20 July 2010

Gardening Talk - 65 Years Ago

Gardens change with the times.

Methods such as composting go in and out of style.

Plants such as coleus go out of fashion and return 30 years later.

Garden writing also changes. New books tell readers how to landscape a home and how to design a perfect flower bed. In the past, however, garden books reflected more of the author’s interests, preferences and passions.

From 1939 to the 1950s, Dorothy H. Jenkins wrote garden books and a column for the New York Times called “Around the Garden”. The topics are similar to todays, including, planting, pruning, and how to lay out a flower bed, but it is worth revisiting Jenkins’ books for the charm of her 1940’s writing style.


Excerpts from Jenkins 1945 book, "Annuals for Every Garden" -

Annual flowers vary from gaiety to sedateness, the plants from midget to climber, and may be either dependable or temperamental according to the individual.
To the photographer annuals may mean the cosmos that provided the background for a distinguished picture, to the gardener the sweet peas grown successfully for the first time last year, to the traveler sunflowers from a train window or nasturtiums from a Maine dooryard, and to the man in the street a haunting memory of a flower that he hasn’t seen since childhood.

Annuals may be precocious by virtue of completing their life cycle within one year. That it is possible to plant their seeds during nine months of the year, may be regarded as a pesky nuisance or a blessing. … January starts the great transformation of greenhouse, sun porch or sunny window into a plant nursery.

A red letter day is the one sometime in April when the eager gardener picks up, with all the expertness of a farmer, a handful of soil… .

In spring the garden is a theatre where one exciting performance follows another. We pause in our earthbound tasks to watch the shifting scenes and if we sow with the peach and apple blossoms, we find ourselves transplanting with dogwood and lilac.
Sweet peas are entwined in the sentimental moments of our lives. The fragile, graceful and fragrant blossoms have the delicacy which makes them an inevitable choice for a girl’s first corsage, for the flower taken to a new baby, or a floral compliment to a gracious lady of any age.

When shorter evenings and chanting katydids force us to realize that summer is beginning to merge into fall, annual asters, like starry flowers they are, burst into exultant bloom. That is, we hope they will if such wide-spread nuisances as wilt and yellows disease, beetles and leaf hoppers have not succeeded in distorting flowers or laying low the plants.

On bright mornings in September it seems as though every fence post in town is hung with the gleaming funnels of Heavenly Blue morning glories. Sometimes a few moonflowers which have not yet gone to sleep are little white clouds in the sea of blue. Entrancing as is the Heavenly Blue, whether used over an arbor, along a fence or beside the kitchen door, it is far from being the beginning or the end of the annual vine story.


Jenkins’ romantic turn of phrase is tempered with advice about using poisoned bran to control garden slugs. The formula is one tablespoonful of arsenate of lead, one tablespoonful of molasses and one cupful of wheat bran. Of course, she advised against using it where children play.

The dog days of summer are perfect for reading about gardening…inside.
Find out more about historic gardens at Garden History Info (gardenhistoryinfo.com), Garden History Girl (gardenhistorygirl.blogspot.com), Sprouts in the Sidewalk (sidewalksprouts.wordpress.com) and the American Colonial history blog (americangardenhistory.blogspot.com).

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