August in the Garden

The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals JL58

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals [JL 58]

31 August 2016 marks the tercentenary of the baptism of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, (1716-1783) in Northumberland. That’s a long way from Birmingham, but there is a connection – Henry Gough, owner of Edgbaston Hall and Park, employed Brown to landscape his Park sixty years later in 1776.

No reference to this, however, has yet been found in manuscript collections at Archives & Collections. Edgbaston Park is now a private golf course, but to admire Brown’s landscape gardens near Birmingham you can venture to Charlecote, Coombe Abbey, Compton Verney or Warwick Castle in Warwickshire; Croome Court in Worcestershire and Trentham Gardens or Weston Park in Staffordshire.

There are numerous other records about gardens and gardening in Archives & Collections, and one of the most interesting is a special collection of the publications of Jane and John Claudius Loudon.

Jane Wells Webb (1807- 1858) was the daughter of Thomas Webb, manufacturer in Birmingham. Her family lived in Edgbaston until the death of her mother in 1819. She and her father then travelled to Europe for a year where she learned German, French and Italian, taking in the culture of those countries.

After their return to Birmingham they lived at Kitwell House, Bartley Green (now demolished), and Jane began to write. Her father died in 1824, after severe financial losses, and writing was to earn her a living. Her second publication, ‘The Mummy’, a pioneering work of early science fiction describing advances in technology, society and fashion was published anonymously in 1827. Jane said it was: “a strange, wild novel,….  in which I had laid the scene in the twenty-second century, and attempted to predict the state of improvement to which this country might possibly arrive…”.

The book received good reviews, including one from John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) in The Gardener’s Magazine where he showed interest in the new inventions mentioned for agriculture. He asked to meet the author of the work and not long afterwards, in 1830, they married and she moved to London to join him.

Aware of her ignorance of all things botanical, she attended lectures by the renowned botanist John Lindley (1799-1865), and began to learn the art and practice of horticulture, not least in the large garden they had. She travelled widely with her husband, acting as his secretary and research assistant, helping to compile and edit numerous books and periodicals on plants, gardening and architecture. Both Loudons were workaholics and wrote copiously. During 1842, Jane published a monthly journal, The Ladies’ Magazine of Gardening. John Loudon died in 1843, and left in great financial difficulties, Jane once again turned to writing as a means of earning a living to support herself and their daughter Agnes (1832-1863).

She was the first female garden journalist and wrote practical books introducing women in particular to horticulture. These included: Young Ladies’ Book of Botany (1838); The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden, 4 volumes, (1840-1844) which remained in print; Gardening for Ladies (1840);  Instructions in Gardening for Ladies (1840); The Ladies Flower Garden of Ornamental Annuals  (1840); The Ladies Flower Garden of Ornamental Bulbs (1841); The Ladies Magazine of Gardening (1842); Botany for Ladies (1842); The Ladies Flower Garden of Ornamental Perennials (1843); The Ladies Flower Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants (1844?); British Wild Flowers (1849); My Own Garden (1855).

The Villa Gardener A Country Villa J. C. Loudon [JL 31 2]

The Villa Gardener from A Country Villa by J. C. Loudon [JL 31]

A self-taught artist, Jane Loudon illustrated her books using a new technique of chromolithography which enabled rapid print production. Plates were drawn onto zinc and then hand coloured with watercolour,

Those listed here are just some of the books she produced – there were others, some for young people such as The entertaining naturalist: being popular descriptions, tales, and anecdotes of more than five hundred animals, comprehending all the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, reptiles, insects, etc … (1850).  In 1849 she was asked to edit a new journal for women, The Ladies’ Companion at Home and Abroad, which was at first highly successful. As sales of her books declined she became increasingly impoverished and died in 1858, aged 51.

Jane Loudon’s influence on gardening, particularly in the growing suburbs, was enormous. Her books made gardening popular, a recreational activity for all.

Copies of many of the publications by both Jane and John Claudius Loudon are available to consult in Archives & Collections: please contact us for more details.

There is also a letter from J.C.Loudon about planting at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens,1831: MS1520/43/10.

Fiona Tait

2 responses to “August in the Garden

  1. I’d like to see some more illustrations from:

    Botanical watercolours (1 volume), c 1825
    Held at: Birmingham City Archives
    By Luke Linnaeus POPE

    He is an ancestor of mine and since I live in Oz, I am unable to view them onsite
    Carla Oakes

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