Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Collecting the Canon

We begin with antique landscape plans from 1780 that sell for $3200.  Wow.  Collecting antique landscape plans.  See, I didn’t even know that was a thing to want.

We also learn that when Martha Stewart went to visit Terrace Horticultural Books (and yes, they put a photo of the Blessed Visit on their website), she was after first editions of Elizabeth Lawrence’s books (and yes, I do know who she is.  Sheesh.) First editions of her books are hard to find, especially with dustjackets.

But then there’s also this. The first book written about gardening in the suburbs called "The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds." When was it written?  1870.  You heard me–1870.  You can pick up one of those for a few hundred bucks, depending on how picky you are about condition. Would be fascinating to know if anything has changed in 135 years. 

A first edition Gertrude Jekyll?  Thirteen hundred bucks.  Vita Sackville-West?  A couple hundred. Frederick Law Olmsted?  Twelve hundred, and there’s only one.

I don’t long for these things.  Being around a book that costs more than my car makes me nervous.  I like cool old books, but I want to pick them up for ten bucks somewhere and not feel bad if I spill coffee on them.  I’ve got a few crazy old Victorian gardening books,and even a beat-up old Loudon, but if anything happened to them, I wouldn’t be calling the insurance company.  That makes life with a book collector interesting. There are rooms in this house I’m not even allowed to go in. It works out, though–he’s only allowed in the garden as a spectator.

Oh, and who’s Humphrey Repton?  An early designer at Kew. One of his rants on garden design will set you back  twenty-five grand.   There’s also a modern facsimile for six hundred.  Now, that actually sounds interesting.  (Not that interesting, honey. You can buy a lot of worm castings for that kind of money.)

Posted by on June 14, 2007 at 5:02 am, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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13 Responses to “Collecting the Canon”

  1. layanee says:

    Well, in a hundred years or so, the Garden Rant collection will be worth millions! What am I saying, priceless! :)

  2. Tracy says:

    A warning – Never go to Terrace Horticultural Books without bringing a boatload of money. I’ve only been there once, but oh. my. gawd. – I could’ve taken the whole store home with me. BTW, it’s in a house in a St. Paul, MN neighborhood, which is filled to the rafters with gardening books. It used to be only open by appointment or when they had special events, but is now open M-F, 9-5. If you’re ever in the Twin Cities, it’s worth a trip.

  3. Eliz says:

    I have long known the name of Repton (before I was a gardener even), mainly because he is mentioned in Jane Austen. I believe it is Mansfield Park; Lord Rushworth wants to redo his grounds and the name comes up.

    Repton was the rock star of landscape designers back then.

  4. I’m curious what the chapter titles are for that 1870′s book on “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds.”

    Outdoor Living: Building a reading parlor out of doors.

  5. I have my eyes open for a copy (in good condition at the “right” price) of Robert Sweet’s (an English Gardener/Botanist) five-volumes on the Geranium (1820 to 1830) or his “Hortus Suburbanus Londinensis” (Gardens of Suburban London – 1818).

    Mostly, I’m interested in the Suburban London Gardens book.

  6. Oh… and your man makes you scrape off the dirt before getting in bed???

    Aside from not sounding like too much fun, and at the risk of being too bold (you brought it up), might I suggest (to him) a wonderful innovation I’ve run across: perhaps he ought to invite you into THE SHOWER.

    I’ve owned or rented a shower or two over the years. I HIGHLY recommend them. If you are interested, there is a related thing that I am also quite delighted about: THE WARM TOWEL.

    If any of you ladies are ever passing through Lake County, I’d be more than happy to demonstrate both of these delightful innovations.

    There is a third, complimentary, innovation: Kentucky Bourbon. You see, they all go together.

  7. Marte says:

    Oh wonderful! These comments are so superb. Where else can I get a little Jane Austen reference along with the gardening. Lovely.
    Tracy, where in St. Paul? I am in the metro area, and when I get a bunch of money I would like to check out Terrace Horticultural Books. I am sure I can look it up also.

  8. firefly says:

    I know who Celia Thaxter is. You can still visit her garden on Appledore Island.

    Her book, An Island Garden, is online:

    http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/thaxter/garden/garden.html

    (click on the link, even if you can’t see it all; it’ll work)

    Illustrations by Childe Hassam, the American Impressionist painter.

  9. Gloria says:

    A smooth, closely shaven surface of green is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house.

    – Frank J. Scott, The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, 1870

    Good Grief! Over $600 to hear that.

    Firefly thank you for the link.
    Have you seen DUTCH BULBS AND GARDENS?
    The illustrations are great. It comes cheap if you can find it.

    PAINTED BY
    MIMA NIXON

    DESCRIBED BY
    UNA SILBERRAD AND SOPHIE LYALL

    LONDON
    ADAM AND CHARLES BLACK
    1909

    Online at…

    http://kellscraft.com/dutchbulbscontent.html

  10. Carol says:

    As Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” And so much the better if one’s library is filled with books on gardening. The old books are interesting, but I’ll stick with reprints (and what’s on Google books website).

  11. Doug Green says:

    Oh-oh. I find myself in agreement with da editor (a once in a lifetime event all by itself I note). I own Frank Scott, several Vita’s, Farrer, Glenny, and more.

    I love these authors speaking to me across the years with great advice and wisdom. There was no messing about with politically correct advice nor fear of lawsuits from these writers. They told it like it was/is in the gardening world. You ranters would have felt right at home with some of their own rants.

    As for the books themselves. These are treasures and holding a 200 year old book in your hands, realizing that you’re the only person to actually read that uncut page (by peering between the pages) :-) is something like a hallowed experience for a true bibliophile.

    It’s the same thing as walking out on a still morning and smelling a newly opened rose on the moist morning air. You can’t describe it to anybody else in any meaningful manner but it touches you somehow, somewhere.

    Touching the leather, breathing in the dusty pages and reading those words connect me to that writer in a way that I can only hope to be read in 200 years myself.

    Explain it to you? Somehow, somewhere, maybe.

    So Amy, do scrape off the dirt but tuck a great book under your arm. You just never know what an editor will pay attention to.

  12. You know… I’ve been thinking about this so-called “canon” and something has been chewing at me. Only this morning did I realize what it was exactly.

    I went to the site of course but everything there. (and mentioned) is sort of modern gardening 2.0. And if one is interested in antique book, it seems like one would be interestered in the stuff from just a bit earlier… the 1.0 stuff.

    I mean, in the 1600s our knowledge of plants basically came from the great “Herbals” and from cultural tradition. (Italians have planted broccoli for thousands of years for example… they didn’t to read about it.) But then, the world changed and the emerging powers started sending naturalists (natural philosphers) around the world looking at the flora… and these people kept journals and published works. Joseph Banks. Linnaeus. Thunberg. Spaarman. (Lewis & Clark.)

    THESE are the books I collect (and want more of.)

    You should just take a gander at Thunbergs “diaries” about Japanese Botanicals. It is, well, pretty much 50% of your garden I’d bet. The other 50% came from China.

    It is from these great natural historians (oh so many of them) that the landscape designers and great botanical designers assembled lists of specimens. In other words, these 19th century gardeners were using the works of the 17th and 18th century natural historians to assemble their plans… and theories.

    I was just browsing through my reproduction of Linnaeus’ Iter lapponicum (Lapland) from 1735 and looking at how many of those plants I have in my illinois garden today. (The problem is of course the language. I don’t read ANY Swedish and can only muddle through the neo-latin… but let’s face facts: there are many blogs out there which I can sem to make sense of either (and they are supposedly in ENGLISH). And the reproduction is great because wlthough it was expensive, it is not prohibitively so. I open it on my potting table. It is dirty.

    So my question is: what kind of ‘canon’ (in English) does not include Sir Banks? And what kind of canon in any language does not include Thunberg?

    Now, these aren’t easy to get. I’ve been searching for many of the titles for a decade or more. But still…

    The Victorians did not invent the garden… or the garden book.

    Whatever.

    It’s a good post. Thank you.

  13. You know… I’ve been thinking about this so-called “canon” and something has been chewing at me. Only this morning did I realize what it was exactly.

    I went to the site of course but everything there. (and mentioned) is sort of modern gardening 2.0. And if one is interested in antique book, it seems like one would be interestered in the stuff from just a bit earlier… the 1.0 stuff.

    I mean, in the 1600s our knowledge of plants basically came from the great “Herbals” and from cultural tradition. (Italians have planted broccoli for thousands of years for example… they didn’t to read about it.) But then, the world changed and the emerging powers started sending naturalists (natural philosphers) around the world looking at the flora… and these people kept journals and published works. Joseph Banks. Linnaeus. Thunberg. Spaarman. (Lewis & Clark.)

    THESE are the books I collect (and want more of.)

    You should just take a gander at Thunbergs “diaries” about Japanese Botanicals. It is, well, pretty much 50% of your garden I’d bet. The other 50% came from China.

    It is from these great natural historians (oh so many of them) that the landscape designers and great botanical designers assembled lists of specimens. In other words, these 19th century gardeners were using the works of the 17th and 18th century natural historians to assemble their plans… and theories.

    I was just browsing through my reproduction of Linnaeus’ Iter lapponicum (Lapland) from 1735 and looking at how many of those plants I have in my illinois garden today. (The problem is of course the language. I don’t read ANY Swedish and can only muddle through the neo-latin… but let’s face facts: there are many blogs out there which I can sem to make sense of either (and they are supposedly in ENGLISH). And the reproduction is great because wlthough it was expensive, it is not prohibitively so. I open it on my potting table. It is dirty.

    So my question is: what kind of ‘canon’ (in English) does not include Sir Banks? And what kind of canon in any language does not include Thunberg?

    Now, these aren’t easy to get. I’ve been searching for many of the titles for a decade or more. But still…

    The Victorians did not invent the garden… or the garden book.

    Whatever.

    It’s a good post. Thank you.

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