I don’t usually publish gardening titles in my day job at Constable & Robinson, but this is one of mine. It’s a pretty reissue of a classic 1834 manual by Jane C. Loudon, who was also an artist who created some lovely flower paintings – we’ve added some of these to the book as appropriate decorations. It’s an interesting period piece as it comes from a period when many women would have been expected to have more delicate hobbies, and at the same time has some basic advice which is still interesting today. Rather than write more about it, here is the blurb.
Having married a gardening expert, it seemed to Jane C Loudon, that everyone around her knew far more about plants and gardening than she did, but she quickly learned the art of horticulture from her husband and decided to pass his teachings on to other ladies to help them enjoy the delights of the garden. Gardening for Ladies was, and still is, an entirely practical book that describes how a lady can make the most of her garden in a clear and precise way. Digging over a flowerbed might have been work for a rough-handed, rope-muscled garden worker, but Jane explained how a lady could tackle the job without undue strain, and explained why it was necessary. The advice and instruction in this classic gardening book is as relevant today as it was when it was written 180 years ago.
My sister just sent me a link to this weird hedge implement with this message:
“Eek! A hedge hoover for what looks to be a monster Leylandii…”
I think that me and my miniature hedge can live without it. I have enough problems with my stupid lawn trimmer which keeps losing the little bit of string that is supposed to be slashing its way through the weeds. I tried mowing the edges of the lawn yesterday and ended up throwing it at the fence in a fit of pique before giving up and going to the pub.
I just saw this blog post, by Kate Bradbury, a gardener who chose to remove the concrete from her front garden. She’s quite right to note that the concreting of front garden space is one of the blights of our towns and cities. People do it to create car parking space, but when this practise is widespread, the consequence is a loss of biodiversity, and increased flood risk.
It’s not a point she makes directly, but it is also one of the causes of hedges being lost in towns – on its own a hedge may not seem like a hugely important ecosystem, but the cumulative effect of many hedges is to create habitats for small creatures, insects and bees, wildlife corridors, and the absorption of CO2. The more hedges we lose the more of these effects we also lose.
I love the idea of removing the concrete from front gardens where it is practical to do so – and ideally I’d also want to see more hedges being planted to replace the ones we have lost.
One thing I have talked about in the book is what I like to call ‘hedgelike objects’. In public areas of housing estates, on patches of waste ground, on industrial estates and on traffic islands, you often see shrubs and rows of small trees or bushes, clipped into the appearance of stunted hedges. They aren’t formal, precise or regular enough to be called topiary, but they have been tended and prevented from taking on too wild an appearance. They have a slightly mutant appearance, a weirdness that perhaps arises from their juxtaposition with the urban surroundings. Here are some from a motorway service station in the Midlands.
I instinctively dislike hedgelike objects, but I am none the less intrigued by them. They bear some resemblance to the hedges of formal gardens, but they are somehow ugly and unsatisfying. On remote, bleak industrial estates you see a lot of ‘hedges to nowhere’, perfectly formed hedges that start and then stop for no apparent reason, like this one:
I think the brief explanation is this: When it comes to public areas, formal gardening is a fading tradition in Britain. But those who are responsible for the upkeep of these areas know they are obliged to keep the plants ‘orderly’ or ‘tidy’. Gardeners are expected to achieve this in minimal time, and something that looks like a man-made object with smooth surfaces seems tidier than the wild forms of nature. Sometimes the result is a kind of improvised topiary, but more often the gardeners just compress the shrubs into the weird, awkward shapes of hedgelike objects.
Without this intervention, the plants might look overgrown and neglected. But this is garden maintenance that lacks patience and real engagement. Like the architectural pastiches of the out-of-town supermarkets they often accompany, hedgelike objects make a superficial nod to the past, without truly reflecting the tradition they are imitating. They are quick fixes, closer to the prefab classrooms, badly planned tower blocks and shoddy modern shopping centres that blighted the country in the last century. It’s a shame there isn’t more time or money available to make the greenery of our public areas more genuinely attractive and well-tended.
Just a couple of pictures of hedges from my local streets, cut in unusual ways.
I go on the theory that you can tell a lot about the psychology of someone by the way they keep their hedge…
Anne Wareham, author of The Bad Tempered Gardener, has rightly taken me to task for not including her gorgeous hedges at Veddw House Garden in my book. I haven’t made it out to Monmouthshire in the last year or so, and thus haven’t been able to see it in person yet, but it is definitely a garden I would love to visit when I get the chance.
On the website there are some great pictures of the hedges, including some lovely winter views.
In my defence, Britain has so many extraordinary gardens, it would take a lifetime to fit them all in…
I’ve previously mentioned the use of “hedge-” as a derogatory prefix, as for instance in the adjective “hedge-born” which means “of low birth” or “born under a hedge”. In past centuries, poor people might seek medical help from a “hedge-doctor”, Irish Catholic culture (and the Gaelic language) were preserved during the period of the repressive Penal Laws by “hedge-priests” teaching at hedge schools. Richard Jefferies also talked of the common people as “the people of the hedges”.
Anyhow, I’ve always tended to assume that hedgehogs are so named because they live in hedges. Of course this clearly isn’t exactly true as they can also be found in any area of low scrubby vegetation and don’t necessarily need a hedge to live in. But I hadn’t thought through any alternative theory.
But the other day it occurred to me that one of the uses of hedgehogs for poor people in centuries past was as a cheap source of meat. Traditionally they were baked in clay, and the soft underbelly could then be eaten while the clay held on to the prickles.
I wonder if “hedge-hog” was derived from their role as a downmarket substitute for pork rather than just referring to the environment in which they lived. The fact that the cooking method I’ve mentioned was often associated with gypsies and travellers would only have helped to make it a dish that became seen as “only for the poor man’s table.”