Internet revolutionises the way gardeners work

Spoilt for choice with books.
Spoilt for choice with books.

How quick and easy it is for modern-day gardeners to access information about even the most obscure of plants or accessories.

A far cry from those of yore who might wait ages for an answer in the absence of an appropriate book, catalogue or contacts.

Carters Canterbury Bells, 1934.

Carters Canterbury Bells, 1934.

Ancient scripts exist relating to the cultivation of plants but general access to those was most certainly limited. The gardening information game for ordinary sons and daughters of the soil perhaps began with successful green-fingered enthusiasts passing their knowledge and ideas on to trusted acquaintances.

Then came the printing press, herbal books by Gerard, Culpeper, Turner, and the beginnings of information available on a universal scale. But there was still a way to go.

As late as the Victorian period when large estates employed a team of gardeners, ingredients of the soil-based mixtures for high profile stove house crops often remained the head gardener’s secret. Then in the 1930s, Seed and Potting Composts (Lawrence & Newall) was published.

Based on research at the John Innes Institute, it simplified the approach to container growing for everyone.

Carters Sunrise, 1934

Carters Sunrise, 1934

The must-have seed catalogue at that time was Carters Blue Book of Gardening. The 1934 copy has over 400 pages packed with varieties, illustrations and cultural details.

Highlighted are two sweet peas, Sunrise and Ethereal which had just won gold medals from the National and Scottish Sweet Pea Societies respectively. Also Canterbury Bell Mixed, each in colour which we take for granted now.

I love to peruse the old gardening tomes and magazines that offered tips on cultivation and varieties, many of which have been lost in the mists of time. Just as fascinating are the pest remedies, including some that involve chemicals banned long ago, flout current health and safety procedures, and have scant regard for animal life.

Gardening Illustrated (1890-91) is a typical example. It comprises every copy of the weekly magazine for that year in book form. It is packed with very useful information but next to a catalogue advert for alpines and hardy perennials there is one for guns; said to be an adaptation of the catapult, silent in action and using lead shot with an effective range of 40 yards. They were sold in different sizes; small for sparrows bigger for rabbits.

A copy of the trade magazine Gardeners’ Chronicle dated September 28, 1889, apart from the usual job advertisements, has roses for sale at 18 shillings per dozen, and a Worcester nurseryman is advertising 80,000 clematis ‘from white to darkest purple’ at 12 shillings a dozen, in what is a national periodical. I wonder how they were transported afar and how long did delivery take?

Fast forward a hundred years or so and advancement in the world of communications has certainly been of benefit to gardeners. From reference books to magazines, catalogues to seed packets, TV/Radio to DVDs, they’re full of information and I happily use them all, but most revolutionary has been the internet. Consider the things you can achieve just sitting in a comfortable chair with a keyboard to hand.

You can track down a supplier of the old favourite plant variety that you’d given up hope of finding. Place your seed order or contact the RHS in search of advice on a specific pest or disease problem. Take a tour around a foreign botanical garden without leaving your seat or the cost of travel.

Conduct a conversation eye-to-eye with a friend or relative on the other side of the world and showcase the plants you’vee grown. The possibilities seem limitless.

How I’d love to have asked my old gardening mentor to put down his Sanders Encyclopaedia, invaluable at the time, and take a seat. Then he’d have been shown how to click a mouse and use a search engine!