtues of the natural style of gardening were not only propounded in his own publications but elsewhere, for the Robinsonian school did not lack journalists of a high calibre, several of them avoiding the extreme, and even nonsensical, whims that marred their master’s work.* [*One of the most stupid of these was his intolerance of any systematic international method of plant nomenclature; he was anxious that every plant should be invested with an English name. He had also fanatical dislikes of the authorities at Kew and – not quite so unreasonably – of the half-tone process of reproducing illustrations.]
In 1892, however, a strong challenge was issued by Reginald Blomfield, in The Formal Garden in England. On the title page he described himself as Master of Arts, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and Architect.* [*Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), also author of A History of Renaissance Architecture in England.] Today this book is notable for two reasons – first, perhaps, for the perfect little drawings and reconstructions made by F. Inigo Thomas. The other is the surprising one that it brought the term ‘formal’, relating to gardens,* into the general vocabulary for the first time. [*Joseph Warton in 1740 talks of ‘formality and method’, Horace Walpole uses the word very rarely; subsequently, it seems to have died out until Blomfield revived it.]
Blomfield’s book attempted to separate garden design from horticulture – the design to be by an architect, based on some traditional pattern, the horticulturist being very much an ‘also ran’. It is a fallacious argument, for so often the examples that he cites were designed by men who were gardeners first and architects secondarily. Nor had he (as we now see) adequate knowledge or understanding to conduct the historical enquiry with which so much of the book is concerned. His general thesis, however, that there was plenty of good in the geometrically designed gardens of the past was salutary; particularly was this so when applied to those areas of limestone country in which stone for buildings and walls was still the common material, and where the flora the ground would sustain was very different from that which was at its best on the acid soil of the Surrey school.
Though Blomfield is the best known of Robinson’s opponents, there were other far more thoughtful exponents of formalism. One was John Dando Sedding (1838-1891), whose Garden-craft Old and New was published in the year of his early death. Sedding was by training an architect, a member of the Art Workers’ Guild, and emotionally an artist – his work was admired by so fine a judge as W. R. Lethaby. He had a considerable understanding of plants and gardens – was appreciative of much that Robinson wrote – and his modest thoughtfulness is pleasing and still worth consideration, as a contrast to the Robinson-Blomfield dogmatism.
Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854-1933) was another distinguished formalist.* [*His art was esteemed by Miss Jekyll and was well represented in her book Garden Ornament.] He was a practising architect who was early attracted by old Italian gardens and made them the model of his work. A certain simplicity underlies the fundamentally architectural form of his gardens, normally in the classical style. He delighted in colonnades formed of rather simple, often Ionic, pillars. His gardens were understandingly embellished with well chosen trees, shrubs, and plants and ornamented with statuary and other architectural features. At Easton Lodge, Essex, he successfully reverted to the long out-moded construction of treillage. He designed a number of gardens on the Riviera. In England examples of his work can be seen at Wayford Manor in Somerset, and in Ireland his garden designed for Mr. Bryce on Garinish Island in the Bay of Glengariff has now been acquired by the Commissioners of Public Works.
His own delightful garden at Iford Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, is, however, clearly the most representative example of his work. In 1899 he purchased the small stone manor house lying below woods in the steep valley of the little River Frome and around it evolved a garden of terraces, courtyards, and colonnades, the whole most skilfully merged into its natural surroundings. In it he placed – most aptly – a collection of architectural ornaments, ranging from an eighteenth-century garden house to Greek, Roman, and medieval French sculptures.
Then there was Sir George Sitwell (1860-1943), whose deep – indeed, passionate – study of garden design and ‘of the nature of beauty’ made principally among the old Italian gardens is recorded in An Essay on the Making of Gardens (1909) and displayed at Renishaw in Derbyshire. We have his son’s recollections of the man himself in action, striding round his garden with measuring-stick and binoculars, ever seeking to embody in material form his visions of light and shade; or, erecting Piranesi-like contraptions from whose altitude he might – shaded from the sun by an umbrella, telescope in hand – plot more accurately some projected, but seldom effected, series of water-works in the grand manner.
Yet, by a paradox, the true revival of what we may now call formal gardening was brought about through the Robinsonians. Not far from the Jekylls lived the Lutyens family. Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944), becoming an architect by rather unorthodox means, had very much in common with Gertrude Jekyll, including a deep understanding of traditional craftsmanship and materials – an understanding of the cause and effect that produced a given work, not (as was so common) a knowledge of the finished work only that was achieved by mechanical imitation.
In 1896 Miss Jekyll built her own house, Munstead Wood, and Lutyens was the designer. This partnership was a fruitful one, and Munstead Wood is probably of greater significance in the history of gardening than Stowe or any other of our British precedents. The purely architectural – or geometrical – surrounding of a house as conceived by Lutyens, and embellished by Miss Jekyll, merges into a garden in which she not infrequently takes the greater share.
In his wider schemes Lutyens brought an extraordinary and refreshing virility to the design of fountains and canals, stairways and terraces; the play of fine materials and surfaces one against another and a delight in solid geometry were something that had scarcely existed in garden architecture for generations. Yet Lutyens always glanced backwards and in some degree revived or echoed the past: Miss Jekyll’s own work looked to the future for, in spite of her devotion to the principle of the cottage garden, she was employing new materials and new colours in a new manner well suited to the modest gardenerless gardens that economics were forcing upon the British Isles.* [*In Home and Garden (1900), her most revealing book, devoted largely to Munstead Wood, she refers to it as little more than a cottage; by today’s standards it is a moderate-sized house.] Her style was also welcomed and adopted in the United States of America, though not on the Continent.
Also associated with this movement of moderate formalism round a house in the traditional manner built of traditional materials – or preferably an old house itself – was Nathaniel Lloyd (1867-1933). He was, indeed, a most scholarly student of English buildings and their materials, but the gardener recalls his understanding and practical knowledge of hedges and topiary, well displayed in his Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box (1925). His theories are well exemplified in his own Sussex home, Great Dixter (Plate XXX).
Two women writers also no doubt swayed a wide public towards naturalism.
Juliana Horatia Ewing (1841-1885), daughter of the novelist Mrs. Gatty, opposed all that Paxton represented. She wrote for children, and Mary’s Meadow, begun as a serial in 1883 in Aunt Judy’s Magazine, influenced more than one rising generation.
Mrs. C. M. Earle (1836-1925) was Maria Theresa Villiers, and a much more sophisticated writer. After the death of her husband she published Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden (1896) and More Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden (1899). Both of these admirable books were widely read.
We must return from the subtleties of Miss Jekyll and Lloyd to William Robinson. It seems that he had invested the profits from his gardening journalism very successfully in London property, and in 1884 he bought Gravetye Manor, near East Grinstead in Sussex, an old stone manor house. For the rest of his life he was continually improving its 200 acres of ground and restoring the fabric to its pristine condition – including a return to wood fires (which didn’t burn) from coal (another dislike). Old Robert Marnock planned the garden for him – a return to Loudon – and another great friend, Alfred Parsons,* advised him on the restoration of the building. [*Alfred Parsons (1847-1920) was a talented landscape painter; he illustrated Robinson’s The Wild Garden – his manner touched a little by the more popular style of Corot. His paintings for Ellen Willmott’s The Genus Rosa are delicate and of high standing botanically. Unfortunately, his work when published always suffered from the use of poor methods of reproduction.]
The respective elysiums of Robinson and Miss Jekyll set the pattern of the best in British gardening for many decades. Robinson was typical of one trend in that he acquired a derelict house – Gravetye had at one time become no more than a lodging for harvest labourers – restored it, and developed the existing gardens and grounds around it in what he considered a suitable manner, though certainly not in the same style or period as the house. Miss Jekyll and her kind started from scratch, building a new house, but adapted from the traditional native style, and laying out the ground around it in a manner that was peculiar to the late nineteenth century and onwards.
Robinson’s attempts at making his own home and garden were not nearly so successful as Miss Jekyll’s. Far from leaving nature alone, he moved many tons of earth to make a landscaped entrance. Great numbers of trees were felled, and in other places cedars, Corsican pines, willows, and almonds were planted en masse; for one who talked so freely of ‘nature’ his extravagant attempt to transplant large bushes of gold and silver hollies is surprising (it was a failure). The establishment of large colonies of chionodoxas, dogs-tooth violets, aconites, and daffodils (of the last, 100,000 were planted in 1897) was by no means always successful. His strenuous efforts to naturalize the hardier herbaceous plants in his hedgerows and woods seem to have failed completely.
Ironically enough his greatest successes seem to have been with florists’ flowers – tea roses, outdoor carnations, and violas in the more formal beds, and hybrid water-lilies in his ponds. His own records (not the sumptuously produced Gravetye Manor (1911) based on them) show his severe limitations as well as his successes.
Robinson’s attempts at farming ended in failure; this alone tempts one to compare him with J. C. Loudon, whose career was launched by his success in agriculture. Nor, it seems, in spite of his wealth and acres, was he so successful a cultivator of garden plants as the Loudons, with their 2,000 species thriving in Bayswater. Nor did he leave any enduring monument such as Arboretum. Gravetye itself, on his death, when times had changed, proved an unsalable property.
Robinson was one of the great figures in garden history, but as time passes it seems a little difficult to explain precisely why. As I have said, it is profitless to discuss what form later stages flower gardening would have taken if Miss Jekyll had not call at his office. In 1899 Robinson retired from the editorial chair of The Garden and, jointly with E. T. Cook, she succeeded him. She herself retired in 1902, leaving Cook in charge. The paper ceased in 1927.
A word should be said about the last of the Robinsonian publications, the costly and extravagantly produced Flora and Sylva, which lasted for only three years, from 1903 to 1905. There is much of it that is interesting, but neither its contents nor its lavish production achieved the high quality at which Robinson aimed.
This was particularly so with the many colour plates, mostly by Henry George Moon (1857-1905).* [*The popular tulip ‘Mrs. Moon’ was named after his wife, a daughter of H. F. C. Sander, the orchid-grower.] This painter was long associated with Robinson. Competent and facile, his pleasant work is entirely without any quality of liveliness combined with botanical understanding, those two prerequisites of such colour plates. His work, and the kind of flowers that he painted, have, however, already acquired a rather undistinguished tone recalling their period. It can be said in mitigation that his painting was gayer than the figures of the reliable and industrious G. Worthinton Smith (1835-1917), who from 1875 to 1910 provided a regular flow of drawings for The Gardener’s Chronicle, of monotonous accuracy combined with a peculiar feeling of staleness that was no doubt increased by the now debased mechanics of wood engraving. We must face a fact that Robinson would not: the halftone reproduction of a photograph was fast replacing the work the botanical artist, who became an unessential luxury.
The Gardener’s Chronicle was, in this period, in some ways unduly shadowed by the dominating Robinsonian journalism. Needless to say, it continued as an important periodical, invaluable to the working and scientific gardener, even if it did still present its readers with chromolithographed plans of carpet-bedding long after Robinson believed he had killed that fashion. It was directed principally by a remarkable and learned man, Dr. Maxwell Tylden Masters (1833-1907). He became senior editor, with Thomas Moore as his fellow, in 1865, and from Moore’s death in 1887 to a few weeks before his own in 1907 he was responsible for the highly reliable standard of the paper. Masters was the son of a Canterbury nurseryman noted both for his hybridization of passion-flowers and the foundation of the Canterbury museum. The son was ambitious, and wished to follow a more intellectual career. He qualified as a Doctor of Medicine at Edinburgh. Botanically, he was an authority – and published important works on – teratology (the study of plant abnormalities), the large and chiefly tropical passion-flower family (an interest presumably inherited from his father) and, of much consequence to the horticulturists of the day, a leading expert on conifers. He took a very active part in the working of many gardening organizations, particularly the Royal Horticultural Society, which perpetuated his memory in the important Masters Memorial Lectures.
On 3rd May 1884 first appeared the weekly paper Amateur Gardening. This was directed to the steadily increasing class of owner-gardeners who employed little or no labour. Shirley Hibberd was its first editor, but success did not come until 1887 when he was succeeded by Thomas W. Sanders (1855-1926). Born at Martley in Worcestershire, Sanders was first a builder and then a working gardener. After employment in several large gardens, including a period at Versailles, he entered upon horticultural journalism. His success was great. Not only did he cause Amateur Gardening to flourish, but his name still lives on in Sanders’ Encyclopaedia of Gardening and other sound, practical, and popular books. He was followed on his death by Albert James Macself (1869-1952), who moved into journalism from the nursery trade.
One other periodical, originally associated with the Jekyll-Lutyens school, should be mentioned. In January 1897 the first issue of Country Life appeared. Ever since, it has given much attention to gardening in its aesthetic, practical, and historical aspects. Week by week some notable house or building has been described and well illustrated, as often as not with its surrounding garden. The first of this long and honoured series of articles was devoted to the moated Warwickshire house of Baddesley Clinton. A little later the contributions of H. Avray Tipping (1855-1933), who combined a practical knowledge of gardening and garden design with considerable historical and architectural learning, introduced a new element into the study of old gardens. Sir Lawrence Weaver (1876-1930) was also a contributor, and collaborator with Miss Jekyll.
HARDY PLANTS AND CLERGYMEN
As we have seen, each volume of The Garden – there were two in a year – carried a dedication to a well-known gardener of the past or present. Those written by Robinson reveal his own tastes and throw light on the subject from other than the angle of an obituary. The year 1883, which opens our period, honoured a gardener who had lived on from another era, for the Rev. Henry T. Ellacombe was born in 1790, though he lived until 1885. Yet he was entirely in tune with the best in Robinson’s theories. He was a man of wide education, for he was trained, and showed great promise, as an engineer. He decided, however, that the Church was his vocation. It is in connection with the parish of Bitton that the name of Ellacombe will always be associated, though Henry was vicar only from 1835 to 1850. But in that year he was succeeded by his son, who had already been his curate for two years, and as a gardener followed devotedly in his father’s footsteps.
Henry T. Ellacombe, Robinson could not help boasting, wrote only for The Garden; thanks to him, Bitton, with its collection of hardy plants, trees, and shrubs (notably a collection of rose species) ‘remained unchanged through all the caprices of fashion’ and was quite untouched by the bedding-out craze. Here again we have an instance of Robinson’s desire to return and take up the threads from Loudon.
Henry Nicholson Ellacombe, the son (1822-1916), was at Bitton for sixty-eight years. The vicarage garden lying in a warm and sheltered spot between Bath and Bristol, on a limy soil, had within half an acre probably a greater variety of plants than had ever been grown under similar conditions elsewhere. Ellacombe did not claim to be a botanist, yet he was a valued correspondent of Kew. Twenty plates in The Botanical Magazine were drawn from his plants. His taste was catholic. His love for a common plant such as the snowdrop and all connected with it was, if anything, more deeply felt than his interest in the other, often extremely rare, species and varieties which he so skilfully cultivated. The associations of a plant often meant as much to him as the plant itself; the many subjects upon which he wrote learnedly and gracefully included the flowers, plants, and plant lore to be found in the works of Chaucer, Gower, Shakespeare, and Milton. He would write with equal insight on his garden under snow, or the wild flowers that he saw on a foreign holiday – or even a subject so recondite as plant names from animals. His two small books of essays – In a Gloucestershire Garden (1895) and In My Vicarage Garden and Elsewhere (1902 ) – were early examples in style and manner of a handful of similar books by other authors which are among the best things in gardening literature.* [*Predecessors were Forbes Watson, Flowers and Gardens: Notes on Plant Beauty by a Medical Man (1872); Henry A. Bright, A year in a Lancashire Garden (1879). Successors were Rose Kingsley, Eversley Garden and Others (1907); Sir Herbert Maxwell, Flowers: A Garden Notebook (1923); Sir Arthur Hort, The Unconventional Garden (1928) and Garden Variety (1935); and ‘Jason Hill’ (Dr. F. A. Hampton), The Curious Gardener 1932) and The Contemplative Gardener (1940).] He was, too, a man of most liberal mind – he did much for education in his district, and, aided only by his parishioners, restored Bitton church – and liberal nature: ‘if generosity in the giving of fine plants be the test of a good gardener, then Henry Nicholson Ellacombe was a prince among them’.
Another parson particularly concerned with Robinson, again a man coming from the Loudonian era, was the Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole (1819-1904). He was born at Caunton Manor, near Newark. There he was curate, vicar, and squire. After being Canon of Lincoln he became Dean of Rochester in 1887. In all these places his garden and his encouragement of gardening were famous. His enthusiasm was great, ‘alike in the palace or the bothy, the same genial smile, the same ready wit were manifest’. This cheerfulness and vigour had much to do with bringing the National Rose Society into being – and is exuded by his many writings. Though he was closely concerned with The Garden, and wrote much for it on many subjects, it was as the author of A Book About Roses (1869), which went through many editions, that he was best known. This book appealed even to the non-expert and well exemplified the views he expressed when an ‘octogeranium’ (he seems to have invented this word): ‘I welcome the sentimental, the poetical in our works upon gardens – I even venture to plead for a few glimpses of humour.’ Unlike many subsequent authors, Dean Hole combined these with a profound knowledge.
In 1904 also the rose world lost another ‘genial cleric’, the Rev. R. A. Foster-MeIliar, of Sproughton Rectory, near Ipswich. The Book of the Rose, first issued in 1894, became another standard work.
In 1908 came Roses, Their History, Development and Cultivation by the Rev. J. H. Pemberton (d. 1926), another influential book. Pemberton was one of the few parsons who bred roses with success. He worked with Rosa moschatus: ‘Danae’, ‘Penelope’, ‘Thisbe’, and ‘Moonlight’ are still to be found scenting some gardens, if not those of the multitude.
The modem successful kinds of roses were, in fact, all raised by continental professionals. The Pernet (or Pernetiana) roses were patiently bred by the French raiser Pernet-Ducher of Lyons, who, worked from 1883 to produce deep yellow roses, the first of which was distributed in 1900 – its colour was subsequently incorporated in the Hybrid Teas. The modem Poly-pompon (Polyantha or Floribunda) roses were also bred in Lyons, following the work of Jean Sisley, whose ‘Mignonette’ (1881) is their chief ancestor. The third popular modem group made a sensational appearance in 1924, raised by Svend Poulsen in Denmark.
Roses bring one of the most remarkable of the many famous women gardeners into our story, Miss Ellen Ann Willmott (1860-1934).
Ambitious, proud and beautiful, it is still not possible to write so as to do justice to her complex personality. She was a woman of wealth and of many gardens, by turns munificent and mean. Her skill as a cultivator – and something of her vanity – is witnessed by the great number of plants that have been named after her. She was a capricious and implacable enemy, and a loyal friend.
The friends included that deeply contrasted personality and figure, Miss Jekyll, and men such as Canon Ellacombe; her enemies those who saw her as climbing the ladder of fame through the art of gardening, and failing to acknowledge those who had helped her up the rungs.
At one time she had gardens on the Continent – in Savoie, on the Mediterranean coast – and at Warley Place, Essex. It was the last that was famed for its horticultural and botanical excellencies. She was skilled with a camera, and her fine photographs record the loveliness of the place, notably her masterly grouping and naturalizing of bulbs. After her death – by which time she had become financially affected by the aftermath of the First World War – practically all trace of it was obliterated. Her memorial must therefore be The Genus Rosa, issued in parts between 1910 and 1914, with every species she describes illustrated in colour by Alfred Parsons.* [*The reproduction by chromolithography unfortunately takes most of the life out of Parsons’s drawings. [The original watercolours eventually passed into the hands of the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society in London and in 1987, in collaboration with Graham Stuart Thomas, A Garden of Roses was published using modern reproduction processes of the entire series of paintings, including notes on the roses by Stuart Thomas, as well as an introduction to these roses, and biographical information on Miss Willmott. ed.]] This work shows both her knowledge as a botanist and the wide background of her general culture.
No brief historical discussion of the rose and rosarians should end without some reference to the crude commercialization that has overtaken the flower. ‘Bigger and Brighter’ are too often the contemporary criteria. Nor should we fail to mention that small band of gardeners who continued to see beauty in the roses of past centuries and were not unmoved by their histories and associations. A great debt is owed to Edward Ashdown Bunyard (1878-1939), the son of George Bunyard, who sought out and collected a multitude of old kinds, and classified and discussed them with affection, wit, and learning in Old Garden Roses (1936).
Parsons were closely concerned both with the breeding and the furtherance of the daffodil. After the early successes of Backhouse and Leeds, the enthusiasm and the commercial acumen of Peter Barr was largely instrumental in gathering together those interested in this plant at the first Daffodil Conference in 1884. In that year, too, W. Baylor Hartland (1836-1931),* a nurseryman of Ardcairn, Cork, issued the first catalogue devoted solely to narcissi under the title A Little Book of Daffodils. [*He was also concerned with a revival of the tulip, issuing in 1896 The Original Little Book of Irish-grown Tulips.] His classification was original; he had, for example, the large-crowned or coffee-cup section, and the tea-saucer section. The most expensive in his list was ‘Sir Watkin’ at 3s. 6d.
In the meantime, about 1880, the Rev. George Herbert Engleheart (1851-1936),* then vicar of Chute Forest in Wiltshire, had begun his experiments which transformed the daffodil. [*Engleheart was a good general gardener and wrote on the cultivation of vegetables. He was descended from Dean Herbert; as Herbert’s work encouraged Leeds and Backhouse to begin breeding, his influence on the daffodil was, indeed, potent.]
By 1898 he had six bulbs of his seedling ‘Will Scarlett’, which he exhibited at the Birmingham Show.* [*The first British daffodil show was held at the Botanical Gardens, Birmingham, in April 1893.] John Pope (1848-1918), nurseryman of King’s Norton, great-grandson of the Luke Pope who boasted that he had spent £3,000 on tulips, bought three of them for £100. ‘This was the first instance of so large a sum being paid for a daffodil, but proved so successful a speculation that others were encouraged to try their luck or judgement’. Engleheart retained the other three for breeding. In 1910, when there were many successful breeders obtaining high prices, another eminent gardening parson, famed for his bulbs and apples, the, Rev. Joseph Jacob of Whitewell Rectory, wrote: ‘it must be remembered that their successes have been obtained from flowers that Engleheart gave them to work upon’.
To name the countless breeders who have subsequently succeeded would be impossible, but we must again mention the Backhouse family, of Wolsingham. The son of William Backhouse was Robert Ormston (1854-1940), who came south to Sutton Court, Hereford.* [*The third generation, W. O. Backhouse, still at Sutton Court, carries on the. family tradition.] He and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth (1857-1921), hybridized daffodils, lilies, and colchicums. At the London Daffodil Show of 1920 a small group of Mrs. Backhouse’s daffodils ‘created quite a sensation’. But the climax was reached by her husband, who in 1923 was able to show the first pink-cupped, white-perianthed daffodil, which he named ‘Mrs. R. O. Backhouse’.
Mrs. Backhouse is also remembered by her series of lilies, crosses between forms of the Martagon lily and Lilium hansonii, upon which she started to work in 1890. The cult of the lily was, of course, an old one, though only a few different kinds were grown. During the 1870s many new species were being successfully cultivated, following the example of G. F. Wilson, who wrote of his experiences freely in the Press. Rather later came Henry John Elwes (1846-1922), squire of Colesborne in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds (where he was born and died), with his Monograph of the Genus Lilium* in 1880. [*Supplements have been added subsequently.] This work was on the same grand scale as its author, with forty-eight magnificent coloured lithographs by Fitch.
Elwes began life as a soldier, and achieved an enviable reputation as a big-game hunter, ornithologist, lepidopterist, botanist and gardener, and forester. He travelled the world pursuing these interests: Turkey, Asia Minor, Russia, Siberia, China, Japan, and North America were visited – some more than once. Of even greater consequence than his study of lilies was his study of trees, though this, as it does not include shrubs and deals largely with timber trees, is only on the borderline of our history. With him worked Augustine Henry. The first volume of their joint publication, The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland, appeared in 1906; the seventh and final volume in 1913. As to his skill as gardener and botanist, ninety-eight Botanical Magazine plates from plants he grew at Colesborne bear witness. Nearly all he had cultivated himself. The first to appear, in 1874, was Galanthus elwesii, the delightful snowdrop that braves an English January. It well commemorates a man whose figure and attitude were so often described as ‘burly’, but who was yet so sensitive to the finer shades of natural beauty.
Neither clergy nor dons seem to have entered to the same extent into the history of the sweet pea. Henry Eckford (1823-1905) was born at Liberton near Edinburgh, and had the traditional Scottish training in private gardens. In 1847 he came south to Hugh Low of Clapton on the recommendation of James McNab. In 1854 he became head gardener to the Earl of Radnor at Coles hill, and there made a reputation as a raiser of new verbenas, pelargoniums, and dahlias. His successes resulted in an invitation in 1870 to work for Dr. Sankey, of Sandywell, Gloucester, an enthusiastic raiser of new florists’ flowers. Here Eckford began his slow and painstaking work on improving the sweet pea – at that stage biologically difficult, with the consequence that there were only a handful of varieties available. In 1882 he introduced his first, ‘Bronze Prince’, through Bull of Chelsea.
In 1900 a Bi-Centenary Sweet Pea Exhibition was held to celebrate the raising of the first plants of Lathyrus odoratus by Dr. Uvedale from seed sent him in 1699 by the Sicilian monk Cupani. Of the 264 varieties shown, 115 were raised by Eckford: his name was now ‘as music to the ear of all who love flowers’.
In 1901 the ‘sweet pea world lost its head’ when ‘Countess Spencer’ was exhibited. Silas Cole, gardener to Earl Spencer at Althorp, had been crossing Eckford’s plants and one shell-pink seedling arose with wavy edges to its standard and wings. Robert Sydenham of Birmingham bought all five seeds that it produced and sent them to California to be grown for seed. Unfortunately the seedlings varied greatly, and the wavy edges were often missing. But the waviness had appeared elsewhere. A chance seedling in the nursery of W. J. Unwin at Histon, Cambridgeshire, possessed it in a lesser degree. ‘Gladys Unwin’, as it was called, was inferior in all ways to ‘Countess Spencer’ – but her progeny came with true wavy edge and from them was raised the modern sweet pea.
In 1888 Eckford left Sankey and set up on his own account as nurseryman at Wem, Shropshire.
Dons and parsons were concerned in the first steps of the rise of the old simple flags* to the present glories of the bearded irises. [*The first collection of named tall bearded irises was offered for sale by the French firm Lemon in 1840; later successful continental raisers were Cayeux and Vilmorin.] Sir Michael Foster (1836-1907) was an eminent Professor of Physiology at Cambridge and Secretary of the Royal Society – which career brought him his knighthood. It was on the difficult soil of Cambridge that he grew some 200 species of iris obtained from all over the world, ‘huddled in a little garden’ at Shelford. Foster’s notebooks still exist, covering his studies from 1878 to 1902. He was the first to publish descriptions of a number of species, some of which, such as Iris bucharica, are now not uncommon as garden plants. Lucid drawings accompanied and amplified his notes.
Between 1880 and 1890 he acquired those Eastern species, notably Iris cypriana, I. trojana, I. amas, and I. kashmiriana, which are the basic plants involved in the modern bearded iris. Besides forming his collection, Foster made, between about 1878 and 1901, anything up to 100 crosses a year, recording the results with minute care.
The information he acquired was made available to a number of people, particularly William Rickatson Dykes (1877-1925), who produced an important monograph, The Genus Iris, in 1913. Dykes, who was educated at Oxford and the Sorbonne, became a master at Charterhouse, and the fine plates for his monograph were painted by a colleague there, Frank Harold Round (1877-1958). Dykes also wrote extensively on other subjects, and translated Louis Lorette’s celebrated book on fruit-tree pruning (1925)· His work was ended by his death in a motor accident. In 1920 he had been appointed Secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society, succeeding Wilks.
It was, however, George Yeld (1845-1938) who first successfully used Foster’s new Eastern species in England to inaugurate the modern bearded iris of complex origins, probably in 1896 or 1897.* [*Vilmorin in France did the same more or less concurrently.] His ‘Sir Michael’ and ‘Lord of June’ were long famous.
Yeld was a remarkable character. From Hereford Cathedral School he went as a scholar to Brasenose College, winning the Newdigate Prize in 1866. On taking his degree he became a master at St. Peter’s, York, where he stayed for no less than fifty-two years. It has been said that this remote northerly situation delayed recognition of his work as a breeder of irises and his other favourites, day-lilies (Hemerocallis). He was a traveller and mountaineer in Wales, Skye, the Alps, and the Caucasus. On his retirement he moved south to Gerrards Cross. He was first president of the Iris Society,* founded in 1924. [*Since 1952 the British Iris Society.] From 1907 onwards many fine varieties that he raised became available. Foster’s own hybrids, apparently a little later in origin, came on the market after his death, between 1909 and 1913; several of his plants are direct ancestors of the later (particularly American) kinds.
One cannot describe the systematic and highly scientific development of iris breeding that followed except to remark that the sensational ‘Dominion’, put on the market in 1917 by Bliss* at the then astounding price of 7 guineas, was a chance seedling which appeared among a whole series of undistinguished plants – unobserved by the raiser himself but picked out by his little niece! [*Arthur John Bliss (1860-1931) was a surveyor and mining engineer, who, on retirement spent some thirty years at Tavistock devoted to breeding narcissi, gladioli, and irises on scientific lines.]
Dykes himself eventually transferred his allegiance from species to breeding, and produced some good kinds, particularly those with yellow flowers: in this he was helped by his wife,* who admitted that some of the best had come from chance self-set pods. [*Mrs. Dykes, ‘a handsome and gifted lady’, continued her husband’s work most successfully at Bobbingcourt, Woking, where Dykes moved when he left Charterhouse. She illustrated with coloured drawings his studies of tulips. In 1933 she was killed in a railway accident returning from Chelsea Show.]
The dianthus in its various forms has continued to receive great devotion and attention during our present period. We read of William Robinson forming in 1886 a large collection of hardy border carnations at Gravetye. These he had from France, and by 1887 he had planted out 2,000 of them.
The florists’ greenhouse carnations were developed internationally, while the hardy perpetual-flowering border was introduced in 1913. In 1910 Montagu Allwood (1880-1958) of Wivelsfield, Sussex, began his attempts to cross the perpetual-flowering carnation with the old hardy white, fringed pink, Dianthus plumarius. After nine years he established the very hardy and successful ‘Allwoodii’ range of pinks, which he continued to develop.
The modern herbaceous paeony, as can be seen from many of its names, has its origins on the Continent. But the Kelway family had a hand in it too, and raised many good kinds. James Kelway the second (1871-1952) was particularly associated with these; he was grandson of the original James. Kelways, too, were the first to develop the small ‘Primulinus’ gladiolus hybrids. They first received G. primulinus in 1904 from the Victoria Falls of the Zambezi, when William, son of the first James (who died aged ninety-four in 1933), was proprietor of the firm.
The delphinium, latterly with a good deal of help from the United States of America (as with the bearded iris), owes much of its improvement to the firm of Blackmore & Langdon of Bath, founded in 1900.
But of all the flowers that have been completely transformed in the first part of the twentieth century the most remarkable, next to the bearded iris, is the Michaelmas daisy. William Robinson had an abiding passion for the starworts, as he called them, and at Gravetye collected and grew in great numbers all the kinds he could get – mostly species – in all, about a dozen kinds with a few varieties. Few of them would today earn their space in a garden. As a young man Ernest Ballard (1870-1952), working in a garden lying under the Malvern Hills, tackled the genus. In 1907 his ‘Beauty of Colwall’ received a high award at a Royal Horticultural Society show. Thenceforward, until his death, a whole new range of variations on the theme of Aster was evolved, hardy and reliable, bringing an enriched colour scheme of lilacs, pinks, crimsons, purples, and white. None of his seedlings departed incongruously from the innate nature of the plant. Together with a few other raisers he has altered the aspect of the garden in autumn.
A nurseryman – one we must take as representative of a class – who left his imprint on the British garden was Amos Perry (1871-1953). He was the son of another Amos Perry,* a partner in the Tottenham nursery firm of Ware. [*Amos Perry the younger named plants in his father’s, not his own, honour!] Here he was apprenticed, and later took charge of the bulb department. In 1899 he began on his own at Winchmore Hill, to be joined by his father, and specialized in hardy plants. He travelled extensively, visiting gardens in Britain and on the Continent to find better forms of well-known plants, or little-known plants which his skilled eye realized would be valued additions to the garden flora. By 1930 he had already gained something near a hundred high awards from the Royal Horticultural Society for plants which he had introduced or bred. Between 1900 and the early 1930s he raised some of the finest of the bearded irises, as well as a number of remarkable hybrids between Californian and Chinese sibirica species (he grew many iris species, and was concerned with the marketing of Sir Michael Foster’s irises). He was also responsible for the introduction of improved forms of Iris sibirica. His name is also closely linked with the improvement, by hybridization or introduction of new forms, of the oriental poppy, bergamot, lilies, trillium, and latterly day-lilies (Hemerocallis). He and his firm specialized in water gardens of every conceivable kind and size, from lakes to bowls in the room, and aquaria. The manual he issued in the 1930s, Water, Bog and Moisture Loving Plants, remains the best compact book on the subject. He was described as a little man of such energy and enthusiasm that on retirement from business he continued his plant-breeding.
We must return to parsons. Canon Horace Rollo Meyer (1868-1953), with his faithful gardener Izzard (who was with him for half a century), raised a whole series of distinguished daffodils and bearded irises, noted for their quality of refinement and feeling of style, which received the highest awards. Meyer a deserves mention as the founder of the Gardens Guild movement. He came down from Cambridge at the same time as his great friend Noël Buxton. Both went to London, Meyer to take Orders and Buxton to join his family brewery. Meyer was shocked at the gloom and slum-like conditions around the brewery, which was in South London. He succeeded in persuading his friend to provide window-boxes. From this grew the London Gardens Guild which, in 1927, developed into the National Gardens Guild. Lord Noël Buxton (as he now was) became first president.
As a contrast to these men of versatility (Ernest Ballard, for example, was responsible for several distinguished hybrids other than Michaelmas daisies – Dianthus and Hepatica are both linked with his name) the devotion to the lupin of George Russell (1857-1951) should be mentioned. A Yorkshire working gardener, he began experimenting with lupins in 1911, apparently sowing seeds of many species and kinds. Following his own system of selection he had by the 1920s achieved astonishing results. Not till June 1937 did the new strain come before the public when his flowers provided a sensational display at a Royal Horticultural Society’s show. Baker’s Nurseries, of Wolverhampton, had in 1935 secured both his plants and his services. Grown in masses on their trial ground at Boningale alongside the Holyhead Road, the Russell lupins attracted thousands of visitors when in bloom.
Our last great modern gardener must be Edward August Bowles (1865-1954). He might well have been a parson, but was prevented by family circumstances from entering (as he deeply wished) into Holy Orders. Once again we have the traditional English gentleman of culture and intelligence, this time fortified by a Huguenot ancestry, resulting in a singular and simple moral sense. We have, too, the typical old family house and grounds – Myddleton House, Enfield – with its ageing trees, quarry turned into pond, and frontage to the New River which, completed by Sir Hugh Myddleton in the first years of the seventeenth century, brought water to London.
Bowles’s father was, in fact, the last Governor of the New River Company, and on his Board was Canon Ellacombe – who inevitably tried and soon succeeded in interesting the son in gardening. After family bereavements had made it necessary that Bowles should stay at home rather than enter the Church, he devoted himself to social work, painting, and natural history, particularly entomology. But in the end it was by his garden, horticultural writing, painting, and his long and prominent association with the Royal Horticultural Society (he was first elected to its Council in 1908), that he became known. He converted the rather gloomy Victorian Myddleton House garden into something quite different. By 1895, only five years after he had taken charge, it was receiving favourable notice both on account of its layout and the choice plants it contained. Many he himself brought from the Continent and North Africa, where he travelled widely – not infrequently to avoid hay fever-and with such companions as Reginald Farrer.
During the sombre years 1914 and 1915 appeared his first three books, My Garden in Spring, My Garden in Summer, and My Garden in Winter. His aim, briefly, was to show how much pleasure could be had from a garden planted with immense diversity, so that on each day of the year there was to be observed something of interest. Years later he wrote that within his overcrowded 5 acres he had experimented with most plants which appear in lists marked ‘new’ or ‘rare’, losing many but never giving up until he had tried each of them three times in different positions. He was deeply anxious to transmit his enjoyment to any ‘who love a plant for its own sake’ and, one may add, for its associations – botanical, literary, historical, or even comic. Surely no other trilogy of gardening books combine so much practical sense, wide learning, and relevant anecdote.
One may gather where his interests lay. First, perhaps, in the rock garden that he made – conventional by no standards – and over which his ashes were in the end scattered. Next came his crocuses; then daffodils, hardy cyclamen, anemones, snowdrops, and his iris beds by the New River. He had a love of curious and monstrous forms of plants, his ‘lunatic asylum’ in which grew the oak-leaved laburnum, a hazel with branches like cork-screws, the green-flowered strawberry (‘a botanical dodo’), the rose plantain and many other oddities.
All his qualities, including his ability as a botanical draughtsman, were brought to the Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum (1924) and Handbook of Narcissus (1934). The book on the crocus is of singular excellence, the only successor to George Maw’s Monograph of the Genus Crocus (1886).* [*George Maw (1832-1912), of BenthaIl Hall, Broseley, Shropshire, was, until his health broke down in little more than middle age, a man of uncanny brilliance. The plates he made for his crocus book are exquisite – yet he was a successful industrialist. He was a traveller and plant-collector, and distinguished as both chemist and geologist.]
Bowles also wrote on his other favourites, and whatever he produced was as useful to the beginner as to the learned botanist. In his later years his eyesight steadily failed, but he was the fortunate possessor of an acute sense of smell (he wrote on fragrance in the garden) and of touch. Nearly ninety years of life wore out his body, but not his mind: he presided over Royal Horticultural Committees until a few weeks before his death. His garden passed to the University of London. Presumably the passer-by will for long be able to see the giant ‘blueburnum’ (a wistaria) which covers his boundary wall.
Bowles was a link between the lively figures of the late Victorian age and the world that followed what he called ‘Hitler’s war’. Great abilities which might have brought him fame in a more prominent sphere were devoted to gardening. Of scientific turn of mind, he yet used a horse-drawn brougham until 1929. For long, in both winter and summer, he wore an old straw hat. We can aptly close this section with a glimpse of him, past his eightieth year, wading about the pond in a bathing dress to supervise the thinning of his water-lilies.
Nor should one omit to mention Arthur Tysilo Johnson (1873-1956). After some experience as schoolmaster and market gardener he began writing about the garden he made at Tyn-y-groes near Conway. Bulkeley Mill, as it was called, was a combination of rock garden and woodland garden in the Robinsonian manner, though later a fine collection of old roses was added. Johnson had a wide first-hand knowledge of plants – mostly species – and their cultivation. He was also a talented photographer, his pictures showing his plants as they grew. He was gardening correspondent to several periodicals and a regular contributor to the horticultural Press. Three of his books belong to our period: A Garden in Wales (1927), A Woodland Garden (1937), and The Garden Today (1938).
Little enough has been said about the greenhouse during this later period. That is because the years of the late nineteenth an early twentieth centuries were so largely devoted to the development of hardy plants. Correspondingly, and particularly after the war of 1914-18, economic circumstances discouraged interest in the stove-heated greenhouse and conservatory. Against this the small, cheap, and practically unheated greenhouse became popular – particularly with the working man with his devotion to the chrysanthemum, so extensively developed by a number of nurserymen.
The tender cyclamen and begonias, too, received a good deal of favour. Cyclamen, coleus, and the winter-flowering azaleas were raised in steadily increasing quantities for the florists’ trade in pot plants; but, except in a few public parks and botanical gardens, the grand conservatories and greenhouses of the Paxtonian era decayed and at last collapsed.