Friday 17 July 2009

Warning! Plants have 'degenerated' ...

Would you think that the Industrial Revolution had spawned a new breed of plant growers? Farm labourers, weavers and miners had left the countryside to work in the mines, mills and factories, but they did not forget the flowers and crops in their home countryside.

Auricula 'Dilema' taken by Terry Mitchell of the National Auricula organisation

The new exotic species of flowers and shrubs being introduced by those intrepid botanical explorers, sponsored by the wealthy nobles and magnates, were too delicate or too expensive for this new working class.

The workers of the day turned towards those old-established favourites of the cottage garden which were compact enough to be grown in pots: Anemone, Auricular, Carnation, Hyacinth, Pinks, Polyanthus and Ranunculus. Tulips too became a working class flower when the price of bulbs fell in the 19th century, and the late comers to the list were Sweet William and Pansy.

These, then, were the flowers for the labourer, miner and the mill-hand, and a guide printed in 1824 warned the estate gardener against plants which had ‘degenerated’ in such a way! Florist Clubs started where the men of the town would meet to discuss the cultivation of their chosen favourite plant, not to exchange treasured secrets with other ‘florists’. A few of these now quaint Florist Clubs still remain, they were not for the womenfolk of the area.

The birthplace of the Horticultural Exhibition started with the Florist Club Shows; these developed into the village horticultural shows of today. To think that the Chelsea Flower Show, the National Dahlia Show and the Royal Horticultural Society Spring Flower Show all began from these tiny shoots – the gathering of working class men devoted to ensuring that their flower pots provided them with much joy after their day’s toil down the mines, at the factory or in the mill – simple pleasures.
National Chrysanthemum Society - founded 1846 in Stoke Newington, Greater London

The meetings spread from house gatherings to ‘shows’ in Church Halls, or Public Houses, painstakingly judged; the lucky grower of the most meritorious was awarded a trowel or a two-shilling piece. Competition was intense and interest was high – the Florist Club magazine sold about 10,000 copies per issue at a time when money was scarce and literacy was low.

The Society of York Florists is the oldest existing horticultural society with records dating back to 1768 and still uses the Royal Coat of Arms from the Queen Anne period on its documents; The society still retains the word ‘florists’ in its title, referring back to the time when a person who grew flowers for their beauty, and only six florists’ flowers were accepted for show.

A cottage garden

The Industrial Revolution opened new doors to plant growers, to plant importers who were able to journey far and wide with the new modern advances becoming available, to inventors with their new ideas, and the burgeoning growth of learning and education being accessible.

In 1841, four horticulturalists including Joseph Paxton published the Gardeners’ Chronicle as a newspaper, which included vast amounts of material sent in by gardeners and scientists from around the world. Contributors included Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker. By 1851 the circulation was given as 6,500, while the far more eminent Observer daily newspaper had 6,230, and the Economist had 3,826. The interest in gardening was proven – the Chronicle had a huge readership, including international members.

The contents page from a 1914 edition of the Gardeners' Chronicle

Over time different flower clubs allowed new flowers to be exhibited, and as new species were imported and became numerous and thus popular, such as dahlias and chrysanthemums, specialised clubs were established. In the mid-19th century the ancient Inner Temple Gardens in the City of London beside the Thames, hosted chrysanthemum shows regularly in the gardens every October and November between 1854 and the end of the century.

So it was the town-dwelling ‘florists’ and not the estate owners who gave us our horticultural societies and flower shows. New plants were raised, the finest plants bred on, new varieties based on their trade were created – the laced Pink by the Paisley weavers, reflecting the intricate patterns to be found in their work.

Dianthus Lily the Pink
As the terraced houses started to spring up with small gardens, lived in by the new middle class, the shows changed to reflect the importance of new plants, as well judges set new and different criteria: the largest or the heaviest, as well as maintaining the best in show. Fierce rivalry, secret techniques, specially bred plants, painstaking cultivation and a desire to win the first prize at the show were all the ingredients to ensure a successful village flower club exhibition.

Dear Mr Postman .. thank you - I know that my mother will love this information, my grandmother always exhibited at the local flower shows in St Ives and Carbis Bay in Cornwall, though I do not think we did up in Surrey .. it will interest her at how these societies and the gardening journals started ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

Thank you for teaching us something new again, as we visit your blog.Beautifully done. All the flowers and the clubs. So nice. Have a good day.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deanna and Dan .. thanks the lovely comment - always gratefully received. So pleased you enjoyed the stories behind the clubs and today's "who's got the best/ biggest leek"? etc!

Have a good weekend yourselves .. all the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Nadia - Happy Lotus said...

Hi Hilary,

Looking at the picture with the cottage and the flowers, made me wish that I could lie down in the grass and just smell all the flowers. I have not been able to taste or smell a thing in over a week so I am missing those joys. The pictures are gorgeous. And thank you for all the information too. It is fascinating! Hope all is well, my friend! :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nadia .. I'm fine .. just know what you're going through sans taste or smell - it sort of takes one's life away .. no food!

Smelling the grass, the flowers, hearing the birds and insects buzzing around .. just get better - take it easy - those kind of bugs always take it out of you .. look after yourself!

I'm fine - glad you like the pics .. I'm going to change the cottage garden, it doesn't print out ..

Glad you enjoyed the stories behind the flower clubs and shows ..

I'm well - just you too get better in your own time .. we're hear for you .. off to my Mum now, we were watching wonderful pictures of the Scottish coast and the golf for a while this a.m. .. = next post!

Talk soon .. and take it easy ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Liara Covert said...

Everything is always evolving. You can choose to view changes as positive and meaningful or not. Every perspective is a choice and tells you about your own mood, state of mind and other things you may not yet have noticed.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. yes it is isn't it. I just find it interesting how much our lives over the centuries has changed, along with the plants and animals etc evolving with us. As humans we have extra advantages as we have choice and can view things in a positive and meaningful way -

thank you for commenting on evolution as a whole and what it means to us in the 21st century ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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