Cowering in bed under the influence of the Great British Headcold, a little light reading was required. I looked shivveringly at the bookshelves and my eyes fell on a little cluster of “comic” gardening titles. I grabbed them and staggered back to bed.
The undoubted star of these four titles was the most recent, The Revolting Garden by Rose Blight. Rose Blight is the 1970s pseudonym used by none other than Germaine Greer for a series in Private Eye, the pioneering British satirical magazine. This little book is a collection of her columns. Here’s a taste of her style, she’s discussing the garden built in London to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976.
“The ghosts of deluded planting schemes of love-lies-bleeding, mignonette and snow-on-the-mountain gibber and grin hideously over turbulent brick paths. This arid expanse is made to seem as vast and uncrossable as the Gobi by absurdly out-of-scale architectural embellishments, a dwarfish obelisk (erected no doubt to the memory of the plants whose cadavers lean against the winds of January), and knee-high balustrades. Diagonally opposite the mini obelisk, a very tall (and ergo very costly), hopelessly miserable cypress strains against its guy-ropes, doubtless trying with all its might not to root in such an ill-omened spot… It is too much to hope that the Duke of Gloucester who opened the garden… will have the goodness to come and close it again.”
No one writes about gardens like that any more, I’m sorry to say.
Going back to 1936, we come to Garden Rubbish by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, trying to cash in on their very funny bestseller 1066 And All That. Trying in vain, unfortunately. Here’s a few of their thoughts on garden pests.
"i. Onion-fly. A species of Fly which, being devoid of original ideas, attacks Onions. Withhold the Onion and the Fly dies. No need to be cruel: don’t keep letting the fly see the onion. Take it right away and hide it.
ii. The Woolly Aphis. Send it to the Laundry. When it comes back send it to the wash again. After two or three goes it will shrink so tight on to itself that it will suffocate.
iii. Wire-worm. Easily distinguishable by its long slender yellowish body. Easily caught by burying slices of turnip (ground bait) secured on a skewer.
iv. Weevils. Ignore them - remember the old warning “Hear no weevil, see no weevil, speak no weevil” and cut them dead.””
1944 brings us Flower Gardening for Ungardeners by Ethelind Fearon (author, also, of Cakes for Occasions). I know she sounds like an anagram, but in fact she was H. G. Wells’s gardener. To be honest, the best part of this book is the cover by Alex Jardine. I think the book's intended to be “light” rather than comic and it begins like this.
“What is an ungardener anyway?
“Obviously one who instinctively dodges gardening. He, or more likely she, is averse from any sort of toil, moil or soil and intends, by reason of tough resistance and imperviousness to hints, bribes or threats, to remain so.
“Occasionally this happy situation, this care-free attitude, is upset by the acquisition of a piece of land which for very shame, you must tend - some dump left in hideous disarray by the builder when you move into a new house, or a despondent jungle of non-productive and funeral conifers knee-high in nettles if it’s an old one. However, in either case I can tell you how to make it bloom like mad while you remain almost totally inactive and acquire never a callus, except those on your shoulder blades, from lounging too low, too long, in a deck chair.”
Finally, from 1944, Tubers and Taradiddle (or The Gardener’s Entertainment) a year in the garden of Donald Cowie who's described in the blurb as “already known to the discriminating as a satirist to be taken seriously, he has a considerable reputation among writers of the younger school.” Here's a sample.
“Already I feel approaching summer in the air, and cannot understand why people say it’s still too early to plant most vegetables. So I put in spring onions today, between broad bean rows. Packet said: “make a drill”. Not sure what that meant, I asked Carstairs (the neighbour), who informed me: “Well, you know, a kind of ditch you make, or a hole, not too deep, you know, but then you don’t want it too shallow.” I tried to follow neighbourly instructions, but making ditch was heavy work, as I came eventually to a bed of yellow clay, far below sub-soil….
“Onion seeds, ridiculously small and liable to run through hands, I inserted carefully, one by one, in bottom of ditch then shovelled clay back. Job took five hours….
“Waiting till frosts are finished, indeed! Why, we might not have another frost this year…
“For the last eight days - nothing but snow, snow, snow.”
So they were the books I chose to enliven my sickbed.
Do you know? I’m feeling better. Not sure if the humour of these four little books cheered me up or the lack of it forced me out of bed to do something else and get away from them. The Rose Blight book I definitely recommend and of the others Tubers and Taradiddle is the pick – except for the stylish jacket of Flower Gardening for Ungardeners.
Any other suggestions for funny gardening books - from any era - that really are funny? Apart from Christopher Lloyd, of course.