Home » Exhibitions » Joy Larkcom: The Queen of Vegetables

Joy Larkcom: The Queen of Vegetables

This small display highlights the archive of Joy Larkcom, a vegetable growing pioneer, affectionately known by many as ‘The Queen of Vegetables’.

Joy Larkcom’s ‘Grand Vegetable Tour’ in 1976–7 took her, her husband Don Pollard and their two young children across Europe in search of unusual vegetables and intensive cultivation systems. Self-proclaimed ‘wanderers’ at heart, they were inspired by Lawrence Hills, founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association and his energetic campaigning on the urgent need to collect seed of old vegetable varieties, which could be conserved in the recently established National Vegetable Gene Bank in Warwickshire.


Included in Museum admission

Joy continued her research into productive vegetables and vegetable growing. She developed a personal fascination with Chinese vegetables, experimenting with them in her own garden for many years before visiting China, Japan, Taiwan, and the US on research trips for her book ‘Oriental Vegetables.’ Joy discovered the huge diversity of Chinese and Japanese greens, and how well they lend themselves to being grown as low energy winter crops. Prior to her research trip to China in 1985, Joy had Chinese lessons in Cambridge with the Chinese scholar Charles Aylmer, concentrating on everyday conversation and acquiring horticultural vocabulary.

One of the tools they used was the Beijing Vegetable Production Handbook which a friend had brought back from China.  Its size and stocky format were identical to that used for Chairman Mao’s pocket sized Little Red Book, designed to fit into a workman’s overall pocket (huge numbers of Chinese printing presses were geared to printing this format). With its shiny blue cover, it inevitably was nicknamed ‘The Little Blue Book’.

This book, along with other highlights of the archive are on display alongside photographs, correspondence, research notes, gardening tools and seed catalogues from Joy’s Asian Vegetable Tour in 1985.

The Joy Larkcom Archive is now housed at the Garden Museum in the Archive of Garden Design and is available to consult in our reading room. Joy’s horticultural files are maintained by Kitty Scully and more of her photographic material is housed at the University of Bristol within the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ Archive. Joy is currently in the process of recording some of her key talks on vegetable growing to make her research more publicly accessible.

Photos by Joy Larkcom, taken on her research trips around China and Japan
Joy Larkcom typing at Capo Caccia, Sardinia, Italy (24 April 1977)

Joy Larkcom typing at Capo Caccia, Sardinia, Italy (24 April 1977)