I came across another fabulous book by Gertrude Jekyll, Some English Gardens, in a large format, roughly 11 x 12 inches – here published by Studio Editions, 1995, as Classic English Gardens (hardcover, 184 pp) with an introduction by Sally Festing (who has also written a biography of Gertrude Jekyll). It’s a record of 34 gardens of the time of Miss Jekyll accompanied by reproductions of contemporary watercolours of each garden by George S. Elgood. My text, below, from the original 1904 publication, is from archive.org where it can be downloaded in a number of e-book formats.
This is an excellent site for downloading many of these old books that can be read on today’s e-readers – hopefully this new technology will help to preserve, and again make popular, many long forgotten literary works that deserve to be read. If you don’t have an e-book reader you can download software that will allow you to read them on a computer instead. The e-versions tend to have typographical errors originating from the scans so a little imagination (or guessing) is in order to read them. The only solution to that problem would involve an army of proofreaders to compare the scans to the originals and reformat the lot – I don’t know where the money would come from to achieve that but it would certainly be money well spent – are you listening Google? I suspect the problem is that many of these titles are out of copyright and where there’s no money there is no appetite.
The excerpt below is a bit of a diversion from the gardens in the book and dwells on autumn flowers while the watercolour scan, Phlox and Daisy, from Classic English Gardens, is painted from Elgood’s garden. The picture, The_Terrace_Brockenhurst, above, is from the George Samuel Elgood link.
SOME ENGLISH GARDENS
AFTER DRAWINGS BY GEORGE S. ELGOOD, R.I. WITH NOTES BY GERTRUDE JEKYLL
LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.
39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
NEW YORK AND BOMBAY 1904
The publication of this collection of reproductions of water-colour drawings would have been impossible without the willing co-operation of the owners of the originals. Special acknowledgment is therefore due to them for their kindness and courtesy, both in consenting to such reproduction and in sparing the pictures from their walls. On pages xi. and xii. is given a full list of the pictures, together with the names of the owners to whom we are so greatly indebted.
We have also had the valuable assistance of Mr. Marcus B. Huish, of The Fine Art Society, who has taken the greatest interest in the work from its inception.
G. S. E.
How stout and strong and full of well-being they are – the autumn flowers of our English gardens! Hollyhocks, Tritomas, Sunflowers, Phloxes, among many others, and lastly, Michaelmas Daisies. The flowers of the early year are lowly things, though none the less lovable; Primroses, Double Daisies, Anemones, small Irises, and all the beautiful host of small Squill and Snow-Glory and little early Daffodils, Then come the taller Daffodils and Wallflowers, Tulips, and the old garden Peonies and the lovely Tree Peonies. Then the true early summer flowers.
If you notice, as the seasons progress, the average of the flowering plants advances in stature. By June this average has risen again, with the Sea Hollies and Flag Irises, the Chinese Peonies and the earlier Roses. And now there are some quite tall things. Mulleins seven and eight feet high, some of them from last year’s seed, but the greater number from the seed-shedding of the year before; the great white-leaved Mullein
(Verbascum olympicum), taking four years to come to flowering strength. But what a flower it is, when it is at last thrown up! What a glorious candelabrum of branching bloom! Perhaps there is no other hardy plant whose bulk of bloom on a single stem fills so large a space. And what a grand effect it has when it is rightly planted; when its great sulphur spire shows, half or wholly shaded, against the dusk of a wood edge or in some sheltered bay, where garden is insensibly melting into woodland. This is the place for these grand plants (for their flowers flag in hot sunshine), in company with white Foxglove and the tall yellow Evening Primrose, another tender bloom that is shy of sunlight. Four o’clock of a June morning is the time to see these fine things at their best, when the birds are waking up, and but for them the world is still, and the Cluster-Roses are opening their buds. No one can know the whole beauty of a Cluster-Rose who has not seen it when the summer day is quite young; when the buds of such a rose as the Garland have just burst open and the sun has not yet bleached their wonderful tints of shell-pink and tenderest shell-yellow into their only a little less beautiful colouring of full midday.
By July there are still more of our tall garden flowers; the stately Delphiniums, seven, eight, and nine feet high; tall white Lilies; the tall yellow Meadow-Rues, Hollyhocks, and Sweet Peas in plenty.
By August we are in autumn; and it is the month of the tall Phloxes. There are some who dislike the sweet, faint and yet strong scent of these flowers; to me it is one of the delights of the flower year.
No garden flower has been more improved of late years; a whole new range of excellent and brilliant colouring has been developed. I can remember when the only Phloxes were a white and a poor Lilac; the individual flowers were small and starry and set rather widely apart. They were straggly-looking things, though always with the welcome sweet scent. Nowadays we all know the beauty of these fine flowers; the large size of the massive heads and of the individual blooms; the pure whites, the good Lilacs and Pinks, and that most desirable range of salmon-rose colourings, of which one of the first that made a lively stir in the world of horticulture was the one called Lothair. In its own colouring of tender salmon-rose it is still one of the best. Careful seed-saving among the brighter flowers of this colouring led to the tints tending towards scarlet, among which Etna was a distinct advance, to be followed, a year or two later, by the all-conquering Coquelicot. Some florists have also pushed this docile flower into a range of colouring which is highly distasteful to the trained colour-eye of the educated amateur; a series of rank purples and virulent magentas; but these can be avoided. What is now most wanted, and seems to be coming, is a range of tender, rather light Pinks, that shall have no trace of the rank quality that seems so unwilling to leave the Phloxes of this colouring.
Garden Phloxes were originally hybrids of two or three North American species; for garden purposes they are divided into two groups, the earlier, blooming in July, much shorter in stature and more bushy, being known as the suffruticosa group, the later, taller kinds being classed as the decussata. They are a little shy of direct sunlight, though they can bear it in strong soils where the roots are always cool. They like plenty of food and moisture; in poor, dry, sandy soils they fail absolutely, and even if watered and carefully watched, look miserable objects.
But where Phloxes do well, and this is in most good garden ground, they are the glory of the August flower-border.
In the teaching and practice of good gardening the fact can never be too persistently urged nor too trustfully accepted, that the best effects are accomplished by the simplest means. The garden artist or artist gardener is for ever searching for these simple pictures; generally the happy combination of some two kinds of flowers that bloom at the same time, and that make either kindly harmonies or becoming contrasts.
In trying to work out beautiful garden effects, besides those purposely arranged, it sometimes happens that some little accident – such as the dropping of a seed, that has grown and bloomed where it was not sown – may suggest some delightful combination unexpected and unthought of. At another time some small spot of colour may be observed that will give the idea of the use of this colour in some larger treatment.
It is just this self-education that is needed for the higher and more thoughtful gardening, whose outcome is the simply conceived and beautiful pictures, whether they are pictures painted with the brush on paper or canvas, or with living plants in the open ground. In both cases it needs alike the training of the eye to observe, of the brain to note, and of the hand to work out the interpretation.
The garden artist – by which is to be understood the true lover of good flowers, who has taken the trouble to learn their ways and wants and moods, and to know it all so surely that he can plant with the assured belief that the plants he sets will do as he intends, just as the painter can compel and command the colours on his palette – plants with an unerring hand and awaits the sure result.
When one says “the simplest means”, it does not always mean the easiest. Many people begin their gardening by thinking that the making and maintaining of a handsome and well-filled flower-border is quite an easy matter. In fact, it is one of the most difficult problems in the whole range of horticultural practice – wild gardening perhaps excepted. To achieve anything beyond the ordinary commonplace mixture, that is without plan or forethought, and that glares with the usual faults of bad colour-combinations and yawning, empty gaps, needs years of observation and a considerable knowledge of plants and their ways as individuals.
For border plants to be at their best must receive special consideration as to their many and different wants. We have to remember that they are gathered together in our gardens from all the temperate regions of the world, and from every kind of soil and situation. From the sub-arctic regions of Siberia to the very edges of the Sahara; from the cool and ever-moist flanks of the Alps to the sun-dried coasts of the Mediterranean; from the Cape, from the great mountain ranges of India; from the cool and temperate Northern States of America – the home of the species from which our garden Phloxes are derived; from the sultry slopes of Chile and Peru, where the Alstromerias thrust their roots deep down into the earth searching for the precious moisture.
So it is that as our garden flowers come to us from many climes and many soils, we have to bear in mind the nature of their places of origin the better to be prepared to give them suitable treatment. We have to know, for instance, which are the few plants that will endure drought and a poor, hot soil; for the greater number abhor it; and yet such places occur in some gardens and have to be provided with what is suitable. Then we have to know which are those that will only come to their best in a rich loam, and that the Phloxes are among these, and the Roses; and which are the plants and shrubs that must have lime, or at least must have it if they are to do their very best. Such are the Clematises and many of the lovely little alpines; while to some other plants, many of the alpines that grow on the granite, and nearly all the Rhododendrons, lime is absolute poison; for, entering the system and being drawn up into the circulation, it clogs and bursts their tiny veins; the leaves turn yellow, the plant dies, or only survives in a miserably crippled state.
An experienced gardener, if he were blindfolded, and his eyes uncovered in an unknown garden whose growths left no soil visible, could tell its nature by merely seeing the plants and observing their relative well-being, just as, passing by rail or road through an unfamiliar district, he would know by the identity and growth of the wild plants and trees what was the nature of the soil beneath them.
The picture, then, showing autumn Phloxes grandly grown, tells of good gardening and of a strong, rich loamy soil. This is also proved by the height of the Daisies (Chrysanthemum maximum). But the lesson the picture so pleasantly teaches is above all to know the merit of one simple thing well done. Two charming little stone figures of amorini stand up on their plinths among the flowers; the boy figure holds a bird’s nest, his girl companion a shell. They are of a pattern not unfrequent in English gardens, and delightfully in sympathy with our truest home flowers. The quiet background of evergreen hedge admirably suits both figures and flowers.
It is all quite simple – just exactly right. Daisies – always the children’s flowers, and, with them, another of wide-eyed innocence, of dainty scent, of tender colouring. Quite simple and just right; but then – it is in the artist’s own garden.