Friday, April 23, 2010

The Gardener's Season - It's Spring!

My thoughts have turned to gardening once again, as we experience an early flush of spring heat here on the Canadian prairies. My perennials are hesitantly poking their leaves above earth, and the trees are beginning to bud. In Great Britain things will be considerably greener; the island is several climate zones warmer than my home although it is on the same latitude.

Gardening in England has always been a rewarding activity. We have all heard of Repton and Nash and their predecessors Capability Brown and William Kent. They worked with head gardeners and teams of under-gardeners to carry out the horticultural dreams of the nobility and aristocracy in grand style.

But what of the gardens of the gentlefolk? The people like the Austens at Steventon Rectory, the Bennets of Pride and Prejudice, the Austen ladies at Chawton, and the Dashwood ladies of Barton Cottage. Their gardens would be smaller in scale, of necessity filled with vegetables, and for pleasure infused with flowers. They would rely on jobbing gardeners, or a carefully-tutored odd jobs' man to undertake or help with the work. Homeowners needed information and instruction on how to keep their gardens productive and attractive.

Books such as Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipt Book by Elizabeth Hammond include a practical section on 'The Kitchen Garden' which lists the tasks required in each month. I can see Mrs. Austen or Elinor Dashwood perusing it with interest:

April "Plant French beans, cuttings of sage, and other aromatic plants; sow marrow-fat peas, and more beans for a succession; some thyme, sweet marjoram, and savory. Prepare dung for making ridges to receive cucumber or melon-plants, designed for hand-glasses. Sow small-salading weekly; and also some cos and Silesia lettuces. Weed the growing crops, hoe between the beans and peas, cabbages, cauliflower plants, etc. At night, cover your cucumbers and melons with hand-glasses."

But it is The Gardener’s Pocket Journal, and Daily Assistant in the modern practice of English Gardening by John Abercrombie--published in its 11th edition in 1808--which provided everything one might need to know. Month by month, almost day by day, it lists tasks which must be done in the kitchen garden, the flower gardens, the green-house, the hot-house, the orchard, and the nursery (trees and shrubs).

For example, in November Mr. Abercrombie suggests: "Remove pots of plants and seeds to a warm situation in the sun, or plunge them also into the ground, in a somewhat raised dry light soil, to preserve the roots better from frost; or the more tender or curious place in a frame or glass case, etc."

In June, he says: "Weeds rising numerously at this season, should be diligently destroyed, in all parts between rows of young trees and shrubs, etc. and among all young plants in seed-beds."

At its end the book catalogues every species of tree, hedge shrub, fruit bush and tree, which may be grown in Britain, in what the author calls 'A General Register'. There is a list of kitchen garden plants, and also a 'register' of flowers--annuals both hardy and tender, biennials, perennials and bulbs. Most of the annuals I recognize--some of them I grow--but what, I wonder, is Alkekengi? Ketmis? Venus's looking-glass? Likewise there are many familiar names among the perennials, but what was Collonsonia? Fraxinella? London pride? Last year in my gardening blog post, I opined that I did not know what flowers grew in the cottage garden. Now I have a complete list!

The Pocket Journal also gives instruction for tasks in the green-house and the hot-house. I was not fully aware of the differences between those two shelters until I read about them in this book. It was a fund of information two hundred years ago, and it is a delight for gardeners today.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Do you enjoy gardening? How does your garden grow this year?

Next week we will be joined by Regency author, Susanne Marie Knight, and she will be talking about Gentlemen's Clubs. Please visit again then and enjoy her informative research!

Award-winning author Susanne Marie Knight specializes in Romance Writing with a Twist! She is multi-published with books, short stories, and articles in such diverse genres as science fiction, Regency, mystery, paranormal, suspense, time-travel, fantasy, and contemporary romance.

'Til next time,


P. S. The Gardener's Pocket Journal is available for download from Google Books!

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