Friday, 10 April 2009

Gardening: Early Influences (Genetic Cuttings and Seedlings)

Back from Paris and now is the time to plunge myself into gardening. A time for growth and while musing upon the seeds to be sown and the cuttings to be taken, with new growth in mind, my thoughts turn to the ones that have gone before. So here is a little historic look at all my genetic helpers.
As a child I was initiated into gardening from an early age. I had a great grandfather who worked in the Black Country (in the British West Midlands) as a mining engineer, which afforded him a free load of coal every week allowing him to run vast private glasshouses, where he indulged his passion for exotic plants. Never growing more than one species at a time, he would (with much frustration from family and fellow gardeners) raise the most glorious orchids one year, only to be tipped onto the compost heap in favour of every known variety of hoya the following year (the great-great-grand-plant of which I still have growing in my conservatory despite the rabbit’s attentions!) Talking of my conservatory, another fossil of my past lurks there. My grandmother’s cactus, cleistocactus strausii, handed down from mother to daughter and now a nine foot relic of at least 60 years to my knowledge.
Perhaps I could also mention another link in family history to gardening, although this one is a little more tenuous. My ancestor, the journeyman shoemaker poet, James Woodhouse (1735-1820) acquired patronage from William Shenstone though his famous garden in Halesowen. After inheriting his estate, Shenstone embarked on elaborate schemes of landscape gardening, which earned him a leading role in the tradition of English garden design and the cult of the “natural” landscape. Woodhouse wrote a poem pleading that he might still be allowed to walk in the garden. Shenstone was so impressed by the poem that he became his benefactor and had my ancestor’s work published, leading to a literary career in London. (Trivia: Shenstone became the first person to record the use of floccinaucinihilipilification, recognized as the longest word in the English language and ironical meaning worthless!)
Back in my childhood, at bedtime, I had garden poems instead of stories. Poems such as Amy Lowell’s Patterns, The Flowers by Robert Louis Stevenson (very influential for a Woodland Fay) Beloved by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and so many more. As for picture books, well just one springs to mind as my favourite and it’s still in front of me, battered and missing most of it’s dust jacket, ‘The Story of Plants and their Uses to Man’, by John Hutchinson (1884-1972) and Ronald Melville (1903-1985) both active in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. This book, to my knowledge only published once in 1948, has never failed in all the years it has accompanied me through my life, to interest and amaze and has been a catalyst in my desire to grow things both in childhood and to this day.
As for toys, one Christmas, to my endless joy, I received a toy garden. Made like lead soldiers, there were pots and trellises, beds and troughs to be planted with endless lead plants and flowers and then arranged with pergolas and paved walkways in any given permutation, a miniature garden of delight. In the intervening years I sometimes feel as if I have dreamt this toy up, as I have never seen another since, and oh, how I wish I could time travel and return to save it so that I could play once more! Instead, now I’m home from my adventures in Paris, I’ll go outside and wrestle with the real weeds that have been stealthily sprouting from every clod and which were strangely absent from my lovely low maintenance toy garden!


Red Clover said...

How interesting! I no sooner finished a post with Stevenson's "The Flowers", clicked on your blog first thing after, and find you mentioning it there! Ha ha. What a wonderful history...It will be fun to see how your garden looks this year.

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Hi Fay

I trust you had a great time in Paris.

What an interesting post. I guess I've got no chance of finding ‘The Story of Plants and their Uses to Man’, sounds so fascinating, maybe I'll make it a mission.

Your great Grandfather sounds like a character.


chaiselongue said...

Thanks for your gardening history - I love the idea of a toy garden! And thanks for introducing me to blipfoto via the link on your blog.

Woodland Fay said...

chaiselongue re blipfoto: great site, enjoy! There are some amazing artists out there.
Red Clover and Rob (ourfrenchgarden) Thanks, your comments are what keep me going.

Magic Cochin said...

What an interesting post.

And I too had a toy garden - but mine was made of plastic. I played with it for hours - it had an apple tree and flower and vegetable beds, and a greenhouse and cold frame. I have to hunt it out.


Phoenix C. said...

I've never heard of a toy garden - how lovely! I had a toy farm set which I loved dearly. And a horsejump set!

Woodland Fay said...

Phoenix C. I would have loved a toy horsejump set! I made do with an imaginary horse, I would ride western-style around the savannah (suburban garden), and tie up at the old corral (the cherry tree). Thanks for popping by, regards F

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Hi Fay

Thanks for your comment regarding La Truffe.

It's an extravagance I intend to pursue again when the pound strengthens against the euro.