Welcome to the Birkbeck Garden History Group web site. The group is interested in studying garden history through lectures, garden visits and exhibitions and in encouraging others to become interested in the subject of garden history. Click on the links along the top of the page to find out more about the BGHG and our activities. Click ‘Follow’ at the bottom of this page on the right to receive alerts when new items are posted.
When we are confined to our homes by the coronavirus it’s always good to see new reading material becoming available and this month has produced a perfect gem for garden historians – the biography of a figure who will need little or no introduction: Mavis Batey.
Mavis Batey: Bletchley Codebreaker, Garden Historian, Conservationist, Writer by Jean Stone, traces her life through codebreaker at Bletchley Park during WWII to her interest and achievements in the conservation and preservation of gardens.
‘Mavis became an important figure in conservation, becoming President of the Garden History Society, which, under her watch, became an academic society and campaigning force for the protection of landscapes, parks, and gardens of historic interest. She also lobbied Parliament, fighting threats of encroachment and misuse of land. Acts of Parliament were passed, English Heritage was established, and grants were introduced. Historic gardens became officially recognised as essential components of European culture and her National Register of Historic Gardens came to fruition. Mavis’s passion was writing and she wrote many books.’
Coronavirus Update 19.03.2020
As the restrictions on social mixing spread wider the BGHG committee has taken the decision to cancel visits up to and including our June visit. Visits to Denmans & West Dean, Church Gardens & Chenies Manor, and Penshurst & Broadview are now cancelled.
The committee will keep the situation under review and we will announce any further cancellations as required in due course.
There are a growing number of other lectures, courses, & conferences being cancelled. Those listed on our website will be marked as cancelled when we are aware of it but please check any entry with the originating organisation.
Many of you will of necessity be confined to home so you may want to consult our Publications page for some ideas for reading. Only one new book has been added this month but there are many more to come over the coming months.
Coronavirus Update 16.03.2020
The decision has now been taken to cancel the 22 April visit to Denmans and West Dean gardens.
Information on visits in subsequent months will be posted here as the continuing impact of the Coronavirus becomes clearer.
Coronavirus information 15.03.2020
The BGHG Committee are aware of the potential impact of Coronavirus on our planned activities and are keeping the situation under constant review. It is likely that some visits will of necessity have to be cancelled.
Meantime the current 2020 programme stands and any cancellation or variation will be notified to members by email as well as being announced here.
Click ‘Follow’ at the bottom right of this page to automatically receive notifications as soon as they are posted here. Members will also receive email notifications.
If you have any queries contact email@example.com
BGHG Study Day 2020: A Galavy of Grottoes
There are still a few places left for our Study Day: A Galaxy of Grottoes on 29 February This annual event – taking place in Bloomsbury – is open to both members and non-members.
Details of another Study Day – on landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe – being held by the Surrey Gardens Trust can he found on our Outside Events page. Also on this page you will find advance notice of the 2020 Urban Tree Festival.
At Longer Garden History Courses you will find details of Botany for Gardeners being run by Dr Mark Spencer, FLS, Hon. Curator (Plants), Linnean Society of London.
Three new Short Courses have been added for Cambridge Department for Continuing Education and a garden history walk at the City Literary Institute.
A Happy New Year! to all our readers.
Our BGHG Future Events page has been updated and there you will find details of our 2020 programme.
Three events kick off our 2020 programme:
A garden visit to Wakehurst Place and the Millennium Seedbank on 13 February
Our annual Study Day which this year will explore ‘A Galaxy of Grottoes’ and take place on 29 February at Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London. This is one of two annual events open to non-members of BGHG.
Our Annual General Meeting which this year is taking place slightly later then usual – on 12 March at Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Russell Square/Bedford Way, WC1.
Dates for your Diary 2020
The 2020 AGM will be on 12 March 2020 at 18.30 (doors open 18.00) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17, Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DR
The Annual Study Day (OPEN TO ALL) will be held on Saturday, 29 February 2020 from 10.00 – 16.30 (times subject to confirmation) at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London.
Further details of both these events will be posted here in January.
Book Recommendations for Christmas
As the festive season approaches we asked our committee if they would recommend a garden-related book that might make an appropriate present. Here are their suggestions:
Thoughtful Gardening: Great Plants, Great Gardens, Great Gardeners, by Robin Lane Fox (2013)
This book is divided into Seasons and contains lots of amusing short chapters you can dip in and out of. It’s a mixture of gardening, garden history, plant advice, specific gardens (mostly historic), and slightly gossipy discussion about great gardeners like Rosemary Verey, Valerie Finnis, Christopher Lloyd and Nancy Lancaster. It is written in Mr Lane Fox’s inimitable style, which I guess you either love or find objectionable. I happen to enjoy it very much. Perfect for busy people at Christmas!
Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter by Stephen Anderton (2011) – a sympathetic portrayal of an eccentric man and passionate gardener with an engaging writing style…… deemed controversial I guess because he’s very frank about CL’s private life….
This is also the story of Great Dixter – a garden BGHG will be visiting in summer 2020.
Garden Museum Journal no 37 (Summer 2019) – Mollie: portrait of a Gardener ((Memories of the 6th Marchioness of Salisbury)
This is a collection of 19 short pieces Contributors include Robin Harcourt Williams, former archivist at Hatfield House; the Prince of Wales, with whom Mollie collaborated at Highgrove; Xa Tollemache, owner of Helmingham Hall, and Sir Roy Strong: ‘She was a great beauty of course – one of the three Wyndham-Quin sisters. She would never let a single ray of light fall on her face’.
Personal reflections (and photographs) offer an intriguing and entertaining portrait of this fascinating and somewhat formidable woman. Her passion for organic gardening, her deeply-rooted sense of history and her ability to plan on a grand scale – and this with no formal horticultural training to speak of – all shine through, as does her extraordinary energy, fuelled by a cold bath at the start of every day.
A Little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow. (Chatto & Windus, 2017).
Fast becoming a classic, A Little History of British Gardening by the historian Jenny Uglow, was first published in 2004, and is now in its third edition. Biographer of Elizabeth Gaskell and William Hogarth, Jenny Uglow says that she wrote this more light-hearted book ‘out of curiosity and pleasure’ and certainly it satisfies both for the reader. From the Romans to her conclusions following a helicopter flight from Lands’ End to John o’ Groats, she solves interesting puzzles and unearths intriguing historical facts along the way of a lively, thoughtful and well-illustrated narrative.
Just the Tonic: a Natural History of Tonic Water by Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt (Kew Publishing, October, 2019)
This account of the development of tonic water and its key ingredient, quinine, is lively, readable and entertaining; and crammed with facts from the quirky to the sombre (we are reminded that malaria still claims nearly half a million lives a year). Handsomely produced and lavishly illustrated, it is underpinned by the immaculate scholarship of the authors, researchers at the RBG Kew into the uses and history of plants.
The story, which begins with the discovery of the ‘fever tree’ in Latin America by the Spanish conquistadors (given the genus name cinchona by Linnaeus in 1742), embraces botany, empire building, medical science and many byways of social and cultural history. A colourful cast of personalities, from explorers to entrepreneurs, is encountered along the way.
For the obvious and perfect accompaniment to the pleasure of reading, Kew can supply its own label Organic Gin and Royal Botanic Garden Tonic, which uses bark from one of the last remaining cinchona plantations in Java. Or, for a non-alcoholic option, try Kew’s elegantly wrapped gin and tonic flavoured chocolate.
Those who seek to pursue further the history of gin may enjoy a field trip to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Hampshire, located in the historic buildings of a former paper mill. Learn about the botanicals used in the process; see them growing in the glasshouses designed by Thomas Heatherwick; and enjoy the lush plantings of aquatics along the River Test which flows through the site.
Nature’s Alchemist: John Parkinson – Herbalist to Charles I by Anna Parkinson (Frances Lincoln, 2007)
The story of John Parkinson, author of Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, reveals the excitement and agony of his turbulent times. His lifelong passion for plants was bound up with the new dawn of scientific enquiry and the struggles of faith. From a humble childhood in Lancashire he moved to a career as an apothecary in London which would bring him to high office under Charles I. He tried, with his medical colleagues, to create a new ‘common wealth’ to replace the old monastic system, vesting his effort in writing the most comprehensive and scientific herbal there had ever been in English. Yet as a Catholic he kept a low profile, quietly growing an extraordinary range of flowers for ‘delight and pleasure’ in his notable garden in Covent Garden. He carefully recorded them all and had them engraved. An accessible account of a notable figure in garden history.
Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso (Getty Publications, 2007)
This beautifully produced book is packed with images (over 380) depicting multiple aspects of gardens from Ancient Egypt to the 19th Century. The author has adopted an extensive and somewhat confusing array of descriptions for each section of the book but broadly the first half of the book focuses on the main types of garden throughout history, such as Egyptian, Islamic, Italian, French or monastic, or those associated with key figures such as Repton, defined as political or a ‘poet’s garden’; the second half focuses on elements of gardens such as statures, topiary, urns and vases or exotic plants, followed by a section of symbolism of and in gardens.
Despite the multiplicity of labels used the book is very readable and is much easier to follow than describe. It is a great introduction to gardens as depicted in art and each image has concise and useful descriptions of the relevant contents of each image.
Francine Gee has recommended three books, all by author Celia Fisher:
Flowers of the Renaissance (Frances Lincoln, April 2011)
Essentially a coffee table book – a posh Christmas present – with 20 flowers followed through painting, with scholarly and interesting notes on the plants. The book shows the depth and breadth of Celia’s knowledge, and the paintings themselves are beautifully reproduced.
The Medieval Flower Book (British Library Publishing, 2007) offers illustrations from medieval manuscripts and are in many cases the forefathers (and mothers) of botanical drawings. Again, the accompanying text gives a lot of detail about the uses of these plants.
The Golden Age of Flowers (British Library Publishing, 2013) should find a place in most garden historians’ bookcase, covering as it does the 17th and 18th centuries’ botanical illustration. ‘All lovely, I’d just like time to read them properly!’ (FG)
To download the list Christmas Book choices 2019
As usual highlighted here is a further extract from BGHG’s most recent publication Digging Deeper: for details of how to order your copy please see our Publications page.
‘The resurrection of Crowe Hall as a family home by the Reade and Clark families saw significant remodelling of both house and landscape. It is likely that earlier major phases of garden and landscape development also corresponded to the hall becoming the main residence of new owners with sufficient commitment to the landscape and funds to pursue their visions, as by the seventeenth century even some houses of the minor gentry of Suffolk had formal gardens around them.’
(Extract from Historical and Professional Influences on the designed landscape at Crowe Hall, Suffolk, by Patience Shone, Chapter 6, DIGGING DEEPER 2019)
There’s still time to book for our ANNUAL LECTURE which will take place at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square (corner of Bedford Way) London, WC1B 5DR on TUESDAY 12 NOVEMBER 1830 -20.00
The Annual Lecture is one of two regular events open to non-members (the second being our Study Day – which in 2020 will take place on Saturday 29 February).
The Annual Lecture will be delivered by art historian Clare Ford Wille and her subject will be the life and work of MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN 1647-1717: Artist and Botanist.
For further details and to book visit EVENTBRITE
Three garden history books due to be published this November have been added to our Publications page, where you will also find full details of our latest publication, Digging Deeper.
‘In Edwardian Britain, horticulture was seen as suitable employment for middle-class women, at a time when many other career routes were blocked. Gardens owned by women played a prominent role in the French gardening movement. The model for this group is the |Thatcham Fruit and Flower Farm, Berkshire, which figured prominently in early press coverage of French gardening. It was a mixed enterprise, involving other market gardening activity, was owned and run by women educated at ladies’ horticultural colleges, and took pupils in a formal manner, entering them for Royal Horticultural Society examinations’.
(Extract from The Gardens of the French Gardening Craze, 1908 – 1914, Chapter 5 in BGHG’s latest publication, DIGGING DEEPER, 2019)