Dream Gardens 1926 Style is inspired by my Mother-in-law reaching her 90th birthday this month.
An ideal garden for a 90 year olds might involve raised beds for ease of access.
Too much bending isn’t easy for knees that have been walking, running, rock climbing – and gardening! – for nearly a century.
But I thought it was more fun if I looked at gardens, the gardening world and 1926 in general. A celebration of a birth-year, not just a birth-day.
So, in the year when HM Queen Elizabeth II was born what was happening in the world and in gardening?
And what sort of a garden did the 90 year old of today grow up surrounded by? There weren’t trampolines and brightly coloured plastic Wendy houses. But there were crazy paving paths to wheel a dolls perambulator along. The great British lawn was there for games of cricket, football and shuttlecock.
Before we head for the garden perspective, lets recap some of the non-gardening events from 90 years ago.
In 1926: –
- The first transatlantic telephone call was made from London to New York
- For most of the year, Britain was under Martial Law. This was declared as a result of the British General Strike and the Coal Miners’ Strike
- Traffic lights were installed at Piccadilly Circus, London
- Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim English Channel from France to England
- The iconic K2 Red Telephone Box was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott
- “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” sung by Gene Austin was number 1 in the USA – I added this as the title could be a description of my mother-in-law, who turned 90 this month.
- And Nabisco built their wonderful art deco shredded wheat factory in Welwyn Garden City.
And some garden related events from 1926: –
Claude Monet died. A great painter and gardener, his garden at Giverny inspired many of his works. The changes he created in his garden over the years he lived there are reflected in the paintings of flowers, pond and views of the garden.
Monrovia Nursery Company, founded in 1926 by the appropriately named Harry Rosedale, is one of the leading nurseries in the United States. Among many other innovations, Rosedale was pivotal in developing the practice of growing containerised plants for sale to garden centres. This method avoids the stress involved in uprooting a plant in growth. (Bare root plants, for example, fruit trees sold over the winter, are dormant)
“Winnie the Pooh” by AA Milne was published.
I’ve included this as I look at a nasturtium and think of Winnie the Pooh…
“Piglet also points out that planting can be a tricky thing to do, and he demonstrates by putting the haycorn in the hole, covering it with earth, and jumping up and down on it. Pooh says that he was already aware of the difficulty of planting, because Christopher Robin once gave him a mastershalum seed which he planted near his front door. Piglet thinks that it might have been a nasturtium, but Pooh says that these ones were called mastershalums.”
Although in all fairness, this quote is from “The House at Pooh Corner” which was published two years later.
Dream Gardens 1926 Style
So what were British gardens like in 1926?
I adore so many of the London Underground posters. This one shows the Palm House at Kew Gardens in London. Not the average greenhouse, perhaps…
Kent is often called the Garden of England. A garden for Londoners. This Southern railway poster from 1926, encourages city dwellers to take the train into rural Kent.
An Art Deco Home, with a white picket fence surrounding flower filled borders. Dream Gardens for 1926 Style, indeed.
Away from the idealised, what about the reality of 1926 gardens?
In 1926, the gardens at Hestercombe House were at their pinnacle. Hestercombe is the epitome of a style where formal hard landscaping and informal soft landscaping met. The gardens were a collaboration between Edward Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, whose complementary skills created beautiful, practical gardens in the early twentieth century. Lutyens was the architectural genius and Jekyll the artistic wonder. Pale creams of York stone for paths and terraces are enlivened with rich colourful borders of herbaceous perennials and shrubs.
Whilst this photograph shows the artistic planting and a famous Lutyens garden bench, it is, of course, contemporary to us. To get a feel for how the general public saw famous and public gardens described in magazines and gardening books, we need to look elsewhere.
The Peter Davis collection at Parks and Gardens has some wonderful old photographs. Including these of the garden at St Donat’s Castle, Glamorgan.
The Tudor Garden
And the Rose Garden
They show the formal framework and regularity of pattern that had become popular during the Edwardian ‘Golden Age of Gardening’ and developed in a new direction by Jekyll and Luyens.
Dream Gardens 1926 Style – the domestic angle
However, most gardens were substantially smaller than those at Hestercombe and St Donat’s Castle.
The rose garden as a concept was one element that had been taken up by the suburban middle classes. This was helped by the introduction of hybrid tea roses, which were more disease resistant and repeat flowering.
Crazy paving paths were also popular, generally made of stone rather than concrete pavers. Imagine, if you will, a small rose garden set out as a quadrant of beds, with a crazy paving garden path running between them and a sundial or bird bath set in the middle.
The other garden element which really took off post First World War and became an intrinsic part of virtually all British gardens was the grass lawn. Lawn mowers became more widely available during this period and enabled not only the middle classes but a greater section of the population to own one.
The kitchen garden was a separate section of the garden, generally hidden behind tall shrubs, away from the house. This vegetable plot saw vegetables being cultivated in rows, plus a small greenhouse or cold frame for seedlings and a potting shed.
And of course, neatly trimmed hedges were the preferred choice to frame the whole garden. Arguably these were more in keeping with the style of the gardens belonging to grand houses than garden fences would be.
For so much of history, styles of gardening and the plants themselves have filtered down from ‘the big house’. Arguably 1926 saw the beginning whereby the ordinary home and garden owner was able to branch out and develop a style more suited to their modest plots. More on this in another blog…