Diving down a rabbit hole of old-fashioned flowers

Welcome to my new rabbit hole, The Book of Old-Fashioned Flowers and Other Plants Which Thrive in the Open Air of England by Harry Roberts.

With numerous illustrations reproduced from drawings by Ethel Roskurge.

Published in MCMI, which if I remember my Roman numerals correctly, is 1901. "Aught One"

It took me mere seconds to download it to my iPad thanks to Google and Apple.

It took me just a few more minutes to find an actual copy for sale and buy it online. I'm a traditionalist. Even though it is free to read online and on my iPad, I want to hold this book in my hands.
Roberts wrote this book "To homely unaffected people who appreciate homely unassuming flowers".  

It's for plain folk like us!

People wonder what is useful in these old gardening books.   Plenty is useful and as a bonus it is described with a flowery, poetic language that is lost to us at times.

For example, we might write today that you don't have to spend a lot on plants to have a lovely garden. Ho hum. 

As Roberts describes it,

   "The cottage gardener has usually to employ the simplest flowers wherewith to express himself, but it is probable that this limitation is helpful rather than a source of increased difficulty. He may say, in the spirit of Lewis Carroll --

     "I never loved a dear gazelle,
        Nor anything that cost me much.
     High prices profit those who sell,
        But why should I be fond of such?"
                                    Lewis Carroll

   "And these old common plants thrive as well and flower as beautifully in the garden of the shepherd as in the ground of Windsor Castle.  The wind blows from the same quarter, the rain falls equally, and the frost is as severe in the one as in the other."

We might write that trees provide shade in the summer but allow the sun to shine through in the winter.   Obvious.

Guess how Roberts describes trees and shrubs?

   "Trees and shrubs, however are useful not only for the shelter and seclusion which they yield, but also for their delightful summer shade. In one of his essays, Emerson quotes an Arabian poet's description of his hero --

      "Sunshine was he 
        In the winter day;
       And in the midsummer
       Coolness and shade."

  "This is a beautiful description of a perfect friend, but it might serve equally as a description of a perfect garden."

 Or we might write that it is important to weed and cultivate so that the weeds don't overtake the garden.

Want to know how Roberts tell us to do this?

""Let the painfull Gardiner expresse never so much care and diligent endeavour; yet among the very fairest, sweetest and freshest Flowers, as also Plants of most precious Vertue; ill savouring and stinking Weeds, for  no use but the fire or the mucke-hill, will spring and sprout up."  So wrote Boccaccio nearly six hundred years ago, and the truth of his observation has not lost its savour in spite of the centuries..."  

Where else can you get weeding advice that is seven hundred years old?

This is all well and good, put what is most interesting is at the back of the book, just four pages from the end. 

Oh goodness, the hour grows late. I must climb up and out of this rabbit hole and return to it another day.


  1. I too enjoy reading such flowery words. It seems we have become a society of edited writers.

  2. The rabbit hole sounds very comfortable with lovely language, the language of flowers. Enjoy the read.

  3. I'm an heirloom gardener, and also--it seems--an heirloom reader. I will forever love the feel of a book in my hands, no matter how tech savvy I might be.

    I've added more than two dozen heirloom flower varieties to my business this year--tomatoes aren't the only plants the stand the test of time!

    Thank you for sharing the lovely words...

  4. What a great discovery/rabbit hole for a gardener to stumble upon or into! It sounds like so fun.

  5. I almost started this with LOL or SLAP, but after reading a true writer it makes our modern idioms sound trite. I love the old writers who truly understood the depth of the English language. I also like having real books. My "library" (our extra room that holds all the extra books) is full of books that people ask why have those when you have an Ipad. I don't even try to explain. I just sit back and have my coffee and a good book and think they are missing out.

  6. I'm a very young gardener (in my 20's, sorry to brag) and while I do love all things old, old books just drive me nuts! I want to see the actual photo of the flower rather than the drawing, that alone is enough to irritate me..lol


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