Chelsea Week

Front 3D cover of The Book of Garden Management by Anonymous… and it will be fascinating to see how the designers and growers will cope with the UK weather conditions over the last three months. Their skill in holding plants back and/or bringing them on will have been tested by the heatwave in March, followed by the downpours which have succeeded, ever since (cause and effect, no doubt) I invested in a nice little pump for draining off ‘grey’ water into the water-butts, and which is still in its packaging seven weeks later, as the butts overflow.

I see from the Chelsea programme that Plant Heritage, the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, has a stall conveniently next to that of Broadleigh Gardens (that wonderful purveyor of bulbs, apparently retiring from Chelsea after forty years and almost as many gold medals – please don’t go! I know I can buy from your catalogue, but it won’t be the same!).

Anyway, Plant Heritage is featuring the House of Veitch, and the Veitch family’s contribution to British gardening. The lucky stand-minders are hereby given notice of a Mad Old Bat who will descend on Wednesday, flourishing flyers about that book and many more besides. (I’d take the book itself, only it’s a bit heavy to carry around all day.)

The amazing number of plants introduced and/or popularised by the Veitch nurseries and their plant collectors is emphasised by another brick of a volume, The Book of Garden Management. The version we have reissued was published in 1871, and was almost certainly compiled (though not necessarily written) by Samuel Orchart Beeton (1831–77), the entrepreneurial publisher of useful books and periodicals for the aspiring middle classes, of which the most famous and long-lasting is undoubtedly the Book of Household Management, originally published in parts and under the name of his wife Isabella.

Beeton’s Book of Garden Management and Rural Economy was (like Household Management) published in parts from 1859, and in book form in 1861. The 1871 version has no name on the title page, and the identity of the apparent author of the preface and of several sections of the text – ‘H.P.D.’ – is not made clear. However, a hefty clue is given by the header to the many double-page engravings of specimen plants: ‘Beeton’s Garden Management’. The work, according to the preface, ‘has been so long before the public’ that its ‘merits, and its defects also, are well known’. But in this edition, ‘the illustrations have been greatly improved and increased’; it is especially hoped that the colour plates, ‘which were executed in Paris at great expense, will add much to the interest and value of the work’ and ‘serve to make the reader acquainted with many of those choice floral beauties which the skill and perseverance of our great horticultural firms have recently introduced’. (The colour plates can, as always, be downloaded from the catalogue page.)

The book consists of over 800 pages in a very small typeface, and the information contained in it is comprehensive – as the subtitle has it, it comprises ‘Information on Laying-Out and Planting Gardens. Fruit, Flower and Kitchen Garden Management. Building, Arranging, and Management of Greenhouses, and Other Garden Structures. Window Gardening. Spade Husbandry and Allotment Cultivation. Monthly Operations in Each Department. Orchard Cultivation, and Management of Orchard-Houses. Mixed Flower and Kitchen Gardens.’

Starting with an essay on the history of gardens and a useful chapter on the geology of soils, the book moves on to the practical, with a section which could be entitled ‘First Buy Your Plot’: considerations on size, aspect, natural advantages, and ameliorative works such as draining and landscaping. The ‘monthly tasks’ chapters are interspersed throughout the book, and the double-page engravings are likewise scattered. The first is (confusingly) ‘no. 62’, Hippeastum pardinum: ‘The plant we here illustrate we owe to Messrs Veitch and Sons; it was introduced through their late collector, Mr Pearce, who obtained it in Peru.’ Other Veitch specimens among the plates include Clematis ‘John Gould Veitch’, Coleus Veitchii and Begonia Veitchii –  ‘Dr Hooker thinks it the finest of the whole family’.  In all, more than twenty of the engravings show Veitch introductions, many of them collected by Richard Pearce (1835–68) in South America. The runner-up in terms of numbers is E.G. Henderson’s nursery at Maida Vale, which Dr Brent Elliott (of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library) mentions in an interesting article on the rise of influence of nursery catalogues – one wonders how many of the plant descriptions in the book are lifted from such catalogues.

Veitch also figures frequently in the captions to the colour plates, along with other nurserymen and breeders, many long gone.  But the firm of Mr Kelway of Langport, Somerset, whose Gladiolus ‘Julia’ appears on Plate IX, continues to thrive as an iris and peony specialist, and will be at Chelsea this week. Next to ‘Julia’ in the plate is Petunia ‘Jubilee’, of which our author remarks, ‘Seedling Petunias, both single and double, increase upon us every year’ – tell me about it! I have just had a quick google of ‘Jubilee’, but sadly this pretty white single with red veining doesn’t seem to be still with us – thought there are massive offerings of ‘jubilee collections’ in red, white and blue.

So, with the UK weather forecast to improve through the week, it’s off to celebrate (among much else) the memory of the great Sir Joseph Banks and his fellow founders (in 1804) of the Horticultural Society of London, from which the R.H.S. and all its works descend.


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