Coincidences (Melanie)

In a fit of New Year zeal, we started (note that I said ‘started’) a bit of a clear-up of what for want of a better word you might call ‘stuff’.  Out of this stuff emerged some old family photographs, reminding me that I should organise them a bit better and finally get around to finding out more about the people featured in them, adding to sometimes unreliable family tales.  Those with subscriptions to Ancestry or other genealogical databases will know immediately what’s coming:  I was soon addicted. 

What might this sorry story have to do with horticulture? Bear with me, please.

Amongst the stuff were box-loads of index cards recording research material that we had produced literally decades ago in pre-Google times.  The purpose of the research was to compile a database of British and Irish Journalists – at least that task was accomplished and published!-  and my Ancestry  addiction offered the chance to do a bit of editing. 

Here we reach the point of this post.  Among the information gleaned from the records of the Society of Women Journalists at the British Library and other sources was a biographical sketch of Helen Colt, a fellow of the RHS.  In the 1911 census Helen Ann Mary Colt, of 4 Priory Court Mansions, Mazenod Avenue, West Hampstead, gave her occupation as ‘jobbing gardener’.  Indeed the project had already noted one of her appearances in print on the subject:

Woman’s Platform, interviewed on jobbing gardening as a career for women, March 1912.

A photograph of Helen Colt appeared in the Daily Mirror on 16 March 1915 accompanying an article in which she demonstrated the use of a rake and a spade and in the same month The Globe reminded readers that she gave lectures to teachers on school gardening every Saturday at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Regent’s Park.  But Helen Colt wasn’t active only in this country during the war.  In August 1917 she was one of a party of professional women gardeners organised under the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps to advise on the tending of British war graves in France.  Furthermore:

In 1920 she established [an] organisation with the object of restoring and provisioning the small gardens attached to local schools in the areas of France that had been devastated by war. This involved the encouragement of English schoolchildren to help by contributing seeds and plants to the project. By mid-1923 she reported that 250 gardens attached to elementary schools in France had been restored and provisioned through the action of the organisation. [Notes taken from

The coincidences of the title of this post relate only partly to the recovery of these index cards and my family tree obsession.  In November 2021 – just two months ago – Maria Precedo, a volunteer with the London Gardens Trust, submitted a blog post about Helen Colt to the LGT site. *  I found this via a Google search for Helen Colt after we unearthed our ‘stuff’ and I assume that the research is part of the Gardens Trust’s current interest in forgotten women gardeners.  **

Exactly 140 years after her birth, Helen Colt seems to be having a moment. 

* [Helen Colt]

** [Talk about Alice d Rothschild]

January, 2022

Trispen (Vija)

I have just come across The Meaning of Liff, a satirical dictionary by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, published in 1983. In it is listed:

Trispen, n., A form of intelligent grass. It grows a single tough stalk and makes its home on lawns. When it sees the lawnmower coming, it lies down and pops up again after it has gone by.

I wonder what this might look like?

The New Gardening Year (Kathy)

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when everyone asks you what your New Year resolutions are. The magazines and papers are full of good ideas, here are some I’m going to copy:

Don’t fence me in:

There are 22 million gardens in the UK, so they are very important for our wildlife – as long as they can get in and out! Fences are a barrier to many mammals, reptiles and even some insects, but if all those gardens had little gaps between the fences (or better still fences replaced with hedges) wildlife could move freely between them all and biodiversity would increase.

Kick the peat habit for good:

Those millions of gardeners wield quite a buying power at the garden centres. If we all stop buying peat based products, it follows that garden centres will stop stocking it and bring in more peat-free products. This in turn encourages manufacturers to produce better peat-free composts. Good theory, it would be nice if Thompsons Welling get on board!

Drinks in the garden:

New young plants are thirsty when first planted out, but best not to water them much after that. If you get the balance right, they put their roots down deeply and you won’t need to water so much in future.  Of course container-grown plants will always need water so I’m going to reduce their numbers and use the biggest containers possible. I’m going to add water butts at every opportunity and water wisely.

Keep it local:

Buy as local as you can – check the source of seeds and plants to make sure they haven’t come from miles away, to keep the carbon footprint low and support local nurseries which grow their own plants. Buy less and share more – donate your excess plants to CABAHS plant sales and buy from them too!

Don’t covet your neighbours’ garden:

Acknowledge that you can’ t have everything! Garden visits and Instagram etc are very good ways of showing us new plant combinations and ideas, but less useful at making us appreciate what we already have. I’m going to admire, borrow ideas from others, but appreciate my own garden too!

Patience is a flower that grows not in everyone’s garden:

Get over the panic buying to fill a gap in the border (and especially not bedding plants which are very off-trend nowadays). Do you need more plants or do you need more patience? Wait a bit and nature will do the job for you and close all those gaps beautifully. Theoretically.

May the seeds that you didn’t plant in 2021 find a place in your garden in 2022!  

Happy New Year.