Friday, February 3, 2012
Introducing Miss V. Sackville-West
"January 18th, 1953
Not for the first time I find myself at a loss to know what to write about. January is a dead season, when one cannot get out to do anything active in the garden, so one is reduced to studying catalogues under the lamp and thereby being induced to order far more plants or seeds than one ought to."
I love her book In Your Garden Again, which was her second gardening book. I have to admit that she scares the living daylights out of me. I imagine her marching around with her secateurs ready to chop the heads off any flowers that aren't quite up to standard. She doesn't hold back with her views, "I hate, hate, hate American Pillar and her sweetly pink companion Perkins." She's talking about roses. Often irritated by one thing or another this makes for very entertaining reading. The following entry, about children in the garden, is hilarious:
"February 17, 1952
So humble is the Humble Plant, so bashful, that a mere touch of the finger or a puff of breath blown across it will cause it to collapse instantly into a woebegone heap, like the once popular Ally Sloper. One grows it purely for the purpose of amusing the children. The normal child, if not an insufferable prig, thoroughly enjoys being unkind to something; so here is a harmless outlet for this instinct in the human young. Shrieks of delight are evoked, enhanced by the sadistic pleasure of doing it over and over again. 'Let's go back and see if it has sat up yet.' It probably has, for it seems to be endowed with endless patience under such mischievous persecution."
There are richly painted illustrations by the botanical illustrator Frederick W. Smith, from his book The Florists Museum: A register of the Newest and Most Beautiful Varieties of Flowers, published 1837. Miss Sackville-West has a wealth of knowledge to share. She writes at length about my favourite flower, roses. As well as making me laugh her book has lots of gardening tips, often delivered in a way that makes me feel I've been told off and should go and sit in the corner.
"January 25th, 1953
May I add, to correct what seems to be a misapprehension on the part of many people, that roses can still safely be planted up to the beginning or middle of March."