What kind of garden did women want in the late Georgian period? Maria Elisabetha Jacson (1755 – 1829) thought she knew, and using a lifetime’s interest in botany, wrote this book about designing gardens. The Florist’s Manual, or, Hints for the Construction of a Gay Flower-Garden was published in 1816 and sets out the author’s philosophy of garden design with coloured illustrations showing model garden layouts and lists of plants that could be used in the borders.
The book, which ran to three editions, is aimed at women and Jacson encourages her readers to take an active role in directing how their garden should look, from the shapes of the borders to the choice of plants, rather than leaving it to their gardeners:
A Flower-Garden is now become a necessary appendage of every fashionable residence, and hence it is more frequently left to the direction of a gardener, than arranged by the guidance of genuine taste in the owner;
Two hundred years on, the book remains a valuable resource for information about the design of gardens in the late Georgian period, and which plants were available and fashionable. In terms of scale, these are not gardens for stately homes, but for the aspirational middle classes.
Jacson’s recipe for successful planting is a ‘mingled flower-garden’ in which plant species are combined for their beautiful and naturalistic effect and for ‘a succession of bloom’. This a break with the common practice she describes of grouping the same species of plants together in formal beds. Jacson explains the disadvantage of this form of planting, which is that once the flowers are over there is a gap.
.. in some gardens this appearance of a whole is entirely destroyed by the injudicious taste of setting apart distinct borders for pinks, hepaticas, primulas, or any other favourite kinds of flowers;
.. these distinct borders, although beautiful in themselves, break that whole which should always be presented to the eye by the mingled flower-garden; as single beds, containing one species only, form a blank before that species produces its flowers, and a mass of decaying leaves when the glow of their petals is no more.
The book contains extensive lists of colour co-ordinated groups of plants with times of flowering from February to August so that readers could apply her plant selections to their own gardens. From her list of plants ‘red shade from pink to scarlet’ we might choose Hyacinths and primulas for February to May followed by Cistus, Gaura (red and white striped flowers) and Mondara didyma from May to October. Interestingly Jacson prefers to group similar colours together rather than mixing contrasting colours together.
Jacson suggests using groups of the same plant so that the planting scheme doesn’t look fragmented, advice which feels startlingly contemporary;
.. without frequent repetition of the same plant, it will be in vain to attempt a brilliant flower-garden
Jacson admits that designing a garden or border is quite a difficult thing to do successfully, which, for anyone who has tried, is hard to disagree with?
It is more difficult than may at first appear, to plan, even upon a small scale, such a piece of ground; nor perhaps, would any but an experienced scientific eye be aware of the difficulties to be encountered in the disposal of a few shaped borders interspersed with turf.
The Florist’s Manual is available online at the Wellcome Library and The Biodiversity Heritage Library.