A Ladies' Page Feature on Gardens



Flowers and foliage featured prominently in Victorian women's magazines, particularly in the form of embroidery and patterns for crochet, tatting and other kinds of fancywork. Readers of the Ladies' Treasury had ample instructions for painting flower-pictures or making artificial blooms, just as later in the century there were many suggestions, even in the cheap penny papers, for decorating dinner-tables and rooms inexpensively with pot plants or foliage.

Some magazines, however, made serious efforts to give readers practical advice on managing gardens. Whilst in the 1840s its innovative founder and editor (Mrs Cornwall Baron-Wilson) of the New Monthly Belle Assemblée confined herself to, for instance, recommending in her book review column the Gardener's Almanack to lady gardeners and lady florists, by 1852, after the magazine had absorbed the Ladies' Companion, there was a gardening column. It offered the kind of notes gardening manuals offered the owners of large grounds on monthly tasks in the flower-garden, kitchen garden, forcing houses, plant-houses etc. But this was tempered for lady readers, few of whom, one supposes, actually controlled the greenhouse temperatures personally, or attempted to lift the asparagus with a 'strong spud' for transplanting into the carefully prepared new beds. The columns were headed with an appropriate poetic quotation, and some included a section on "New and Rare Plants" or an intriguing horticultural invention (see below).

A major influence on the introduction of gardening as a subject for ladies was Jane Loudon, wife of the landscape gardener John Loudon, editor of the short-lived Ladies' Magazine of Gardening (1842), and first editor of the Ladies' Companion. Though, judging by their brevity, these editorial experiences were not particularly influential, her numerous gardening books were.

Thus the early volumes of Sam Beeton's Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine in the 1850s had a regular feature on the flower and fruit garden. As the magazine was revamped to give more space to fashion and the products of the work-box, the feature was dropped, reappearing by the early 1870s. Some of these later unsigned articles, which concentrated on an account of a particular species such as the rose or pansy, and advising on new hybrids, quoted generously from Beeton's Book of Gardening Management or the Gardener's Magazine. This suggests some difficulty in finding a sufficiently knowledgeable journalist able to adapt technical information to attract the magazine's average female reader.

Other women's magazines concentrated instead on women's interest in plants, and gardens as pleasure grounds, with reports of horticultural shows, accounts of public gardens and new installations.

Detail from the full-page engraving of a Botanical Conservatory, Ladies Treasury 1860

The social column of the Ladies' Treasury announced that Cubitt & Co.'s tender for the 'great Conservatory and Winter Garden' at Kew had been accepted, and work had started on the construction. It would be ' a trifle short of seven hundred feet in length, covering somewhat about the same space as the Great Eastern steamship, and probably the grandest purely horticultural building in the world.' This was followed    with the full-page engraving of a "Botanical Conservatory".

The "Autumn and Winter Garden Page" has an article on Victorian Greenhouses, Fern Houses and Winter Gardens, including comments from Victorian gardeners Charles M'Intosh, Shirley Hibberd and novelist Elizabeth von Arnim. 


Maple Tree of Matibo

Illustration to a short article in The Ladies' Treasury 1860

Travel articles were one of the staple genres of Victorian magazines, and the curiosities of foreign places amused the Victorians as much as they entertain us. Here the Ladies' Treasury illustrated a tree-house in Sevigliano (sic) Piedmont. Then some 70 or 80 years old, with two floors, each lit by eight windows and easily able to accommodate twenty people, its floors were made from the branches, with their 'leaves forming a natural carpet. The thick foliage also forms the walls, and in it a number of birds have built their nests. Every care has been taken to guard against any inconvenience being offered to these joyous songsters, who contribute so much to the Arcadian attractions of the place.'
The writer then mentioned several similar trees on the continent before advising readers that 'any large, well-grown forest tree might be adapted to a similar purpose, and to build a tolerably comfortable room up a tree is by no means difficult.' However he (or she) didn't seem to think it would catch on with readers since these 'odd whims' were less 'likely to gratify an English taste than the lighter fancies of our Continental neighbours.'

The "Hyacinth Bottle and Flower Support"
This hyacinth stand illustrated the January garden column in the New Monthly Belle Assemblée. Invented by Mr George P Tye , who described its use in his Practical Hints on the Cultivation and Properties of Hyacinths, the magazine called it 'one of the neatest adjuncts of drawing-room floriculture which has ever come under our notice.' Made of glass stained in various colours they 'apart from their utility for the purpose of growing Hyacinths, are incomparably more ornamental than the old formal things that remind one of the female costume in the time of Queen Charlotte.'
The idea was to support the stem with its heavy bloom and avoid the untidy appearance of lanky leaves flopping over. The leaves were arranged over the lower ring whilst the upper wire supported the flower-head. Mr Tye's detailed instructions for using the support  were quoted from his 'concise treatise on the Culture of Hyacinths':

Place the lower or springing circle round the stem and leaves; then raise the bulb a little from the bottle, and pass the wire over it; fix the spring in its place by compressing it with your forefinger and thumb; then place your right hand round the back of the upright rod; with your finger and thumb spring open the sliding-wire sufficiently to admit the flower stem, at the same time holding the whole of the leaves in the left hand; raise the sliding wire as high as the floer will admit, and place one by one th leaves within it, first having decided where the rod should be placed, that the leaves may be arranged uniformly. Open the small wire and place it immediately under the flower; then close it again; raise or lower the wire encircling the leaves according to taste.

(Whether Mr Tye advertised in this magazine I cannot say as there are no advertisements in the bound copy I consulted.) The  Late Summer Gardening Page  now in the Archive has  an illustrated feature on the Victorian cultivation of Hyacinths.

Meanwhile ---- after your own gardening have a relaxing time with  a Scrubbs' Ammonia Bath  ------------

'Refreshing as a Turkish Bath' !

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©  Barbara Onslow 2007   Page published August 2007 amended November 18 2007; last updated May 20th 2009