GARDENS OF CELEBRITIES AND CELEBRATED GARDENS in and Around London by Jessie MacGregor

Gardens_of_Celebrities_and_Celebrated_Gardens_in_and_Around_London_1000519729 This truly delightful book, conceived in 1913 and published in 1918, is about historical gardens on the grounds of famous estates and or those owned by historical figures.  The illustrations are painting and drawings by the author, and it is rather along the lines of an essay delving into history, that of British royalty and other prominent people.

I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed these forays into history.   Things like

Henry VIII had done much to encourage gardening an garden-planning, and justly celebrated appear to have been the royal gardens of Nonsuch, near Ewell, in Surrey;  but these together with the palace, have since been entirely destroyed.

The author warns us:

My object in this book is primarily to write about the gardens I have painted, but I desire also to interest the reader in the men and women who made, or owned, and in many cases, loved them.  Therefore, I claim the right to be discursive at times, and occasionally to dwell upon events apparently irrelevant, and if I should linger longer than may seem necessary over the early history of Sir William Temple and Dorothy Osborne, his wife, it is because, as a horticulturist, he comes legitimately into my scheme and also because never was there a more chequered and prettier love story than theirs.

By the end of the book, we come to see that instead of the text being a brief complement to the pictures, the illustrations of the gardens have become the complement to the engaging stories.

We speak of gardens today, and think of the 50×100 back yard, or maybe a half acre divided into a vegetable plot and some blooming plants.  But

The ideas of the aristocratic Bacon on the subject of pleasure-grounds are on a grandiose scale.  In his famous essay, “Of Gardens”, he says that the ideal garden should comprise not less than thirty acres of ground, and he tells us that he is speaking only of those that are “indeed Prince-like.”

Thirty acres.  I remain speechless.

The author explains the history of gardens in general, how the early gardens mixed the needs of the kitchen and the drawing room, and gradually became more and more formal, up to the appalling point of “cutting out images in Juniper or other Garden Stuffe.”

Little oddments and tidbits of information abound, such as

Three hundred years ago, damask — so often used by the poets in describing a maiden’s cheek – meant pink, not dark crimson, as with us.

And

The delicately-fringed sweetly-scented little flower which I was taught to call a ‘pink’ was so named, since unlike Burns’ daisy, the common example was not even ‘crimson-tipped’, but pure white.  Bacon teaches us that the modern name is etymologically incorrect.  Pink would appear to be a corruption of Pinct – or pinked – stabbed, pierced, decorated by scallops – as the petals of this flower certainly was.

A love letter to gardens, surely, and to gardening and the pleasures of the outdoor life.  Do read it if you get a chance.  It is a free download on a number a sites throughout the internet, for instance here, or here, just to list a couple.

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