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As soon as it is planted, even the most modern garden can be full of history, whether overflowing with delightful flowers domesticated by the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia, with plants bred and by the artisans of eighteenth-century Britain, or with ones collected in the Himalayas for Victorian millionaires.

Plants from the Past contains a selection of the loveliest garden plants grown in earlier ages, the antiques of the garden, many of which are in danger of extinction. The plants chosen are mainly hardy perennials, although some hardy and half-hardy annuals, biennials, small shrubs and bulbs are also included. While many readers will want simply to grow some of the plants and read about their fascinating histories, the book also gives ideas on how to re-create a small garden of a particular era, with suggestions for period designs, information on how the plants were used in different centuries and a list of specialist nurseries.

Illustrated with colour and black-and-white photographs, Plants from the Past will enable gardeners both to conserve our garden heritage amd to create gardens abounding in interest and beauty, scent and colour.

'Full of much valuable information, some of it gleaned from old herbals and some from the authors practical experience in their nursery. It is written in a thoroughly engaging style that sometimes allows bracingly sharp claws to emerge from velvet paws' - World of Interiors

The sample here is from the A-Z of flowers


So many species of anemone have interested gardeners for so many centuries, that quite a few provide good period indicators, whilst others, always popular, provide none. Only two or three have been taken up by the florists; Anemone pavonina (often still called 'A. hortensis', and broadly speaking, comprising the St Bavo anemones), and A. coronaria (equally broadly, the de Caen anemones). However, the European natives have been selected for the garden, including A. nemorosa (the wind flowers), A. ranunculoides, and A. blanda. From the Orient come all the 'Japanese anemones' so popular in Victorian and Edwardian gardens, and the white and blue A. rivularis, and many others.

Florists forms

A. pavonina
Star, broad leafed, hard leafed, St Bavo anemones.
Southern Europe and Asia Minor.
In gardens at least since the sixteenth century, and in oriental ones probably much earlier. In the wild, the flowers are scarlet, pink or purple. The plants were vastly popular throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and even in the early years of the nineteenth century new sorts were still appearing (one firm listed seventy five sorts in 1820) They were certainly far more popular than the de Caen types and, curiously, single and semi-double sorts were as much admired as the fully double ones. Parkinson grew thirty sorts, with a colour range including greenish orange, dark scarlet, lead red, purple, and all those colours striped with white. Later in the seventeenth century, following the familiar historical pattern for development in markings, forms with concentric markings were admired. There were also some gorgeous flowers with broad petals enclosing a mass of coloured filaments or petaloides, often in contrasting colours. These were the sorts of anemone that gave rise to the phrase 'anemone flowered' when applied to paeonies, dahlias and so on.

Flanders seems to have been a centre of breeding for new sorts. Many reached London via the Walloon community. Rea wrote in 1665 that 'this common Anemone is by many Gentlewomen and others as ignorant, called Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John, and the Spanish Marigold...'

Anemone coronaria
Poppy anemone, de Caen, soft or narrow leaved anemone. Mediterranean region to central Asia, with wild forms in red, blue, and white. In European gardens at least since the late sixteenth century. Parkinson grew almost thirty varieties, though all were single. Flowers especially admired had the boss or 'thrum' of stamens in a colour contrasting with that of the petals. One grand sounding sort had white petals and a red thrum; another, more subtle, had orange-tawny petals and a yellow-green thrum. In the late seventeenth century, the most expensive variety was aptly called 'The Perfect Curtizan', and had scarlet petals splashed with pink.

Curiously, single or semi-double poppy anemones were far more popular in Britain than the rather showier St Bavo types, whereas in Continental Europe, the reverse was true. Nevertheless, British gardeners did keep importing new types. By the middle of the eighteenth century, fully double forms existed, mostly in either red or white, though blue and purple forms were beginning to come in from France (the doubles became known as St Brigid anemones). All were used for spring and early summer bedding, and the colours were mixed in the same way as for hyacinths and tulips (see pages XXX and XXX).

By late Georgian times, hundreds of florists varieties were in existence, with about three hundred or so sold by nurseries. The best ones were valued at several guineas a root, and had colour shadings of great beauty.

A. x fulgens
A garden hybrid of at least early seventeenth century date. The richest vermilion and scarlet were the most treasured colours, a range scarcely expanded today. This is rather surprising, for the plant is a hybrid between the two foregoing species, both of whose colour ranges are wider.

As far as we can discover, no named florists varieties of any of these anemones seem to exist. This is a tremendous loss, for the species absorbed enormous amount of seventeenth and eighteenth century gardeners' time, and played a role in the garden quite as important as the tulip or the auricula. Worse, some of the basic types seem to have vanished as well. The forms found in modern seed and bulb catalogue s are poor substitutes for period plants, but will have to do. For early gardens, it is worth weeding out unsuitable colours, or better still, marking special plants that you like, and building them up over several seasons (the roots are easily broken up once the plants are lifted), so that you can get exactly the look you want.

Non-florists anemones

A. appennina
Southern Europe. Perhaps mid-eighteenth century. A lovely plant, with flowers of a soft yet glowing blue. Never widely grown, it was most popular from the 1890's onwards, as part of the 'woodland garden' ideal.

A. blanda
Eastern Europe. Late nineteenth century. It is very closely related to the previous species, and new varieties continue to appear. All are lovely, though 'White Splendour' is aptly named if you can plant it in quantity.

A. nemorosa
Europe, including Britain. In gardens at least by the late sixteeenth century. The plant is, even in nature, quite variable though the oddities (sorts with flushed pink flowers, or with petals blue beneath), are rare. Gerard was not only growing these, but also a double white (various lovely forms are still available), and a double purple (now, we think, vanished). It seems possible that all the 'antique' sorts may have been lost to gardens in the rest of the seventeenth century, for Miller was delighted to rediscover all of them, together with a double blue, and a large-flowered blue single, in wooodland at Wimbledon. It is likely that they were there because they had once been growing in the great garden once on that site.

Again, some of these forms got lost until rediscovered once more, this time at Pinner in the 1860's. One of them assumed the name of a great contemporary gardener (William Robinson), and still proclaims it.

Nowadays there are various named sorts of double white and single blue, indistinguishable from period sorts. None are sufficiently different to have much visual effect if planted out-of-period. They all are so lovely that they will look perfect wherever they grow - in a shaded part of the parterre, or in a woodland garden with rhododendrons and araucarias.

A. ranunculoides
North and central Europe. Certainly in gardens by 1596, and probably much earlier. A charming bright yellow flowered woodlander, though almost always grown, since the sixteenth century, in its double form. Not one of the gardens' great plants, but still available and still worth having.

A. hupehensis
('A. japonica' and others)
China and Japan, 1844 and later.
In this case, the garden plant was sent to Europe long before the wild species from which it derived. The wildling was not found until 1908, whereas the Japanese garden plant, with purple semi-double flowers, was discovered growing on tombs built on the ramparts of Shanghai in 1844. Robert Fortune, a collector of the very greatest taste, at once recognised its value, but got plants back to Europe only after hair-raising brushes with bandits and even junk-fulls of pirates.

Once in cultivation, as is the plant's natural inclination, it spread rapidly. It was a common cottage garden plant in Britain by 1849, and in America by 1870. Soft pink and perfect white forms were appearing in the 1860's, and new named sorts are still heralded today. Essential for every Victorian or Edwardian border, and certainly for any modern garden.


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David Stuart