Last week’s post left George Glenny bankrupt in 1839. But, horrible though this must have been, in some ways this was the making of him. He had to sell the Gardener’s Gazette and his exhibition hall and turn back to the one thing he knew best – writing.
He found new routes into journalism, although there were plenty of rivals, and started the country’s first weekly gardening column. Combining his skill with words with his passion for flowers he also began writing gardening books which were aimed at a new market, and spreading the popularity to gardening to the working class. But as you’d expect after last week’s barbs once a hornet always a hornet.
A word of warning: virtually none of Glenny’s work is illustrated, so there aren’t as many interesting /relevant pictures as usual.
Having sold the Gardeners Gazette for £3,700 George persuaded the new owners to keep him on as editor with a salary of £500 a year. His change in status didn’t alter his acidic approach or his fierce sense of personal infallibility so when the new proprietors began interfering and trying to tone down the content he simply quit. He was replaced by none other than John Claudius Loudon who added editorship of the Gazette to his vast portfolio of other work for just £300 a year.
Glenny was really down now. Not only had he lost the newspaper but the Royal Union Assurance Company went bust too, under very suspicious circumstances, owing £80,000. His assets were threatened with seizure by the bankruptcy court.
However he was definitely not out, and was soon back on the streets with another magazine, unsurprisingly run on a shoestring and equally unsurprisingly with other people’s money. It was aimed at two distinct sets of readers: The Court Gazette and Fashionable Guide – Glenny’s Gardeners Gazette edition.
Within months it dropped all its pretensions and was sold simply as Glenny’s Gardeners Gazette, with George doing exactly what he had always done, shamelessly reprinting articles from other magazines.
Unfortunately his luck did not last. Another rival journal started up: Gardener’s Chronicle, edited by John Lindley of the London Horticultural Society [the forerunner of the RHS]. The Chronicle objected to seeing its work copied by Glenny and obtained an injunction prohibiting him from doing so.
It caused the temporary suspension of the Gazette, and bluster though he might, Glenny was only able to struggle for a few more months before having to shut down his operation with a big loss to his backers.
To make ends meet George took a job “supervising” the “horticultural department” of the conservative weekly Argus newspaper.
Meanwhile the original Gardeners Gazette under Loudon was also struggling and losing money. Its proprietors sold it to a friend of Glenny’s for just £350 in 1843. Loudon was sacked and George was re-instated as editor. Loudon admitted in his final editorial that vitriol was more profitable than blandness: “however objectionable the severe writings of the original Editor (ie Glenny) may have been – and it cannot be denied that they were so – the desire, indeed the determination of the Proprietors to be at peace with all mankind, and to have the paper conducted in a gentlemanly tone, has proved most expensive: instead of its becoming more popular as it became more peaceable, it proved the reverse, [and] destructive to its circulation.” [8th April 1843]
In 1844 advanced notice appeared for yet another magazine rejoicing in the short and snappy title: The United Gardeners and Stewards Journal, or, the Nobleman’s and Gentleman’s Cultivator of the Garden, Forest and Farm. Edited by Robert Marnock, the curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Regents Park, it was to be “a weekly Journal also containing the ordinary news of the day” and would be “published on Saturday 4 January 1845, provided that a sufficient number of subscribers come forward.”
George resented the new entrant because It was “an unnatural opposition got up under the pretence of benevolence, by an ungrateful portion of that class to whose interest he has devoted his pen and influence the last thirteen years.”
Despite his fury, circulation of the Gazette was soon affected and Glenny’s margins, thin at best, were stretched. By 1846 he was seeking new backers. “We fancy there must be a cheap newspaper for gardeners, and we don’t know anybody so likely to produce one as ourselves.” But he was floundering. To manage he worked for nothing, and lived off income from his books [of which more shortly] but to no avail. By early 1847 circulation was down to an unsustainable 500 copies a week. George was ousted, the Gazette was merged with the United Gardeners and Land Stewards Journal and under Marnock’s sole editorship, became “The Gardeners and Farmers Journal with which is incorporated the Gardeners Gazette.”
What was George to do? Writing books was the easy solution. He had already written Gardening for the Million, in 1838 which was to go through 17 editions before the half century. The Florists’ and Amateurs’ Annual, and Gardeners’ Directory, came out in 1840 and was the forerunner of his annual Almanacs which came out between 1848 and 1874. These were followed by Cottage Gardening, 1847, and Gardening for Cottagers, in 1849.
Despite all these efforts he clearly missed the buzz of journalism and in the 17th edition of Gardening for the Million he placed this notice as well.
There were not enough subscribers so it didn’t appear, but he landed a job on yet another short-lived magazine…
… before in 1852 he got a lucky break becoming first ever gardening columnist in a weekly newspaper which gave him a much bigger audience. Lloyd’s Weekly cost 3d and had a circulation of 65,000 compared with the Chronicle’s estimated 6,500 and the 1,000 or so of the Gardeners and Farmers Journal. Glenny continued writing his column until his death in 1874 when Lloyd’s has sales of 500,000 and cost just 1d.
He also tried to start up another magazine Glenny’s Journal. It soon appeared he didn’t have enough money and he failed to pay the printers, who took him to court where his previous bankruptcy came back to haunt him. It’s interesting that he’s now described as a landscape gardener, and in other reports of the case he’s living at Dungannon House in Fulham. [In 1860 he was elected to the vestry there – the equivalent of the parish council – there, and became very involved in local politics.]
Of course in a short piece in someone else’s paper he wasn’t free to say what he liked so eventually he revived Glenny’s Gardeners Gazette as “A monthly journal of art, science, literature and general garden news”, which ran for another 5 years.
At the same time all this was going on George diversified. He appears to have set up at least a rudimentary seed merchants operation, acted as a horticultural agent, and even auctioneer and valuer.
Whether his finances were back in a sound state is hard to tell but as you can see he was still raising money for “safe and eligible investments.”
And all the while the books continued to pour off the press. There was Glenny’s Handbook to the Flower Garden and Greenhouse (1850),Glenny’s Handbook of practical gardening … including landscape gardening, 1850, Glenny’s Hand-Book to the fruit and vegetable garden, 1850, Glenny’s golden rules for gardeners, etc, The Flower Garden; its arrangement, cultivation and general management, 1853, Farming for the Million 1854, The Gardener’s Every Day Book, 1856, Glenny’s Companion to the Almanacks; containing useful lessons in gardening, 1856, The handy book of gardening, 1858, Glenny’s Fruits and Vegetables 1859, Glenny’s Culture of Flowers., 1860, Glenny’s Illustrated Garden Forget me not: containing notes on Men and Things.1860, The Gardener’s Every-Day Book (1863),The International Exhibition Remembrancer and Illustrated Forget-me-not, 1863, Floriculture (1871). He also contributed/updated John Abercrombie’s The Gardeners Pocket Journal in 1857, and Every Man his own gardener in 1860.
They were very influential in their day. For instance, The Rev. J Edwards re-used elements in his gardening book for children and elevated them to the level of a catechism, because “the name of Mr Glenny will be a sufficient warrant for the accuracy, in a practical point of view, of every remark made and every rule laid down.” Sadly I can’t imagine many children enjoying ploughing their way through the dense unillustrated text.
So why haven’t you heard of them?
It’s probably because most of these books lacked pictures or at best only included a few engravings. Many were also very similar and just reworking of the same material although one or two were significant works which really contributed to contemporary horticulture. In particular there was a series of papers on the ‘Properties of flowers’, which were originally published as supplements to the Horticultural Journal between 1832 and 1835. These were republished in book form later. They laid down the criteria for perfect flowers and thus for judging at shows. That might sound banal but it was to be a lasting legacy. In short Glenny decided precisely what shapes and qualities made flowers beautiful. No other shapes or qualities, or indeed no other opinions, were allowed and all irregularities and alternatives to his own aesthetic judgements were to be ruled out of order at flower shows. In short George became what might be called these days “a plant fascist”. [There’s a post planned about this in a few weeks time]
All that writing kept him busy and relatively out of trouble until his death on 17th May 1874. He had moved again by this time to Paxton Villa in Norwood south London, probably with his son [also George] who also wrote gardening books, although most of them were better illustrated.
Glenny’s writing about gardening both in his books and in the Gazette and Lloyd’s was short, to the point and based on his own experience. He was clearly a competent and ambitious gardener himself.
He may have been a self-opiniated and difficult man who struggled financially for much of his life but he had one great success: he bought horticultural knowledge to a mass audience. Just as Loudon wrote for the “middle class” and Paxton aimed his “Hothouses for the Million” at the same group, so Glenny aimed his cheap, practical books even lower down the social scale, and in doing so he helped stimulate a love of gardening among the rapidly increasing population of mid-Victorian England.
The first weekly garden columnist! Sometimes I feel like one of the last. Journalism is just not what it used to be.