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The spring has caught up with my garden and the lilacs are beginning to bloom. The first I knew was as I opened the doors into the garden the other morning and caught the scent well before I could see the biggest bush which stands just out of sight on the corner of the house.
For some reason I always think of Lilac as an old-fashioned plant – with overtones of the perfume loved by little old ladies like my grandma – which flourish in overgrown vicarage gardens, rather romantic but also rather chocolate-boxy. I wonder if that’s anything to do with memories of paintings like this Tissot or poems and songs like Lilac Time?
Come down to Kew in lilac time, in lilac time, in lilac time,
Come down to Kew in lilac-time (It isn’t far from London!)
And you shall wander hand in hand with love in summer’s wonderland,
Come down to Kew in Lilac time (It isn’t far from London!)
from The Barrel Organ, by Alfred Noyes (1906) and turned into a song…[click on the link above to listen to it sung by Carmen Hill in 1923]
So…. the other day I did just that and went to Kew thinking this would be a good opportunity to investigate the history of lilac, in our gardens and even as a cut flower, and maybe even change my preconceptions…
For someone whose work is so well known it’s surprising how little biographical information is recorded about Johannes Kip, the topographical engraver. He is best known for Britannia Illustrata, his work with Leonard Knyff, which has illustrations of the estates of late 17thc and early 18thc England, but he was also a prolific book illustrator with a sideline in selling prints from a shop in his house at Westminster.
Today’s post is a quick look at the range of his work, and then a closer look at his enormous engraving of St James Park in London first published in 1720. Continue reading
To most people “Kip & Knyff” sounds like a bit like a Victorian music hall act, but say “Kip and Knyff” to a garden or architectural historian and they will instantly picture a bird’s eye view of a great English house and estate from the late 17th or early 18thc.
“Kip and Knyff” always seem to “go together like a horse and carriage” as the song would have it, but although they had much in common and are often spoken of in the same breath they were not in fact a regular business partnership or even usual working companions and seem to have had little to do with each other apart from their most famous collaboration, Britannia Illustrata Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates the first volume of which was published 1707.
The only obvious ‘joint’ biographical facts are their Dutch origins and the fact that they were also of a similar age and longevity, Knyff being born in 1650 and Kip 3 years later, and both were to die in London in 1721.
So, as a result I’m writing two separate posts about them – one each! And this week its the turn of Leonard Knyff…
At this time of year my favourite smell is hyacinths. Close packed into every conceivable sort of container they made ideal presents for Christmas, but they are still be available for sale everywhere to bring a wonderful touch of spring scent and colour whatever the weather. I love to have them all over the house so that when I come home I get an instant uplift as I open the door.But do you know where the name comes from? And who first discovered that they could be ‘forced’ to flower early, and how this was best done? And although we’ve all heard of tulip mania in the 17thc did you know there was an almost equally wild passion for hyacinths in the 18th and 19th centuries? And at the end of the post there’s a link to info about Britains only commercial hyacinth grower. Read on to find out more… Continue reading
This post was inspired by an information board in the Alpine Garden area of Wisley. But unless you’re an alpine plant aficionado or a fan of gardening columns in long-defunct magazines, you probably haven’t heard of the person mentioned on it: Clarence Elliott. He was a founder member of the Alpine Garden Society and began the popularisation of sink and trough gardens. If you hadn’t heard of him you may well have heard of the nursery he founded, and in particular one or two of the plants he introduced to cultivation.
But Clarence Elliott wasn’t just a gardener but a naturalist and plant hunter too. He collected for both Kew and Edinburgh botanic gardens.
And after he ‘retired’ he began contributing a weekly column to Illustrated London News which he continued to write until well into his 80s.
Read on to find out more about this influential and far-sighted horticulturist ….
In the early 18thc a style of portraiture developed, known as the conversation piece, which often depicted the sitter or sitters outside in a garden or parkland setting.
The greatest exponent of this style was Arthur Devis, who painted the rising gentry and professional classes of Georgian England at ease in and around their own homes and estates.
Given that we are used to using paintings of gardens and landscapes as good evidence for the appearance of a site when the picture was undertaken, can these conversation piece portraits be trusted to give us a truthful idea of the 18thc garden?
Read on to find out more about Devis, and the reliability [or maybe not!] of his work as useful evidence…
Although this post is about Sir Charles Isham, it’s also about garden gnomes. If you didn’t smile at the thought of a whole blogpost about twee garden ornaments in dubious taste, you probably grimaced or shuddered at the prospect because gnomes do seem to have the ability to cause strong and divisive reactions. Indidentally why is it gnomes and not elves, sprites, pixies, boggarts, goblins, or leprechauns who live by the side of garden ponds, or lurk in our shrubberies?
There are plenty of books and websites about gnomes – which of course are now quite big business – but generally they are not really interested in their history and make little reference back to any documentary or material evidence. That’s a great pity as the real story of their introduction to Britain is fascinating. So, if you haven’t worked out the connection yet between the little men in red hats and Sir Charles read on and find out more about the origin of the gnome in our gardens…
I was looking for a lighthearted piece to counter some of my more recent serious ones, and shortly afterwards happened to be passing the house where Marie Lloyd, the music hall star, used to live. One of her set pieces was the sentimental song “Come into the garden Maud” and I thought it might be fun to research that a bit more and find out why Maud was being invited, and indeed if she ever did end up at the garden gate?
Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the rose is blown.
Whatever was I thinking? Light-hearted is the last word you would use to describe the background to Maud. It’s not about wannabee illicit cuddles in the shrubbery as one might imagine from the better known song extracts, but a story based around insanity, sexual frustration, hallucinations, premature death and even murder amongst other joyful themes. Read on if you want to be depressed by the real story behind the song, although there are also some more cheerful comments about the author’s garden.
I often start these posts with a comments such as ‘here’s someone else you won’t have heard of”, although there’s often a good reason for the subject’s lack of fame … but today’s subject is someone who really has been unjustly neglected.
Marion Cran was the first woman gardening broadcaster as well as a highly successful and popular garden writer. You can judge how well she was renowned at the time by her inclusion, along with the still ‘famous’ Beverley Nicholls, in a comic rhyme by Reginald Arkell in 1934.
Beverley Nicholls and Marion Cran
Hadn’t been born when the world began
That is the reason I must confess
Why the Garden of Eden was not a success
Marion travelled widely writing about gardens abroad as well as Britain in 15 gardening books, and also produced a couple of novels, and assorted other books.
She created two interesting gardens, one of which is still basically intact and being restored in keeping with her ‘spirit’. Yet her success there wasn’t matched by a similar success elsewhere. She often had financial problems and her private life was something of a mess with 3 husbands and a child out of wedlock – hardly a proper state of affairs for a respectable vicar’s daughter in the early 20thc.