I have copies of The Royal Horticultural Society Journal; ‘The Garden’ going right back to the second one published in 1934. It was actually called ‘My Garden’ in those days. They make fascinating reading, especially those published in the war years and directly afterwards. They have a combination of serious and informative articles by such writers as A. T. Johnson and Will Ingwerson and toe-curlingly whimsical ones by people such as Beverley Nichols. They are all liberally sprinkled with awful poems: ‘A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot’ sort of thing.
The adverts were for Chilprufe vests, (featuring a very martial-looking toddler) and for biscuits made in ‘clean modern factories’. There were plenty of adverts for tonics and bizarrely for rabbit care. Smoking Players Cigarettes seemed to be patriotic for some reason.
Most of the adverts though, were for things you couldn’t have because of the war: Ford cars, batteries and films which were needed for the war effort. Adverts announced that Peak Frean’s biscuits were unavailable at the moment, but would be back after victory. Even Chappie Dog Food was only available for a few privileged dogs, ‘the dogs would say: “sorry fellars, there’s not enough Chappie for all of us” and the advert urged everyone to save their dogs’ bones for salvage. This is taking recycling to a level unimagined by the greenest of us.
Here are a few more war-time adverts.
Contributors to these early editions include Captain W. E. Johns of ‘Biggles’ fame. In 1944 he told how he was at a loss as how to recycle an embarrassing number of wine bottles. He feared that after five years they were a monument to his depravity. He solved the problem by burying them under his terrace.
Other contributors were F.C. Puddle, and the appropriately named F.A. Bush who, in 1934, without any sense of irony explained which were the best shrubs to grow. A good example of ‘nominative determinism’
There was a great deal of worrying about how gardens would be replanted and managed after the war. In 1944 the editor, Theo . A. Stephens, bemoaned the fact that the minimum wage that was £1 a week for gardeners before the war, may go as high as £3.5s. He suggested that all wages paid to gardeners should be deducted from employer’s gross income before assessment for income tax.
The thought of having to start so many overgrown gardens from scratch must have been daunting but Theo Stephens took comfort from the fact that there would be many new chemical aids to gardening after the war such as DDT. (Brilliant for keeping pests off your veg.)
The big concern for gardeners though, must have been the vast loss of plants when flower gardens were dug up or abandoned. The difficulties for nurserymen to keep things going at times of austerity must have been immense. Some contributors to the Journal were sympathetic to their problems, others complained about the high cost of plants. Captain Johns accused a nurseryman of ‘rank profiteering’ when he had to pay seven shillings for a cyclamen. But how were they to make a living when everyone was growing nothing but turnips?
For those of us who adore roses, it is sobering to think how very close to losing many of our favourite old fashioned ones we came when the fashion was for the biggest and brightest hybrid teas. And indeed how many were in fact lost forever.
It is heartening to read Walter Easlea putting in a plea for the charm of single roses in 1944. He wrote of the delights of two of my favourites, R. ‘Dainty Bess’ and R. ‘Mrs. Oakley Fisher’. In another article in July, 1944 titled, ‘Hold on to the Old Roses’, he suggested readers should look after the old varieties because they may become unavailable. This was a very real risk at the time, and it is good to realise that people like Easlea and later Vita Sackville West were championing these beauties which we now value so highly. Easlea listed 30 varieties which he believed to be particularly at risk. He urged his readers to take particular good care of them. Of these 16 are well known and loved today, but 14 of them are unknown to me and they are not listed in The RHS Dictionary of Roses. These are R. Prince de Bulgare, R.Laurent Carle, R. Lieutenant Chaure, R. Lady Alice Stanley, R. Pharisaer, R. Sachsengruss, R. Viscountess Folkestone, R.Grace Darling, R.Tosca, R.Antoine Mari, R.Gorgeous, R. Mrs. Foley Hobbs, R.Mrs. Wemyss Quin and R. Gustave Regis.
I would be interested to know whether anyone knows of any of these roses, some of which I presume were early Hybrid Teas, but all considered by Easlea to be garden-worthy.
In October 1944 W. Slinger replied to the article with one entitled “WHO Wants the Old Roses?’ He said that as a nursery man he found that these roses were simply not in demand. He had offered them because of their wonderful perfume but no one bought them. He admitted that there might be a case for stocking old roses but nurserymen simply could not afford to carry dead weight. It is sad to think how many lovely roses have been lost to us because of our grandparent’s and parent’s love of the horrible, scentless stiff hybrid teas such as R. Piccadilly and the awful R.Super Star. Many of these awful garish plants have no right to be called roses at all. Thank goodness that most gardeners now appreciate the gorgeous, opulent shapes and perfumes of old roses.