Category Archives: Georgian Gardens

Children and Gardens

Shepherd and his flock pass by a cottage garden from Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823 (printed and sold by John Marshall, 140 Fleet Street, London (NB. Text on frontispiece actually notes date of publication as 1800.)

Gardens belonging to the general public are rarely as well documented as the grander gardens of the wealthy.  So it was a happy surprise to find how frequently gardens of middle class (and some working people) are described and pictured in a sample of children’s literature from the early 19th century.

While the gardens mentioned in these stories might not always represent actual places, the images and descriptions provide vivid glimpses of how gardens looked and were used by their owners and visitors.  We also sense some tension in the relationship between children and gardens.  Although gardens are viewed as positive places for children to play and learn about plants, they are also places of potential danger.  A genre of books teaching moral conduct show the pitfalls that await reckless children out of doors, such falling out of trees, drowning in open water or being attacked by bees.

The books I’ve consulted, many written by women, are from the Internet Archive’s Children’s Library, made available by various US universities (see links at the end of this post).

Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil (1823) is a picture book designed for young children, using hand coloured illustrations and bold text suitable for children learning to read.  A series of household objects and plants are discussed, including a crocus and a moss rose.  The characteristic mossy growths on the sepals of the moss rose are clearly visible in the illustration of this fashionable plant.  Mary’s visit to Tatton Park where she sees deer for the first time is also recorded.

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

The Little Visitors: in words chiefly composed of one and two syllables by Maria Hack (1815) is designed to encourage older children to read and to inform them about the world.  This atmospheric narrative takes the form of a visit by Ellen and Rachel to their aunt.  Almost the first thing they do when they arrive is to tour the garden, with their aunt as their knowledgeable guide.

Their aunt went first, and opened the glass door in the hall, and then led them down the stone steps into the garden, which they saw was a very handsome one.  There were four large beds of flowers in the front, and fine tall trees and shrubs at the further end.  The children were much pleased with the rose trees, on which were great numbers of flowers, some full blown, and some only in bud.

Their aunt left them, and went into the house to fetch a knife.  She soon came back, and began to cut the stalks of some of the flowers.  She gave each of the little girls one full blown rose, and two nice buds; three fine pinks, a large tulip, a pretty bunch of sweet peas, and a white lily, and then she cut two handsome pieces of sweet-brier, to place at the back of each nosegay.

Later on they take a shady route through the garden, rest on a seat ‘made of branches of knotted wood, painted of a green colour’ and visit a shell grotto;

On turning a winding corner of the path, they saw a little door before them, with ivy growing round it.  The inside of this place was very small, and made of knotted branches of trees.  .. All at once they came to a very handsome light grotto, with spars and shells on the walls, and the windows were made of glass of many colours.

On another visit to a friend of their aunt the girls are delighted to see goldfish for the first time.  (Goldfish are so familiar to us now, it is easy to forget that two hundred years ago they were more unusual).  The illustration below shows the two girls at the edge of the goldfish pond, with the two women observing them at a distance.

This garden was a very large one, and they went some way before they came to where the fishes were kept: at last they walked through a narrow path, with high rows of laurel on both sides, which led to an open spot which had rock all around it, with ivy and moss growing over it and mountain flowers blooming on its sides.  The tops of the trees rose above the rock, and cast a pleasant shade over the scene beneath.  On one side was a fountain, that cooled the air as it foamed into the basin below, and ran into the little fish-pond, which was at some distance, where Ellen and Rachel bent their steps.  There were a great number of fish.  They threw in crumbs of bread, which the little creatures soon eat up.

From The Little Visitors: in words chiefly composed of one and two syllables Maria Hack (1815)  Ellen and Rachel arriving at their aunt’s house.

From The Little Visitors: in words chiefly composed of one and two syllables Maria Hack (1815)  Feeding the goldfish

We catch glimpses of a smaller, plainer garden through the window of Mrs Clifford’s house in Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse: a moral tale by Catherine Parr Strickland (1822).  This is the saga of a family of mice (an example of a genre of children’s literature using animals as characters).  The garden is separated from the surrounding countryside by a high hedge, which contains beds divided by pathways.  There are a pair of bee hives at the end of the garden and we can see a trained vine on the wall of the house.  Here is the narrator’s description of the garden:

situated .. on a beautiful sloping green bank, under the shade of a fir tree, not many yards from a nice white brick house, the front of which was covered with vines and wall-fruit; there were pots of balsams and geraniums, placed on the beds opposite the windows and glass door. 

From Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse: a moral tale by Catherine Parr Strickland (1822)

From Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse: a moral tale by Catherine Parr Strickland (1822)

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, caluculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

The potential dangers of playing out of doors (as well as inside) are spelled out in graphic detail in The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed, published anonymously in 1819.  With its disobedient children, acerbic parents and satirical tone these stories anticipate Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, or Roald Dahl’s children’s stories.

In The Climbers, a story about the dangers of climbing trees, little Henry is berated by his father for causing the accident, despite being quite badly injured.  In the chapter entitled The Bees, William thrusts a stick into a hive to get some honey, and is horribly stung.  Here’s a flavour of the prose:

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

More tales from the Georgian Garden in a future post – in the meantime, here are links to the various texts at the Internet Archive:

Little Mary; or, the Picture-book

The Little Visitors

Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse

The Accidents of Youth

 

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Wordsworth House and Garden

On a damp, grey day in early April it’s not every garden that tempts visitors to linger. But when I visited the walled garden at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumbria at the beginning of the month there was much to see of interest, as well as providing some welcome shelter from cold winds.

Although early in the season, signs of spring were evident.  Daffodils were flowering, with tulips not far behind them; new shoots visible on the roses and perennial plants were starting to emerge from their  long winter dormancy.

Wordsworth House is the birthplace of William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), who lived here with his family in the 1770s.  The National Trust, which acquired the house in the 1930s, has designed the garden in late eighteenth century style, with plant varieties that would have been available in the period.   Attractive slate labels show the names of these plants, information about their uses and introduction to cultivation in the UK.  The apples Greenup’s Pippin (1790) and Acklam Russet (1768) are cultivated with the the dual purpose pear Williams Bon Chretien (1770), Morello Cherry (pre 1629) and the Gargarin Blue Grape.  The garden also has a collection of Orpington and Silkie hens.

Beans and peas and other household vegetables are grown in open beds at the centre of the garden and the traditional supports for these made out of local materials such as birch are already in place for the coming season.  Supports for flowers like peonies are also constructed using poles and string.

The garden backs onto the river Derwent, which looks tame enough today, but in 2009 William Wordsworth’s ‘beauteous stream’ burst its banks.  Both the house and gardens were damaged by flooding (as were other buildings in the town) with many garden plants swept away by the waters, and even the heavy wooden gates at the front of the building (now replaced) were wrenched from their hinges.  The force of the water must have been immense.

Today the re-planted garden with its fruit trees, roses, flowers and herbs looks well established, which is a tribute to the efforts of head gardener Amanda Thackeray and the National Trust’s team of volunteers.  It’s also a good reminder that it is possible to create a garden with a sense of permanence in a relatively short period of time.

Wordsworth House and Garden, Spring 2018

new shoots of lovage (Levisticum officinale)

Back home, whilst considering the old fruit varieties I was delighted to come across a catalogue of fruit trees from the relatively local grower William Pinkerton, based in Wigan, and dating from 1782.  Despite its fragile looking state it’s available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library via the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Library.  The comprehensive list includes a surprising number of peaches, nectarines and apricots as well as apples, pears, plums and cherries.  Although not individually named, Pinkerton offers a staggering 74 varieties of gooseberry.  It would be fascinating to know how many of these varieties are traceable today – the Green Gage and La Mirabelle plums certainly sound familiar.  The catalogue is reproduced below.

William Pinkerton’s Catalogue of Fruit Trees, Wigan, Lancs 1782

I wonder if this nectarine variety is anything to do with Thomas Fairchild?

William Pinkerton’s Fruit Catalogue 1782

Wordsworth House and Garden

William Wordsworth

Bernwode Plants  masses of information about heritage fruit trees