Tag Archives: Lytes Cary

Regency Pot Plants, or Learning to Love a Hyacinth

On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.

“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”

“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”

“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”

“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;

In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.

 However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.

Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;

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We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.

However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.

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Courtesy National Trust

I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.

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Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.

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Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Reconstructing the Regency

Just the Ticket – A Literary Delight

I love finding things in books. I don’t mean curious facts, interesting anecdotes or even well-turned phrases (though I do like all of those of course). What I like are physical objects, press cuttings or pressed flowers, sometimes placed there as they have some sort of connection with the book, or used as bookmarks. They can tell you something about previous owners of the book, or at least enable me to imagine something about them.

Today, we visited Lytes Cary, a National Trust house not far away. Like many NT houses it has a room with second-hand books for sale, now I can never pass a group of old books for sale without looking. Here, on a shelf of poetry, I pulled out a slim volume to look at it, as the spine had more or less fallen away. It was by Louis Mac Neice, a poet I don’t really like, but looking in it automatically I found an ancient bus ticket. This intrigued me so I dropped 50p in the honesty box and took it away.

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The volume was published in 1950, and I suspect the threepenny London bus ticket dated from around the same time. So how did it get there? Here is my idea;

One afternoon in 1950, an educated young woman, got onto the number 30 bus, she pulled her new book of poems from her bag, and was so engrossed that she nearly missed her stop at South Kensington Station. Slipping the ticket she was holding in her gloved hand, into the book to mark her place, she hurried to get her train.

By the time she arrived home the ticket had begun its new life as a bookmark, and remained in the volume as it was passed to a another literary friend, was given to an English student, and so on until it ended up in a group of second hand books in an English county house.

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The book and ticket

And now in my library, between Betjeman, Eliot and Auden, the volume lies – complete with bus ticket.

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Filed under Literary puzzle