Saturday, March 1, 2014

More on Mr. Abercrombie: Why He Was Considered Peculiar; Links to Good Quality Online Works, &c.

After the first posting about Abercrombie I was still unconvinced that he should be labeled "peculiar".  However, in A History of English Gardening  (Johnson, George William, 1829) the picture gets filled with more details, none too odd, but perhaps careers were more linear in those days.
Abercrombie's tea and tobacco addiction seem his only out of kilter habits! Johnson's book is very readable and worth a look.  After listing all of Abercrombie's writing, Johnson goes on to say -

John Abercrombie's gardening works, with links to good quality online copies when available, are:

1. Every Man his own Gardener, being a New Gardener's Calendar, with complete Lists of Forest-tree, Flower, Fruit-tree, Evergreens, Annual, biennial, and  perennial Flowers: Hot-house. Green-house, and Kitchen Garden Plants with the varieties of each sort cultivated in the Garden.  Lond. 12mo.

Of this very useful and popular work the editions have been numerous. From "a diffidence in the writer, it was first published as the production of Thomas Mawe, gardener to His Grace the Duke of Leeds, and other gardeners: but it was entirely written by written by Abercrombie, whose claim has since been,  in some measure, asserted, be subjoining in the title page the name of John Abercrombie, to the more popular one of Mr. Mawe." It is to be lamented, Professor Martyn observes, that so respectable a performance should be accompanied by such deceit and bookcraft.  
This copy made available in a quality scan by 

2. The Universal Gardener and Botanist, or a General Dictionary of Gardening and Botany, exhibiting, in Botanical Arrangement, according to the Linnaean System, every Tree, Shrub, and Herbaceous Plant that merits Culture, &c. Lond. 1778, 4to.

3. The Garden Mushroom, its Nature and Cultivation, exiting full and plain Directions for producing tltis desirable in in Perfection and Plenty. Lond. 1770. 8vo.

4. The British Fruit Garden, and Art of Pruning; comprising the most approved Methods of planting and raising every useful Fruit Tree and Fruit-bearing Shrub. Lond. 1779. 8vo.

5. The Complete Forcing Gardener, for the thorough Practical Management of the Kitchen Garden, raising all early Crops in Hot-beds, and forcing early fruit, &c. Lond. 1781. 12mo. (lovely printing in this copy)

6. The Complete Wall-tree Pruner, Ac. Lond. 1783. 12mo.

7.  The Propagation and Botanical Arrangement of Plants and Trees, useful and ornamental. Land. 1785. 2 vols. 12mo.  (Villanova University has an online copy but only for students and employees.)

8. The Gardener's Pocket Dictionary, or a Systematical Arrangement of Trees, Herbs, Flowers, and Fruits, agreeable to the Linnsan Method, with their Latin and English Names, their Uses, Propagation, Culture, Ac. Ixmd. 1786. 3 vols. 12mo.

9. Daily Assistant in the Modern Practice of English Gardening for every Month in the Year, on an entire new plan. Lond. 1789. 12mo.  (Miami University has a copy online, but ...)

10. The universal Gardener's Kalendar and System of Practical Gardening. Lond. 1789.12mo.  (Villanova University has one you can't see unless student &c.)

11. The Complete Kitchen Gardener and Hot-bed Forcer, with the thorough Practical Management of Hot-houses, &c.  Lond. 1789. 12mo.  
Copy online thanks to

12.  The Gardener's Vade-mecum, or Companion of General Gardening; a Descriptive Display of the Plants, Flowers, Shrubs, Trees, Fruits, and general Culture. Lond. 1789. 8vo.

13. The Hot-house Gardener, or the General Culture of the Pine Apple, and the Methods of forcing early Grapes, Peaches, Nectarines, and other choice Fruits in Hot-houses, Vineries, Fruit-houses, Hot-walls, with Directions for raiting Melons and early Strawberries, &c. Plates, Lond. 1789. 8vo.  (No institution is sharing this one.)

14. The Gardener's Pocket Journal and Annual Register, in A Concise Monthly Display of all Practical Works of General Gardening throughout the year. Lond. 1791. 12mo.

 15. A new edition of the Practical Gardener revised, with considerable additions, by Mr. James Mean, Head-gardener to Sir Abraham Hume, Bart. 8mo. 1816.

16. The Practical Gardener's Companion, or Horticultural Calendar, containing the Latest Improvements In Horticultural Practice. To which is annexed, on a plan never before exhibited, the Garden Seed and Plant Estimate, edited from an original Manuscript of J. Abercrombie, the whole revised by J. Mean. Lond. 18mo. 1816. 

While it has a crude interface, it has been kindly made available by the University of Michigan in their project

Thursday, February 27, 2014

L. Templin & Sons Seed Company -Good Seeds, No Humbuggery

Templin's was a major seed house at the turnof the 20th century.  It caught my attention when I noticed I had two postcards from them, one in the delightful artistic exuberant style and one from the killer of the joie de seed - photography.  I suppose it was a gazillion times cheaper to use photographs, but, until good color catalogs were possible, the old b&w photos are as appealing as stale bread. 

This 1899 catalog page still shows the wonderful artwork that seems so much more desirable than a boring photo!

From the Ohio Historical Society:  "Choicest Varieties of Celery"  is the headline next to a drawing of Kalamazoo celery, a new variety promoted on p11 of the trade catalog "Beautiful Flowers from the Calla GreenhousesCallaOhio(1899). The illustration shows a bunch of celery with the letters of the name "Kalamazooarranged in avertical column

The catalog was published by Lewis Templin and Sons Seed Company (CallaOhio)which was among the largest mail-order seedhouses inthe United States during the mid- to late 1800sPennsylvania native Lewis Templin moved to Ohio  in 1822 and started his nursery in 1845 inCanfield

In 1866 Templin and four sons built a greenhouse at Loveland Station (later renamed "Calla). The business had a well-deserved reputation forquality products and for generating its financial success solely from smallindividual orders
Templin's son Mark produced the firm's catalogsincluding"Beautiful Flowers from the Calla Greenhouses." An estimated 300,000 catalogs were distributed annually

fire destroyed the company's entire spring crop in January 1892, but afterwards the firm rebuilt on an even larger scaleLewis Templin died in 1899. His sons continued operating the business until1907when increased competition and rising costs caused it to fail.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Happy Older Guys in Their Gardens

Here is what I enjoy finding when I have time...happy people enjoying the magic of seeds.

Makes me smile to just look at these guys.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

John Abercrombie's Tale

John Abercrombie was an interesting man, but not peculiar or any more eccentric than many folks I know!  He was clever, knew a good thing when he saw it, and had a long and interesting life. I like him, based on what I see, and think you might as well.  What he did well was take the good horticultural information of the day and present it in a very clear way in very focused subject books.  

Upon his death "he was lamented by all who knew him, as cheerful, harmless, and upright".

Visit the super blog this photo of Prestonpans comes from!


The story starts here.  Abercrombie was born in Prestonpans, one of two sons.

Prestonpans, Scotland....Take a look in street view in Google maps.   I can see I would love visiting Scotland.  (Off topic: If you like old pottery, creamware in particular, Prestonpans  and several other adjacent towns were famous for their kilns.)

Just the factsFrom about 1751 to 1759 Abercrombie worked as gardener to Sir James Douglas. He married a member of the Douglas family household and with his wife soon began what would become a very large family, consisting of 16 daughters and two sons. Abercrombie then returned to Scotland for 10 months. (His wife must have been relieved...)
John served his apprenticeship with his father, John Abercrombie. In 1744 he moved south where he worked for a number of places, including the Royal Gardens at Kew and Leicester House. Abercrombie became gardener to Doctor Munro at Sunning Hill, Berkshire, England and to several others including Lord Bateman, Lord Kensington and Sir Robert Darling.
In 1763 he lived in Hackney, working as gardener to Mr. Alveres before setting up a successful market gardening business in 1770. He will have been a contemporary of and in competition with Loddiges. after a couple of years he became a publican in Mile End which he turned into the "Artichoke Tea Garden" , but returned to gardening as his wife did not like the life style. He then started writing.
He was apparently invited to superintend the gardens of Catherine the Great in Russia but declined choosing instead to send a copy of "Every Man his Own Gardener".
From the late-1790s and into the early-1800s Abercrombie was occasionally employed to plan gardens and pleasure grounds. He continued his interest in tea and in practical gardening and writing up until his death.

The following is worth reading, as it alludes to John Abercrombie's mildly eccentric side, but also gives insight into the times.  

From:  An Encyclopedia of Gardeningcomprising the theory and practice of horticulture, floriculture, arboriculture, and landscape-gardening, including all the latest improvements. a general history of gardening in all countries, and a statistical view of its present state, with suggestions for its future progress in the British Isles - 1824
1766. Abercrombie, John, son of John Abercrombie, who had a nursery and garden in the neighborhood of Edinburgh; and was in the habit of supplying the markets of that city with vegetables.

John Abercrombie, our author, was born in 1726; and was educated at a grammar school, till he attained an age to be of service in his father's business, for which he had always a predilection. After he had arrived at manhood, on some trifling family differences occurring, he left his father, and came to London; in the vicinity of which he worked for some years as a journeyman gardener. To note the particulars of most interest, he was long employed in the Royal Gardens at Kew, and at Leicester House, now Leicester Fields, and in these situations he occasionally contributed to the boyish diversions of his present majesty. 

He lived as principal gardener with several noblemen and persons of high rank and respectability, and particularly with that eminent botanist, Doctor Munro (father of the present celebrated physician), at Sunning Hill, near Windsor. Here he continued several years, and was married while in the doctor's service, to a young woman in the family of Sir James Douglas, where he had before lived. He afterwards had a garden and nursery at Hackney, whence he sent his goods to Spitalnelds Market; and the profits of his business enabled him to support his increasing family with comfort and decency. 

At this crisis, some time about 1770, Mr. Davis, an eminent bookseller of London, accompanied by Dr. Oliver Goldsmith, having previously ordered a handsome entertainment at an inn in Hackney, surprised Abercrombie with an invitation to dine wltn them with a view to induce him, by encouraging overtures, to compose an original work on Practical Gardening. Abercrombie consented, with reluctance, fearful it might call off his attention too much from his garden and nursery; and at last, only on the condition of his materials being revised, and the style improved by Dr. Goldsmith. This celebrated writer, however, did not perform his part of the undertaking: after the papers had been handed to him by the humble gardener, then an inexperienced writer, and anxious to have his luxuriances pruned, the doctor said, as an apology to the bookseller for returning the MS. unrevised,that "Abercrombie's style was best suited to the subject of which it treated." Abercrombie, however, frequently lamented, and the public possibly may do the same, that this very perspicuous and elegant writer did not fulfill his engagement.

Abercrombie's first work was entitled Man his own Gardener, which had a rapid sale, from the temporary profits being considerable he was induced to neglect, and soon after to give up, his nursery; and to enter upon a course of authorship on horticultural subjects.

On first publishing Every Man His Own Gardener, the diffidence of Abercrombie induced him to affix to the title-page the name of Mawe, who was gardener to the Duke of Leeds. After the publication of a second edition, he accepted of an invitation from the nominal author of his book, who had been much flattered by the complement to visit him in Yorkshire. When introduced to Mawe, whom he had never before seen, poor Abercrombie (as he used facetiously to narrate" encountered a gentleman so bepowdered, and so bedaubed with gold lace, that he thought be could be in the presence of no less a personage than the duke himself. However, they soon came to a right understanding; for he continued his visit for more than a fortnight, and " fared sumptuously every day." He likewise received much information from Mawe, as the groundwork of improvements which he afterwards made in his book. Every Man His Own Gardener, and in other publications. They subsequently maintained a friendly correspondence for years.

About the year 1774, Abercrombie took a teagarden at Hoxton, near the Shepherd and Shepherdess; and exhibited in the grounds his practical skill in raising exotics and choice fruits: his arbors there are, to this day, spoken of as rural curiosities. In different parts of the garden he was accustomed to fix pieces of his own humble poetry.

At length he left it, on the expiration of the lease, which he was unable to get renewed. Unfortunately, just before the lease had expired, the original proprietor of the grounds under whom Abercrombie held, and who was disposed to do him the most friendly offices, died. This gentleman was an eminent goldsmith, and an alderman of the city of London: during his illness, his relations prevented Abercrombie from visiting him, or from access to the house. On his death, Abercrombie experienced another severe disappointment, in not being noticed in the alderman's will; although be had been led, by professions of friendship and promises of assistance, to form the highest expectations from this quarter.

Previous to the year 1790, Abercrombie's family had grown up and had settled away from home. From this period to the time of his death, he chiefly depended for support on the occasional improvements which his several works required. From 1796 to the time of his decease, he resided at Charlton Street, Somer' Town, except when he was visiting a friend at Cambridge, or was engaged in any professional pursuit at a considerable distance from town. When out of business, he was a constant visitor, being a great walker, of the nursery-ground and botanic gardens around the metropolis, with the object of collecting horticultural and botanical information. He was also occasionally employed in planning new gardens and ornamental grounds, as a horticultural surveyor and improver; for which he was sometimes handsomely remunerated.

In the spring of 1806, being in his eightieth year, Abercrombie met with a severe fall, by which he broke the upper part of his thigh-bone. This accident, which happened to him on the 15th of April, terminated in his death. After lying during the interval, in a very weak exhausted state, without much pain, he expired in the night between April and May as St. Paul's clock struck twelve. He was lamented by all who knew him, as cheerful, harmless, and upright.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Most Peculiar Chap

John Abercrombie.

 I keep finding "eccentrics"?  I don't think they are by modern standards, but it was hard to get public recognition outside of your town in the 1800s unless you were a scoundrel or a good self promoter.

The latest I just met only today, so there is only a glimpse of the man so far.  Stuff like going food shopping, and grading papers gets in the way of following these hints of an interesting story.  From the pile of odds and ends I have still in a folder, J. A. is worth following.

Here is what I have so far.

 Blackwell's Rare Books says in their bibliographic entry for a first edition copy  ‘About 1770 Abercrombie established a market garden near Hackney, and also leased a public house near Mile End, which he turned into the ‘Artichoke Tea Garden’. He later sold the lease and set up a nursery and market garden at Tottenham. His first work on practical gardening, Every Man his Own Gardener, appeared in 1767 under the title of Mawe’s Gardener’s Calendar. Abercrombie had written to Thomas Mawe, head gardener to the duke of Leeds, offering £20 in return for permission to use his name’ (ODNB). For the full story (and Johnson and Goldsmith connections), see Fussell II, pp. 138 et seq. Fussell calls Abercrombie ‘a most peculiar chap.’
The text begins, for the month of January: ‘As it is the ambition of most gardeners to excel
each other in the production of early cucumbers ...’

Above is the frontispiece to the later editions, while on the right is the earlier version.
1767 - The 2nd edition
1782 - The 9th edition
1787 - The 11th edition

and so on....
1848 - The 20th  edition has the same engraving

There are more of his books online than you can shake a stick at.

Philip J. Pirage who has an 1825 copy for sale now writes -
"This was the first work by Abercrombie on practical gardening, which appeared initially (with permission) bearing the title "Mawe's Gardener's Calendar" in 1767. It was greatly successful, being issued in revised editions until 1879 (Abercrombie added his name as joint author in 1776). John Abercrombie (1726-1806) wrote a number of popular works on gardening, becoming so well known that he was invited to Russia by Catherine the Great to tend her imperial gardens. He decided not to go, sending a copy of this work instead. Although there are no reports of what Her Imperial Majesty thought of this guide, it is a very detailed and comprehensive work, going systematically through the tasks that must be accomplished in the kitchen, fruit, and flower gardens, the nursery, and the greenhouse each month. It ends with a thorough list of varieties of vegetables, trees, flowers, and hot-house plants, with brief descriptions and and instructions for cultivation. Our copy is in surprisingly good shape for a reference book of this sort, which one might expect to find in far sorrier condition."

WIKIPEDIA: John Abercrombie (1726–1806) was a Scottish horticulturist important to renovating garden techniques. He is noted for the book Every Man His Own Gardener (1767), which he co-wrote with Thomas Mawe.[1] He also taught botany at the University of Cambridge.[citation needed]
As a young man Abercrombie was employed at the Royal Gardens at Kew, and at Leicester House; and later set up a successful market gardeningbusiness in Hackney and later at Tottenham. He rote a number of other works on gardening.[2]

Selected writings[edit]

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Eccentricity; Hairy Vegetables; Gardenrollerphilia

This is, for me, the perfect catalog.  Full of heavy iron things, gears, and seeds, from 1853.  
Life is good.

I love old garden tools, strange geary things and eccentric catalogs.  This one has it all.  

The oddest thing is the following plate.  I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about!!  I skimmed the catalog and noticed no reference to it.  Plus I would have thought the label to be reversed.  And why are country vegies all puny and root hairy??  Are all the plump first rate vegetable sent to the city is it saying?  
(Note the lobed country tomato, and the globular city one.)

The Whitman Catalog is a joy to peruse.

Here is another unusual feature - blunt truth in advertising...see plate caption!

Their seed descriptions are a good read as well.  This is the first catalog I have seen that clues you in how to cook the vegetable.  
If you read any of my tomato posts you might be interested to note that in 1853 the tomato offerings are still very generic here, and the company felt the need to explain they are considered wholesome.

If you aren't yet convinced this is a wonderful read, here is the crowning argument for the catalog...a garden roller with fancy iron work :-) 
 I keep finding garden rollers to share.  It has become an unexpected recurring theme!
 (Why do I so like garden rollers?)