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Home > May Focus : Onions & Asparagus > Onions in the Garden Museum’s Collection and Archive

Onions in the Garden Museum’s Collection and Archive

We had a look through our Collection and Archive – to see what we could find

Collection

The onion family includes leeks, garlic, shallots, spring onions and chives as well as onions. They are also known as Alliums.

A photograph of onion Ailsa Craig by renown flower and vegetable photographer Charles Jones (1866-1959) and used by Elphick’s of Lewes in Sussex, to illustrate their seed catalogues. The firm was founded in 1823 by George Elphick and based at 18 Cliffe High St, Lewes, Sussex. Gift of Tony Elphick, great-great grandson of the founder.

Poster Advertising Carter’s Seeds from 1938

The poster features the Ailsa Craig onion which is in the photograph taken by Charles Jones.

Man with Allotment Onion Crop 1920

A poster with cartoon-like illustrations showing how to plant cabbages, tomatoes, leeks and onions. Issued by the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries and printed for H.M. Stationery Office by Fosh & Cross Ltd. Undated, but perhaps c.1950

‘White Lisbon’ Spring Onion Seeds from Woolworths 1956

A seed packet for the spring onion ‘White Lisbon’ from F.W. Woolworth Co, Ltd, New Bond Street House,1-5 New Bond Street, London.  Gift of Peggy Brown.

Sheffield Corporation Exhibition of Allotment Onions 1920

Photograph showing prize-winning onions, part of a Sheffield Corporation horticultural show held at an unnamed venue and dated September 1920.  From an archive of glass lantern slides relating to Sheffield allotments from 1919 to 1920.

Sheffield Corporation Exhibition of Allotments Leeks, 1919

Photograph showing a display of prize-winning leeks, part of a Sheffield Corporation Horticultural Show held at an unnamed venue.  From an archive of glass lantern slides relating to Sheffield allotments dated 1919 and 1920.

Sheffield Corporation Allotment with Produce 1919/20

A view of a Sheffield Corporation allotment featuring an onion crop in the foreground.  From an archive of glass lantern slides relating to Sheffield allotments from 1919 and 1920.

Musselburgh Leek Seeds from Carters, 1935

Musselburgh Leek seed packet from Carters Tested Seeds of Raynes Park, London, a ‘dummy’ seed packet used for shop displays. The leek was developed in Victorian times and is known for its hardiness and reliability.

Injurious Insects from ‘The Gardener’s Assistant, Practical and Scientific’ by Robert Thompson 1878

A plate from ‘The Gardener’s Assistant, Practical and Scientific’ by Robert Thompson illustrating ‘Insects Injurious to Plants’, engraved by W.J. Palmer and drawn under the direction of A. Murray. Those shown include; Thrips, Onion-fly, Celery-fly, Goat-moth, Rose Sawfly, Pear-tree Slug and Colorado Beetle. The book was first published in 1859 by Blackie & Co, London. This edition of 1878 was ‘New, revised and extended by Thomas Moore, assisted by eminent practical gardeners’ and published by Blackie & Son, London. The final edition appears to have been published in 1913 by The Gresham Publishing Company and consisted of six volumes.

Gift of Sir Roy Strong

Allium Bulbs 1785/1800

A pencil and watercolour botanical drawing by James Sowerby (1757-1822) of small bulbs, possibly alliums.  Sowerby lived in Mead Place, Lambeth, where he had a studio and museum, and was buried in St Mary-at-Lambeth. From a collection of botanical watercolours by James Sowerby and his pupils.

Leeks, Coombe House Gardens, Croydon Photograph 1919

Leeks being harvested from their earthed-up trench in a kitchen garden. Part of a set of glass magic lantern slides taken at Coombe House in Coombe Road, Croydon, Surrey by M.E. MIlls and probably used for lectures to instruct on gardening practises.

Planting Leeks Coombe House Gardens,Croydon 1919

A man planting leeks in a walled kitchen garden. Part of a set of glass magic lantern slides taken at Coombe House in Coombe Road, Croydon, Surrey by M.E. MIlls and probably used for lectures to instruct on gardening practises.

Planting and Sowing at Coombe House Gardens, Croydon 1919

Men planting leeks and sowing seeds in a walled kitchen garden. Part of a set of glass magic lantern slides taken at Coombe House in Coombe Road, Croydon, Surrey, by M.E. MIlls and probably used for lectures to instruct on gardening practises.

Digging Young Leeks, Coombe House Gardens, photograph 1919

A man lifting young leeks for transplanting in a walled kitchen garden. Part of a set of glass magic lantern slides taken at Coombe House in Coombe Road, Croydon, Surrey by M.E. MIlls and probably used for lectures to instruct on gardening practises.

Pruning Knives & Vine Scissors, Silber & Flemming Catalogue, print 1883

A page from the 1883 Silber & Flemming catalogue featuring; pruning, budding and botanists’ knives, thermometers and an asparagus knife. The firm was based at 56 Wood Street, Cheapside, London

Images Curated by Janine Nelson, Head of Learning and Philip Norman, Garden Museum Volunteer

Archive

Elphick & Son Ltd (1823-2002) was a horticultural business based in Lewes, Sussex, which specialised in seeds. In the archive, there are lots of adverts for onions which could be bought to grow from seeds or sets. The eye-catching photographs were taken by local photographers and turned into printing blocks so they could be reproduced many times. The catalogues list the varieties of onions available, each with different qualities, which would you choose?

2004.434 Elphick’s wood and copper printing block (c. 1900)

ELP/1/3/1/14 Page 15 from Elphick’s Seed List (1931) featuring a photograph of two onions by Charles Jones.

ELP/1/3/1/17 Page 15 from Elphick’s Seeds catalogue (1933)

Archive Images Curated by Rosie Vizor, Garden Museum Archivist