A History of Gardening in 50 Objects by George Drower

As regular readers of our blog will have come to realise, of the three of us I am the one with the most inquiring mind, the fact finder, the researcher. So my holiday reading on our recent break to the Hebrides was a copy of the recently published ‘A History of Gardening in 50 Objects’ by George Drower.

Don’t be put off by the word ‘Objects’. It’s original title was ‘Gardeners, Games and Grubs: The Stories of Garden Innovations and Inventions’ and although this is clearly more cumbersome it does convey the sense that the subjects of each chapter are often not traditional objects, but can be magazines, classification systems or movements such as the Soil Association, each beautifully illustrated using heritage images.

Illustration for the section on the instigation of allotments

In general, gardening history books tend to tread a similar path through gardening styles (the potager, the knot garden, the designed landscapes….) and the famous personalities, (Capability Brown, Gertrude Jekyll, Sackville-West….) so what I liked about this book was hearing about the unsung heroes; the  military Marquis who invented secateurs (which were initially marketed as women’s gardening accoutrements and shunned by male gardeners), the amazing skulduggery surrounding the rise and fall in popularity of the game of croquet, the impact of a modest book,  ‘Gardening for Ladies’  published in 1840, on women by allowing them for the first time to prove themselves as horticulturally capable as men.

Close inspection of this early rose reveals it has be pruned by a new tool of the trade: secateurs

We get to hear of the private lives, the passions, the foibles and the fortunes of the men and women who doggedly pursued their beliefs, and in so doing moved the development of horticulture into the many facets we enjoy today.

The illustrations throughout are as beautiful as they are fascinating and it is fun to study them to pick out the sometimes hidden references to the chapter topic.

A wren perches on a bed of spaghum moss illustrating a chapter on its usefulness as wound dressings during WW1

By a strange irony, the final chapter charts the development of Fison’s Gro-Bags, our own blog’s namesake, and it would nice to think that garden blogging might itself be one day recognised as a significant movement in the history of gardening.

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