‘Happy Returns’ is out! Its buttery yellow face is beaming in a bliss of sunshine. Fantastic! We bought this sweet little lily in the Walled Garden by Helmsley Castle when we were in Yorkshire last year – I confess, I fell for the name.
It’s gardens all the way, in this post. For starters, we’re dusting off our broad-brimmed hats and Factor 50 in readiness for a scorching day at Hampton Court Flower Show on Friday (can’t wait!), and it turns out that the next essay is a spookily appropriate – ‘Some Easily Grown Flowers’, 1923 (although, curiously, it was written in January).
Of course I fell to wondering if my grandfather had ever suggested to Dorothy, my grandmother, that they take a trip to London to attend what is now known as The Chelsea Flower Show. It’s seeds were sown (sorry – couldn’t resist!) as early as 1862, and it grew (that one’s not too bad, surely?!) into the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition in 1912 staged in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where it has blossomed (ok – I’ll stop, now!) into a monster of a show.
The Hampton Court Flower Show is a mere upstart by comparison, but to my mind, a much more enjoyable day out. It started in 1990 as a result of a plan to rescue the ailing fortunes of two completely diverse organisations – Hampton Court Palace and Network Southeast. The railway sponsored a flower show at the palace, and the rest is history (the RHS took over when the network withdrew its subsidy in 1992). In addition to sponsoring the show, Network Southeast laid on special trains from Waterloo on which all the porters wore carnations in their hats – I bet that made everyone smile! It’s funny to think that there were porters on trains not all that long ago – and they wore uniforms! (After an admittedly cursory search, I was disappointed not to find any pictures).
As you’d expect, there are plenty of pictures of carnations available, but I did search for one in particular – in vain, sadly. ‘Bookham Clove’ was Grandfather’s favourite apparently: ‘a really gorgeous carnation of a most sturdy habit, and with a real clove scent’. He also expresses a fondness for pinks – Mrs Sinkin’s and Her Majesty in particular: ‘which are the pride of my little garden’.
Unusually, the Frank plot, (which, despite his tall stature, TMP describes as a “small amateur’s garden” 😉 ) was a shared area in Woodbine Terrace, in Leeds, and, as such, is pictured in ‘The Garden – A Celebration of One Thousand Years of British Gardening’. This is a little hardback book which was published (both ‘casebound’ and ‘limpbound’) in 1979 for an exhibition of the same name at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Marking the page showing a photograph of grandfather’s garden is a copy of the text of a letter composed in September 1987, printed in the spare, square dot matrix ‘draft’ mode of the time. There is no addressee, but it seems my father had been invited by this unknown person to give a talk about his childhood home, and the letter is his response to the invitation. I don’t know whether he ever gave the talk. I’m sad to say, I doubt he did.
I find the paragraph very poignant. Family lore has it that small children weren’t allowed in Woodbine Terrace (I suspect, given their ages when they moved there, my grandparents weren’t expecting to have a child) and, so I think my dad was probably quite lonely as a young boy. Also, it seems that Grandfather was able to afford to live there partly because he lent his legal services to the running of the terrace in some way, which was also why my dad’s existence was tolerated.
Happily, however, things are different now. When we saw the place last year, there was a colourful tangle of children’s play apparatus installed in one corner of the gardens. The sun didn’t shine on us that day – the rain was coming down in sheets, and we fell foul of a mysterious glitch in the (several) electronic route-finders we had at our disposal, so – as the location seems to be invisible to satnav software and Google Maps alike – we didn’t realise we were being hijacked. (And, no, sadly we didn’t have any old-fangled paper-based street-view technology to hand 😉 ) So we unwittingly swept through the leafy Leeds suburb of Headingley (which was actually our destination) to an anonymous, dispiriting, down-at-heel part of town, and ended up at Back Woodbine Terrace – which was so eerily similar to Woodbine Terrace that we thought it must be the right place. The troubling thing was – the gardens had been built on! I can’t remember how, but we did find the real thing eventually and I snatched some photos through the gateway before we got drenched to the skin.
It’s funny to think that gardening is now a multi-million pound celebrity endorsed industry. Only thirty-odd years ago Marcus Binney, who took the photo of Woodbine Terrace (in support of the article ‘On the conservation of gardens’ which he contributed to the V & A book) feared for the state of the nation’s gardens – great and small. If Mr Binney ever visits Woodbine Terrace again – or even if he happens to see the above photos – I hope he would be cheered to discover that there is still a sense that the gardens are cared for communally (I like to think this is indicated by the stripes in the lawn going right across the width of the shared space – the like of which my dad would have been proud!), and that the gardens still appear to be flourishing, even when the vista is screened by rain.
Mr Binney is, after all, big on conservation. He was a driving force behind the foundation of SAVE Britain’s Heritage (SAVE) in 1975, and remains its president. He has written numerous books and articles, and is the architectural correspondent for the Times. SAVE campaigns for the salvation of Britain’s architectural heritage, and for the preservation and reuse of endangered historic buildings, placing particular emphasis on finding new uses for them. In fact, he has been awarded an OBE and a CBE in recognition of his conservation work.
In what is turning out to be a truly tangled web – I’ve just unearthed an article written by Marcus Binney for the Times Online in 2008, speaking out against a development near Hampton Court. It can be read here (it’s quite short!): http://www.hamptoncourtrescuecampaign.com/Marcus%20Binney%20The%20Times%20December%2018.pdf
Oh, the irony! Hampton Court Palace and the surrounding area were given a huge boost by Network Southeast in the 1990s – but now, a piece of land currently owned by Network Rail is under threat of a development which will horribly mar the historic beauty of the area. A campaign against the development was begun in 2006, and is still being vigorously fought – and thoroughly reported – at: http://www.hamptoncourtrescuecampaign.com/site.htm
Please check it out and add your email to their petition!
Then spread the word!
(before you ask – yes, I have 😉 )
Anyway – after that breathless diversion – I’m back on track!
My guess is that Mr and Mrs Charles Clark Frank didn’t make the journey from North Yorkshire to London to visit the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition. I suspect they wouldn’t have had the spare cash for what might have been an expensive trip, probably necessitating an overnight stay. Besides, he was busily becoming a cheery garden advisor in his own right, dispensing hints and tips to fellow SES members in his essay. Much of what he suggests is similar to what you might expect from modern gardening pundits (such as the ubiquitous Mr Titchmarsh who also hails from Yorkshire!), but there are some interesting snippets peculiar to the time. He mentions flowers, such as carnations and pinks which are ‘tolerant of soot’ and which ‘the smoke of our great Cities scarcely affects…’ and he advocates the use of ‘coarsely sifted household ashes (weathered first by exposure to the air) [which] will make the soil much more kind for the development and increasing of the “corms”’ for his favourite flower, Lily of the Valley.
And, although it’s a hundred years on, I can almost hear Bob Flowerdew counselling a bemused member of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ audience, that carnations:
…positively revel in old mortar! Get some really old mortar, smash it up into very coarse sand, and mix a handful with the soil when you put each plant in and observe the result. When you have occasion to lift a plant in the following Autumn you will find that it has put forth numerous little “hands” of rootlets and clasped them firmly round bits of the mortar!
Another Flowerdew-esque titbit from TMP, is:
Shirley Poppies seem to like rather a “poor” soil, and if you can get some road scrapings (and free them from petrol and plantain seed!) and add them to the soil this will suit your poppies well.
Road scrapings? Could this mean horse poo? But if so, why would it be covered in petrol?! Not only that – how would you remove said petrol?!
‘Some easily grown flowers’ has no criticisms attached to it, but I can imagine comments from SES members might have been somewhat droll. As one of TMP’s more ordinary efforts I’ve been surprised and delighted that it has led me on such a meandering trail of discovery (and feel rather churlish being so derogatory about it!). But, as the sun cools, and the shadows lengthen, I’m conscious that a hundred years ago when he was writing his jaunty notes about small frilly suburban flowers, empires were toppling around the globe, new orders were struggling into being, and the seeds of the second World War were germinating.
However, happily for this sceptred isle, Britain was preparing to celebrate a royal wedding. In April 1923 Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the Duke of York. Apparently, the bride – the ‘Queen Mum’ as she later became – unexpectedly laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way in to the service in Westminster Abbey, in memory of her fallen brother Fergus.
And, as evinced by the shadows in the footage of the wedding, the sun beamed down on the happy couple and cheered the waving crowds: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/george_vi_wedding