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Book Extract | Garden: Exploring the Horticultural World, by Phaidon

We’ve teamed up with Phaidon to give away a copy of their new book GARDEN: Exploring the Horticultural World. From the Garden Museum’s collection to the pages of this beautifully produced book, GARDEN presents the many ways artists have found inspiration in gardens and green spaces for thousands of years, across history, art, science and culture.

With several featured works from the museum collection included, such Eleanour Sinclair Rohde’s ‘Bee & Herb Garden’ to Harold Gilman’s ‘The Black Gardener’, this stunning visual survey celebrates the diversity of the garden from all over the world – from the garden of Eden and the grandeur of the English landscape garden to Japanese Zen gardens and the humble vegetable plot.

Win a copy of the book by entering our Instagram competition before Monday 20 November: enter the competition

We are pleased to share an exclusive extract from the book below, delving into five of the featured works from the Garden Museum collection:

Harold Gilman, Portrait of a Black Gardener, c.1905

Oil on canvas

A male gardener stands in a pose of classical contrapposto, right hand resting on the top of his shovel, a look of contemplative exhaustion in his eyes – perhaps the result of a long day’s labour. This painting by British artist Harold Gilman (1876-1919), one of the Camden Town Group of artists, is the first full-length portrait of a solo Black sitter in twentieth-century British art. Gilman was a confirmed socialist whose deep empathy for excluded members of society pervades his work. This work, with its nods to the triumphal portraiture of Velázquez (whose works Gilman had studied closely), may have been intended to highlight the nobility of garden labour…

Experts have suggested that there are records of a number of Black gardeners in Britain from the mid-1700s. They included John Ystumllyn, who was abducted from his family in Africa as a child and ended up working in a garden in Gwynedd, north Wales; and Thomas Freeman, who was head gardener at Orwell Park in Suffolk before becoming a missionary and collecting plants for Kew Gardens on the Gold Coast in Africa. Gilman was himself a keen gardener, and later owned one of the first plots at the newly created suburban Letchworth Garden City in 1908.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, Bee & Herb Garden, 1954

Printed paper

This monochrome illustration from the cover of a British nursery catalogue depicts a garden for bees, with two hives, a T-shaped path and a range of herbs to produce scented honey, including rosemary, thyme, bergamot and winter-flowering wallflowers. The artist, Eleanour Sinclair Rohde (1881-1950), who was an experienced journalist – and later became president of the Society of Women Journalists – had begun studying culinary herbs during World War I, when she joined the training school established by Maud Grieve at The Whins in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, to encourage people to grow food crops in their gardens to support the war effort. At the end of the war in 1918, Rohde and Grieve helped to found the British Guild of Herb Growers, and a year later they staged the first herb garden to be shown at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Rode published A Book of Herbs in 1920 and produced four more books and numerous pamphlets on herbs and vegetables, as well as becoming a pioneering garden historian and bibliographer 202 of Renaissance herbals and gardening books. She also continued her practical involvement with herb and vegetable growing, advising Hilda Leyel when she founded the herb store Culpeper House; after World War II, Rohde redesigned the kitchen garden at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. She also ran an herb nursery from her house, Cranham Lodge in Reigate. After her death the nursery was taken over by Kathleen Hunter, who eventually moved it to Wheal Frances in Cornwall, using this illustration for her catalogues.

Corry’s Slug Death, 1970s


‘One taste and they are dead reads the bold claim emblazoned across this bright yellow tin of Corry’s Slug Death, a ‘magic’ slug and snail pesticide that promised to rid gardens of unwanted molluscs. The eye-catching label would have grabbed the attention of any exasperated gardener who discovered the slimy pests munching and shredding their prize plants and vegetables. Some swear by beer traps, while others insist on hand-picking slugs into containers, but many just want the destructive creatures 10 mm < slug Corry’s Slug Death, 1970s gone for good. Corry’s tapped into this desire, and the hyperbolic claims of its labels and advertising campaigns had some merit thanks to the product’s original active ingredient of metaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical with no antidote, which not only terminates slugs and snails, but can also seriously harm birds, humans and other mammals if Ingested. Certainly, nothing like it had ever before been discovered, but since April 2022 it has been illegal to sell and use metaldehyde products in the United Kingdom.

The original Corry’s Slug Death formula was developed in the nineteenth century by William Longman Corry, the head of Corry & Co., the largest manufacturer and supplier of agricultural and horticultural equipment in Britain. The company still produces pesticides, and its newest generation of slug and snail killer replaces the banned chemical with sodium ferric EDTA, which, although not as ‘miraculous’ as its predecessor, poses less risk to other wildlife.

William Banks Fortescue, Lady Watering the Garden Room, c.1910

Oil on canvas

This domestic scene by British painter William Banks Fortescue (1850-1924) is a prime example of a recurring nineteenth-century genre motif that subtly reassessed the cultural conception that plants and gardening should be considered female activities because of the gentleness associated with them. At the time, leading domestic lives, far removed from the world of work and toil, was a matter of pride and virtue to upper-class women. The white dress the woman wears – Fortescue highlights that she is a ‘lady’ – is far from the kind of pragmatic gardening outfit she ought to be wearing in the conservatory. But the elegance and whiteness of her attire, framed by the colourful blooms, evokes a purity and uncorrupted beauty that reflect positively on her character.

Metaphorically, the painting unwittingly captures the entrapments that women still experienced at the beginning of the twentieth century – a time when, in many parts of Europe, they were still not allowed to walk outside unaccompanied by a man or an older woman. Conservatories such as the one depicted here became popular in Britain during the nineteenth century as glass-production technology improved, leading to lower costs and more adaptable designs. At that point, they were no longer situated at the end of the garden to grow vegetables, as they had been for decades, but became joined to the house itself. A staple of upper-middle-class homes, the conservatory soon transformed into a desirable space in which to entertain guests and grow exotic plant varieties that were imported from Britain’s many colonies.

Habit de Jardinier, 17th century

Hand-coloured engraving

For anyone who can’t wait to get their own copy, enjoy 30% off your order of GARDEN exclusively for Garden Museum audiences with code GARDEN30 at phaidon.com

Excerpted from GARDEN: EXPLORING THE HORTICULTURAL WORLD © 2023 by Phaidon editors with an introduction by Matthew Biggs. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.