Book Review: Irish Gardening

Irish Gardening, by various authors

I must admit, I did not realize Irish gardening was a thing, or that it would be considered so important for the gardening of Ireland to be recognized with its own journal just as Ireland was becoming a free state.  Yet so it is that this particular book was compiled of a long list of issues from the Irish Gardening magazine started in the early 1920s, making this book among the most quirky of the many books I have read about gardens and gardening thus far [1].  A large part of the quirkiness of this book relates to the timing of the journal issues existing in the early 1920’s.  At the time when there was immense violence and strife within Ireland and where people were fighting each other and dying over whether or not to accept the British offer of dominion status as part of the British Commonwealth, we have a journal encouraging the development of gardens and greenhouses all over Ireland.  This is the sort of book that one simply cannot expect to see, as it would be difficult to imagine a parallel universe where Irish matters were discussed where political troubles appeared to play little if any part.

The contents of this book are made up of a series of monthly issues of the Irish Gardening journal “devoted to the advancement of horticultural and arboriculture in Ireland.”  The book lives up to its name, discussing in great detail how plants can be grown in the conditions within Ireland, even showing some advertisements and discussions of how to deal with allotments and encourage native plants as well as non-native ones, and rock gardens as well as other types of gardens.  The contents show the various leaflets targeted on specific subjects that were released by the journal as well for its readers, and occasionally give obituaries for notable gardening figures who died while the magazine was in print.  The journals even contain book reviews of books about gardening, from people probably not very much unlike me.  The journal has a lot more text than one would expect, but the pictures chosen are good ones and add to what is being discussed.  The articles show a concern for plants that can grow well in rocky soil as well as planting wisely for seasons.  The articles show a high degree of concern for the point of view of different people, showing a conversation about matters of gardening and horticulture within a society that was deeply divided by religion and politics and in the midst of gaining its own independence.  The result is a striking picture of culture in the midst of great historical drama.

This book presents the historically aware reader with a bit of a riddle.  Why is it that a book made of journal articles supporting the development of gardening and planting in Ireland during one of the more tumultuous times in their history makes no mention of the political drama of the time?  Clearly one would expect the aims of the journal to be at least somewhat nationalistic–since the journal was called Irish Gardening, as a way of setting it from British or English Gardening.  The advertisements provided show that there was a market for such gardening and that numerous people worried about weeds, kept bees, and had problems with worms and slugs and used manure as fertilizer.  None of this ought to be too surprising to see, but the fact that the journal barely mentions anything at all of a political nature–there is an article about taxes, but hardly anything that could be considered partisan in tone is itself striking, as it makes the gardening journal appear in some sort of a parallel universe from the Ireland that many people are more familiar with thinking about.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: Irish Gardening

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