This post was written by Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian at the Guildhall Library.
This horticultural collection at Guildhall Library was founded by the Company in 1891 with the public spirited intention of providing a collection of current gardening manuals as a reference resource for City workers.
The Company’s core collection of over 500 volumes has been formed by purchases, donations and bequests, includes modern and antiquarian books and so offers an eclectic mix. Books and pamphlets on horticultural subjects to enjoy include herbals, almanacs, herbarium, nature prints, ferns and grasses, early gardening manuals as well as historic gardening periodicals. It is by no means a closed collection and new acquisitions are added by the Company each year.
Key works in the collection include John Tradescant the Younger’s ‘Musaeum Tradescantianum’ of 1656 in which he lists the contents of the family museum at Lambeth named ‘The Ark’. This volume was one of the first museum catalogues to appear in England. The ‘Ark’ housed a variety of man-made and natural objects from across the world.
Another important innovator in the history of gardening was Thomas Fairchild and we hold his ‘City Gardener’ of 1722. He is best known as the producer of the first deliberate hybrid. This was a cross between a Sweet William and a Carnation and was known as Fairchild’s mule, so called because the plant produced was sterile. However, it was an important breakthrough and proved to be the forerunner of thousands of modern varieties.
Fairchild was a founder member of the Society of Gardeners along with Philip Miller. The Company’s library includes a second edition of Miller’s ‘Gardeners’ Dictionary’ which was ‘Abridg’d from the two volumes lately published in folio’ and sold by C. Rivington, at the Bible and Crown, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1741.
Horticultural periodicals in the collection offer a wealth of information and glorious illustrations and include, ‘Curtis’ Botanical Magazine’ (1787-1888), George Loddiges’ ‘Botanical Cabinet’ (1817-1833) and Robert Sweet’s ‘British Flower Garden’ (1823-38).
This illustration by Sydenham Edwards is from the first volume of ‘Curtis’ Botanical Magazine’ (1787) and depicts a scarlet bizarre carnation called ‘Franklin’s Tartar’, so named because the seedling was raised by a Mr Franklin of Lambeth Marsh.
How to access the collection
Guildhall Library is a public reference library and you are welcome to visit to consult this and other collections – just bring along proof of your name and address.