Returning to the remarkable plant portraits of late Victorian gardener Charles Jones, I thought I would look at the varieties he photographed, and see whether any of those that he named still exist. (There are some generic labels, such as ‘Bean Runner’ and ‘Red Currants’, but many have specific varietal names.)
Starting with the vegetables, the verso of the chapter opening displays a detail of the fan-vaulting-like leaf structure of cabbage ‘Imperial’. Many seedsmen today offer ‘Wheeler’s Imperial’, a variety bred about 1844 by one George Wheeler of Warminster, Wilts., and the ‘architectural’ growth of the leaf seems a good match.
Other brassicas include cabbage ‘Winnigstadt’, now offered widely as an heirloom variety, and broccoli ‘Late Queen’ and ‘Snow’s Winter White’, both of which have large, pale heads, and which we might now call calabrese. One cauliflower is shown: ‘Veitch’s Autumn Giant’, available from 1878, which may have been bred by the Veitch family, but was probably a rebranding of the Italian ‘Gigante di Napoli Precoce’. Either way, it does what it says on the tin: the flower heads, with pure white curds, can reach 30 cm across.
Next, roots: swede ‘Green Top’ appears to exist still in the (confusing) form of ‘Green Top Yellow Champion’; and turnip ‘White Milan’ (alias ‘Bianca Piatta Quarantina’), an early variety, does well in taste trials.
There are other turnips and (to me) a surprising variety of radishes and mangolds. An advertisement in The Farmer’s Almanac and Calendar for 1844 by Thomas Gibbs ad Co., official seedsmen to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, no less, offers ‘Red Tankard’ turnips (where Jones has mangold ‘Red Tankard’); their ‘mangold-wurtzels’ included ‘Red Globe’ and ‘Yellow Globe’, the latter photographed by Jones. One wonders how firm the mangold/turnip boundary was at the time?
Oddly, there are no carrots among the roots, and only one potato: ‘Midlothian Early’, which according to the great authority Redcliffe Salaman was a synonym for ‘Duke of York’. It was ‘highly susceptible to Wart Disease’, and the specimens in Jones’s photograph do indeed have rather blemished skins … There are three varieties of celery, with the earth only lightly brushed from them, and one short, fat leek called ‘Prizewinner’, presumably a ‘pot leek’ in the old growers’ nomenclature. I couldn’t find it, but was sharply reminded of quite how many different veg have a variety called ‘Prizewinner’, a survival from the (not over yet) days of highly competitive growing and showing.
Of three onions, the most interesting name is ‘Rousham Park Hero’. Rousham Park is of course the country house near Oxford with William Kent garden, still owned and lived in by the Dormer family who built it in 1635. The contrast between a modern photo of a handful of bulbs, pulled from the ground and brushed, and the neatly trimmed and almost polished looking skin of Jones’s photo is striking.
There is one tomato: ‘Perfection’ – a rash claim for these temperamental, blight-affected blighters. It is clearly a deep red, but the only modern varieties I can find with ‘perfection’ in their names are yellow. Old seed lists have both ‘Carter’s Perfection’ and ‘Lister’s Perfection’ (the former being one of the biggest of the nineteenth-century seedsmen, of ‘Carter’s Tested Seeds’ fame, and with Royal Warrants from Queen Victoria and Edward VII).
Peas include ‘Gladstone’ (still available as a heritage variety) and ‘Sugar Pea’, which has a very thick-looking, fibrous pod, with the seeds inside gleaming like pearls, as do those of ‘Rival’, while ‘Early Giant’ is shown with pods unsplit. I can’t find equivalents of these three: the modern ‘sugar pea’ looks very different.
The beans seem to have naming issues: three slit pods of obvious broad beans (four seeds to the pod) are named ‘Runner’, as are two displays of equally obvious long, slim, ‘real’ runner beans. Bean ‘Longpod’ has eight seeds in the pod: the term today seems to indicate the shape, as in ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’, ‘Imperial Green Longpod’, ‘Aquadulce Longpod’ and ‘Giant Exhibition Longpod’ – ‘very successful on show benches’.
There are two dwarf beans, ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ (!) and ‘Waxpod’. The former is offered today, as a dwarf climbing French bean, and seems to have been bred by the firm of Harrison of Leicester.
‘Waxpod’ is now the generic name for yellow-podded beans, ‘entirely free from strings and when cooked are of a rich buttery flavour entirely distinct from any other Bean in cultivation’, as an early guide to gardening in India proclaims.
I’m running out of space without even mentioning the marrows, ‘ornamental gourds’ and maize, let alone the flowers and fruit, which deserve a Part 3 of their own. But while looking for the survivors from all these varieties, I came across a further piece of information about Charles Jones himself: some at least of his pictures were registered for copyright. The ‘Gladstone’ pea, for example appears in the National Archives: ‘Photograph of pea – Gladstone, No 767. Copyright owner of work: Charles Sharpe and Company Limited, Sleaford. Copyright author of work: Charles Jones, Norwood Villa, Bourne. Form completed: 8 November 1907. Registration stamp: 12 November 1907.’
Charles Sharpe and Co. was a seed processing and merchant firm in Sleaford, Lincs., established in 1888, and surviving for almost a century. Other images, including the rose ‘Dorothy Perkins’ (launched in 1901 by the U.S. breeders Jackson and Perkins) and Chionodoxa luciliae (neither of which appear in the book: are they in Sexton’s find?), had Blake and Mackenzie of Liverpool as their copyright owners.
The latter traded in various gardeners’ sundries: in the Gardener’s Chronicle of 1884, they advertised ‘Blake’s Patent “Simplex” folding parcel post box’ for sending cut flowers in the post, and also plant labels, weatherproof scrym cloth for greenhouse shading, and ‘pictorial, flower and vegetable seed pockets, and other seedsmen’s requisites’. Fifty years later they were listed in a horticultural register as a ‘commercial horticultural printer’.
So it looks as though Jones entered relationships with at least two firms who wanted to use his images for commercial purposes: more work in the National Archives, and elsewhere, is clearly needed!
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