Hard or Soft?

No I’m not talking about how you like boiled eggs [or even Brexit] but one of the great debates in the history of garden design which has been between the relative importance of the hard landscaping of architects and the soft landscaping of  plantsmen. It came to a head in the later 19thc with the arguments in print between those, like William Robinson who thought that plants should be the dominant player, and those like Reginald Blomfield who claimed it was architecture that should be the prevailing force.

The Downes, Hayle

Blomfield was backed by another architect, nowadays often overlooked in this debate, whose book Garden-Craft Old and New I bought from the bookstall of Essex Gardens Trust when I went to speak to them a few months ago. This was John Dando Sedding, another bearded Victorian you probably won’t have heard of, so read on  to discover more about him and how he launched “a little raft of bladders”.

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The History of Hosepipe

I was sitting in the garden a while back enjoying the weather and discussing politics with a group of family and friends when the subject of a piece in a well-known newspaper came up and my niece said  to my mother: “Sorry, Nan, I don’t EVER want to read an article in the Daily M***, I rather read anything…anything …even a history of hosepipes” So to make sure she always has an alternative here it is!

There is as yet no definitive history of hosepipe, [no surprise there really] or any more than a couple of lines in any garden history book so  if anyone out there is looking for an unusual PhD topic here’s your big chance…until then you’ll have to make do with this!

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Burchell at the Cape

The last post looked at William Burchell, the son of a London nurseryman who after emigrating to St Helena in 1805, began the process of cataloguing its flora and fauna and setting up a botanic garden. Frustrated by the attitude of successive governors to his work  in 1810, he decided to leave to following an offer to become the botanist in Britain’s newly acquired colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

Even though the job didn’t in the end materialise, Burchell was to remain there for 5 years and wrote up his extensive journeys  in Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, published in 1822-24,  a readable and detailed account of his 4,500 miles of  exploration and collecting. Apart from giving”a faithful picture of occurrences and observations… even to the minutest particular” on every aspect of life, it is illustrated with his lively sketches and watercolours.

Burchell  was, unlike many other plants hunters, not answerable to  any organization or private patron so he could  explore study and collect wherever, whatever and however he liked, and in the process he made an extraordinary contribution to science, and botany in particular.

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William Burchell and St Helena

“The American Aloe on St Helena” 17th Feb 1807, including a self-portrait by William Burchell, from Burchell’s Travels [full ref at end]

St Helena is one of the most remote places on Earth, 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) east of Rio de Janeiro and  almost 2000 kilometres (1,210 miles) from the nearest bit of  the African coast.  It’s probably most famous for being Napoleon’s place of exile.  Until the weekly air service started in 2017 it took 6 days by boat to Cape Town, which you might think was a long time, until you consider that  it took the ex-emperor ten weeks to get there on a ship from Britain.

But it ought to be more famous for its extraordinary plant life, and probably would have been if it hadn’t all been driven to the extinction or the very verge of it by man…and his goats!

The first person to attempt an inventory of its natural history  was William Burchell, a Londoner, who emigrated there in the early 19thc and tried to establish a botanic garden, before moving on to South Africa and becoming  probably  “the most prolific collector of botanical and zoological specimens” the world had then known.

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Garden Party Games – Edwardian style

from Chatterbox magazine, 1915

It was my birthday recently but unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite suitable for organising a garden party to celebrate. Nevertheless  with the weather warming up again I thought I would offer some tried and tested seasonal advice about using your garden to entertain but please remember “one of the most important features of successful entertaining is that guests be kept so well employed in enjoying themselves that the time never has a chance to drag.”

“In order to ensure this happy state of things it is a wise plan to arrange for some really good games beforehand, especially when there are young folk to be included in the invitations. The more original the plan of amusement the better, for novelty is always pleasing. Therefore, a few suggestions adaptable for a garden party may perhaps be welcome to readers in search of something fresh in this direction.”

I can’t say I’ve ever tried any of these activities but they were apparently all the rage for “young people”  in 1907!

from The Girl’s Realm, 1907

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