It’s pure escapism, but this month there is plenty to escape from: politics above all, and on days like today the weather. I escape into the past – specifically the gardening past. I’m not a fan of drama and suspense: the advantage of the past is that it’s over – we know the ending: it’s Today.
My time machine is The Gardeners Magazine, started and ‘conducted’ by J.C. Loudon between 1826 and 1845. Yesterday I chose 1829 to take down from the shelf. He hadn’t started 200 years ago, so 190 will have to do. The volume starts with the ‘conductor’s’ four-month tour through France and Germany in the previous autumn. It was typically rigorous. “The knowledge required by the traveller should extend to all that has been done or written in his own country… on the subject of his pursuits?” All? (And he was interested in agriculture, too). But before long he is off on another hobby horse, the education of children, which he finds so much better in Wurttemberg and Bavaria (and also France) that the manners and morals of ‘all classes of society’ are superior to the British. ‘There are no mendicants among them, and very few imprisoned’.
He sets off, oddly enough, from Brighton and sails to Dieppe, which he clearly prefers. He was a socialist at heart, feels alienated by the obvious wealth, display and novelty of Brighton, and attracted by the accumulated culture of a relatively poor town, where people build (and dress) with respect for economy and durability. Dieppe, in today’s terms, was relatively ‘sustainable’.
Loudon’s tour via Paris, Strasbourg, Ulm, Augsburg, Munich, Ratisbon (or Regensburg), Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Baden and back via Metz makes many pages of escapist reading. Even more escapist though, is the next article, by A Landscape Gardener On the Siting of Palaces, Royal and Episcopal, Abbeys, Priories. Castellated Mansions, Cottages Ornés……….each with its appropriate landscape treatment. (‘Seclusion and solemn quiet’ are what to look for in siting a bishop’s palace).
The conductor’s range always astonishes me. In a few pages he tackles palms, mealy bug and white scale, the flora of Choco (where? In Colombia, and as poor and remote as they come), the pay and workload of a journeyman gardener (‘A man for every acre’) and a plant I should love to see, the Jersey Cow Cabbage. Fact or fantasy, I don’t know, though one might want to escape the smell.