logocolour bestWelcome 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.

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January 2020 Update

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.

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December 2019 Update

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!
Margie Hoffnung

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.
Carmela Bromhead-Jones

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.
Sue Coulbeck

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.
Caroline Foley

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.
Margaret Scholes

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.
Susan Jellis

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.
Barbara Deason

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)

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November Update

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)

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October Update


As our 2019 programme of garden visits draws to a close with a Study Visit to Upton Park on 8 October, we look forward to our Annual Lecture: one of two annual events open to the general public. This year our lecturer will be Clare Ford Wille, art historian, Birkbeck University of London and her subject will be the life and work of MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN 1647-1717: Artist and Botanist who published her ground-breaking two volume study of Caterpillars, Their Wondrous Transformation and Peculiar Nourishment from Flowers in 1683, combining scientific study with exquisite illustrations. In 1699 she travelled to the Dutch Colony of Suriname in South America in order to study that country’s butterflies and the result of her outstanding observations and paintings was Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, in which some of the first examples of serious botanical illustration combining science and art can be seen. The Lecture will take place on Tuesday 12 November 1830 -20.00 at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square (corner of Bedford Way) London, WC1B 5DR

To book visit Eventbrite


Last month we highlighted here the 2019 Autumn/Winter Lecture series offered by the London Parks and Gardens Trust (LPGT). This month we have details of The Gardens Trust London winter lectures. Running from 15 January to 11 March 2020. Topics include: Herbariums and Garden History: the Fulham Palace Experience – Lecturer Dr Mark Spencer, Honorary Curator at the Linnean Society of London; Nicholas Leate (1569-1631) ‘a worthy merchant and a lover of all faire flowers’ – Lecturer: Dr David Marsh, independent researcher; Princes, Parkland and Politics: the legacy of Muskauer Park and its modern revalorization – Lecturer: Brian Dix; Beth Chatto: A Life in Plants – Lecturer: Dr Catherine Horwood, social historian and author; Re-visioning the High Line, New York – “two guys with a logo” – Lecturer: Dr Jill Raggett, Emeritus Reader in Gardens and Designed Landscapes.

Fuller details are available at Talks & Lectures.


If you haven’t yet purchased your copy of our latest publication Digging Deeper full details are available at Publications, along with details of a number of new garden history-related books due to be published this month.

Titles include Tim Richardson’s latest: Cambridge College Gardens;  a new  edition of Great Gardens of London: 30 Masterpieces from Private Plots to Palaces by Victoria Summerley, Hugo Rittson Thomas & Marianne Majerus; Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill by author Thomas Christopher & photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo; English Gardens: From the Archives of Country Life Magazine by Kathryn Bradley-Hole & Duke of Devonshire; The Artist’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Greatest Painters by Jackie Bennett; and Roman Gardens by Anthony Beeson .

“Circuit gardens evolved as new attitudes to nature coincided with the application of early notions of the picturesque in landscape painting, poetry and the theatre were applied to landscape design……….The four types of circuit – circuit garden, ferme ornée, circuit shrubbery and circuit in a garden – all contained elements, such as pastoral fields, shrubberies or set scenes, which could be found in the other types of circuit. This means that the boundaries between the four types of circuit are not clear or fixed but are somewhat permeable.” (Chapter 1: Circuit Gardens in Eighteenth-Century Landscape Gardens: The Complexity and Interdependence of Circuit Types)

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September Update II

On Sunday morning 13th October 2019 historian Dr Richard Hewlings will talk on Lord Burlington’s Black Servants as part of the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Kitchen Garden Open Day. For full details please see Lord Burlington’s Black Servants  


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September Update

The new Introduction to Garden History course announced in our July update has proved to be very popular and has already sold out. As a result, the Gardens Trust is considering repeating the course, or something similar, in 2020 and would like to assess potential demand. The 6-7 week course would be held in London at a location yet to be determined.

If you would be interested in such a course, please email GTintrocourses@gmail.com

Looking ahead to the autumn and into 2020, some new talks programmes, study days, and courses have been added to Outside Events, Lectures and Talks, and Short Courses and Longer Courses pages.

Amongst new lectures and talks in coming months are The Deepdene: a landscape rediscovered being given to the Surry Gardens Trust by Alexander Bagnall, who has been the driving force behind the Deepdene rescue project; and a ‘celebration’ of Follies, Grottoes & Garden Buildings published over 20 years ago, organised by The Folly Fellowship.

The annual ‘garden history’ orientated spring event at Rewley House, Oxford next year will be on Woman and Gardens (May 29-31) followed shortly after, also at Rewley House a 1-day course on Plant Hunters (13th June). Three 10-week courses – on Gardens and the Subconscious, The Artist and the Garden, and 20th Century Gardens and Lifestyle – at Cardiff University have been added to our Longer Courses page.

Details of the London Parks & Gardens Trust (LPGT) annual lecture series are now available on our Lectures and Talks page: topics featured over the coming winter series (October 2019 -March 2020) include Historic Trees, Thamesmead, Vauxhall Gardens, Royal Gardens, Greenwich Park and ‘Rediscovering the permanence of place’.

Two garden history books are due to be published during September: Theory of Gardens (Ex Horto: Dumbarton Oaks Texts in Garden and Landscape Studi), by Jean-marie Morel; and The Blue Garden: Recapturing an Iconic Newport Landscape by Arleyn A Levee;

AND FINALLY, if you haven’t yet got your copy of our latest publication, Digging Deeper, details of its contents, and how to purchase your copy, are available alongside the books mentioned above on our Publications page.

Our September extract from Digging Deeper: ‘In 1899 the Board of Education was created and education became the responsibility of county councils. The system of giving grants to schools for teaching specific subjects was changed and the new system provided grants according to the needs of individual schools and their pupils. Taking the change a step further the 1904 so-called ‘New Code’ provided specimen courses in school gardening. In the same year the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) examination in ‘Cottage and Allotment Gardening’ was introduced. The impact of these changes was immediate and by 1911 there were two thousand school gardens in England’. [Chapter 4: The Teaching of School Gardening to Young People, 1900-1971, by Gwyneth Godding].

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August Update

‘A growing number of middle-class women remained unmarried as men left Britain to seek commercial opportunities overseas within the Empire. Many women needed to find work to become financially independent and sought to change the status quo by entering professions. Garden and landscape design would be amongst these……….’

(Extract from A bright glimpse of fair and still places’: How women philanthropists and social reformers used landscape and gardening to improve the lives of the poor’, Chapter 3 in BGHG’s latest publication, DIGGING DEEPER (2019)

See Publications for further details and how to purchase.

New courses have been added to our Garden History Studies pages, including Plant hunting; Women and gardens; The artist and the garden; Portuguese gardens; Gardens of Tuscany; Late 19th century gardens; 20th Century gardens; The botany & history of City of London gardens; and new ‘Garden History in 10 objects’ days.

The course ‘1000 years of the English Garden’ scheduled for 2019 at Oxford Department of Continuing Education will now take place there in August 2020.

See Short Courses and Longer Courses for further details of all courses.

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