Jane Loudon

Neat November gardening tips from Jane Loudon

Some timely advice from Gardening for Ladies by Jane Loudon (1840)



"The Dahlias, if not all killed by the frost the preceding month, should now be taken up; and the greenhouse plants being all removed, the ground should be dug over, having previously received a good dressing of vegetable mould. The half hardy plants are now closely covered up with furze, or baskets of wickerwork ; over which mats are thrown in severe frosts, and coal-ashes and moss are put over the roots of those plants which are only a little tender. The turf is mowed once during this month, if the weather should be open; and the gravel walks seldom require any attention."


What's 'furze' you may ask? It's another name for gorse - not something that many of us either have or want in our gardens. But wickerwork baskets! What a lovely idea for covering tender plants in the winter - and they are available. Here are some from Andrew Crace that could be easily covered with fleece on the coldest of days.



Coal ash is something that Jane would have had plenty of but it isn't such a good idea to put it straight on the garden soil. Wood ash is much better. And any handy moss would make a lovely warm coat for protecting anything slightly tender. Dare I try it with my Salvia patens?

Gardening Women Tip of the Week: Growing hyacinths in glass vases (1840)

It's not too late to start hyacinths off in glass containers growing purely in water in time for Christmas (use prepared ones) or the New Year. If, like me, you have tried to grow them this way in the past and then found them at the back of the airing cupboard or in the garage in May, having forgotten all about them, read what Jane Loudon had to say about growing hyacinths in water in Gardening for Ladies (1840):

Hyacinth Original 1

'The very circumstance of growing hyacinths in glasses, where they vegetate and send down their roots exposed to the full influence of the light, appears contrary to the usual effects of light on vegetation; and indeed the plants are said generally to thrive best, when the glasses are kept in the dark till the roots are half grown. However this may be, it is quite certain that hyacinths in glasses should never be kept in darkness after their leaves have begun to expand; as, if there be not abundance of light to occasion rapid evaporation from the leaves, the plants will soon become surcharged with moisture from the quantity constantly supplied to their roots, and the leaves will turn yellow, and look flaccid, and unhealthy, while the flowers will be stunted, or will fall off without expanding.'

So there we are. Send yourself a reminder to keep checking for the expanding leaves and then bring them into a light but coolish place. When colour appears on the florets then bring into the warm to fill the house with perfume.

You can read more about the history of hyacinths in the home in my book, Potted History (Frances Lincoln, 2007). Sadly, the type of glass hyacinth vases that Jane Loudon and her contemporaries used are collectors' items now. Because of their fragility, secondhand vases rarely survive but there is a useful blog dedicated just to them. Luckily Sarah Raven has some lovely mauvey-purple ones on sale this year if you can't run to originals.

IMPORTANT: Remember that hyacinth bulbs contain an irritant that many people are allergic to. As a precaution, they should be handled with plastic gloves.

Important Publication Day


Today is the day that Gardening Women is officially published. This doesn't mean a great deal since it's been available for several days from Amazon and 'all good bookshops'. But I did get a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my brilliant publishers, Virago.

So I thought I'd mark the day by posting the frontispiece from a little-known nineteenth-century book, Every Lady Her Own Flower Gardener, by another 'gardening woman', Louisa Johnson, who is, of course, mentioned in the book. This title was originally published in 1839 (my copy is from 1851 so it remained in print for quite a while!). We know very little about Louisa Johnson but in her time she was a rival to the most successful nineteenth-century female horticultural writer, Jane Loudon, whom she had a dig at for using too many Latin words and technical terms.

However, as useful and compact as Louisa Johnson's little books were (she also wrote one on greenhouse gardening), it was Jane Loudon, wife of famed horticulturalist John Claudius Loudon, who triumphed in sales. Let's hope Gardening Women follows in Jane's footsteps!