Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What NOT to do in January 1840

"Never under any circumstances give a plant in a pot a very little dose of water because the weather happens to be dull and the plant not thoroughly dry. The true rule for watering pot plants is to wait till they are really dry, really in want of it, and then give them a thorough dose, by filling up the pot to the brim, and repeating the operation when the first dose has sunk.

Never water a plant in a pot from the sides of which the earth has shrunk away, leaving a crack all round. The earth should be firmly pressed down with the thumb or with a blunt stick; that once done, the water will sink equally through the ball instead of quickly passing down the sides, leaving the ball and most of the roots dry."          The Amateur Gardener's Calendar by Jane Loudon (1840)

"Never move soils or manures, or barrows or carts with any heavy load over the soft surface of a garden while you have an opportunity of doing it when the ground is frozen hard, as it may be done so much easier in the latter case."

"Avoid as far as possible digging when the soil is saturated with water."

In the Greenhouse

"Never wait for the presence of more than half a dozen specimens of aphis to be assured that fumigation is required."

"Never waste valuable space on the stages, pits or benches of houses by keeping on them dormant fuchsias, bulbs, subtropical plants etc. which will be quite as well stowed under the said benches or stages, or in any dark place perfectly free from frost.

Never commence any forcing of fruits, or plants, or indeed any important stage of cultivation in a plant house of any kind without having previously thoroughly cleansed every surface."

Jane Loudon (1807 - 1858)

 It all sounds very sensible and familiar and I particularly like the one about not digging! We have hundreds of books, magazines, TV programmes, websites and blogs all telling us what to do (or not do) in January, February, March ....  It's difficult for us to imagine a time when such advice was not freely available.  Jane Loudon changed all that.

Her husband, John C Loudon, was an eminent horticulturalist who had published numerous works on gardening.  Before her marriage she knew nothing about botany but she worked with him and learnt how to plant and propagate in his meticulous manner.  They were regarded as the leading horticulturalists of their day - the Victorian equivalents of  Mony Don and Sarah Raven.  Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackery were counted as friends.

Jane realised that the garden manuals of the day were not written with amateurs in mind: they were aimed at people with some experience and knowledge so didn't go back to basics.  'Instructions in Gardening for Ladies'  was published in 1840 and went on to sell over 200,000 copies.  It is still in print today. 

She published a number of gardening books  which are now collectors' items.  One is up for sale in New York at $19500 (over £12,000).  I've searched the attic but we must have thrown our copy away.

Alternatively, you can read them for free here!

The most expensive books contain her beautiful art.

You can see an exhibition of her work at the Victoria and Albert Museum or just read a little more about her life (she was a real Victorian heroine) by clicking here.

Using the word 'horticulture' made me think of another female I admire ... Dorothy Parker   (1893 -1967).
As a panelist on a radio show she was asked to use the word 'horticultural' in a sentence.  Quick as a flash she replied, "You can lead a whore to culture but you cannot make her think!"


  1. we do take a lot for granted these days - it seems funny to think that it was men who ruled the roost in the garden then. the illustrations are beautifully painted - worthy of framing.

  2. I'm a collector of old gardening books but a book of $ 19500,-- .........hahaha. When you read the "What not to do's in January" from 1840, everything is still much the same. These illustrations are just wonderful!

  3. All the prints are copyright free so they can be downloaded, printed and used by anyone. Obviously the original prints are selling for tidy sums! I did find a couple of things amusing: 1. she explained how to make liquid manure by putting sheeps' droppings in a tank of water - then told the ladies to be careful when they reached the bottom of the tank! 2. You should not get your workers to maintain fences in cold weather because they will waste working time trying to keep their hands and feet warm!

  4. Those illustrations are gorgeous - I agree! Nowadays if we want good speedy gardening advice it's at our 'fingertips' so too speak.
    It's amazing that as women we owe a lot to these forward thinking ladies not only as gardeners!
    The quote re maintaining fences is true - I had to re do our fences last winter and spent more time warming my hands than hammering in those nails!

  5. It's so fun to hear the advice of experts back in the day. They were so forthright and assured. Today, the tone is so much more friendly and collaborative--which is good and bad. The illustrations are incredible--as someone else mentioned, they would be wonderful framed pieces.