Friday, November 11, 2011

From The Garden Bookshelf


Garden People: The Photographs of Valerie Finnis

by Ursula Buchan with Anna Pavord and Brent Elliott
Thames & Hudson 2007

I simply loved this book!  Although not a recent release--it was published in 2007--it's a photographic history of a class of gardeners who pre-date the "age of the garden designer."  These were real plantsmen, as both men and women were referred to in those days, whose knowledge of horticulture was only complemented by their eccentricities.

For many years, Valerie Finnis was a teacher at The Waterperry School, in Oxfordshire, UK, a "school of horticulture for ladies" that was run by the famous and indomitable Miss Beatrix Havergal.  The school was established as a training ground to educate women in every aspect of horticulture which, up to that time, was a field of endeavor dominated by men.  Some of England's most famous and influential gardeners were graduates of Waterperry, including Sibylle Kreutzberger and Pam Schwerdt of Sissinghurst fame (see recent post on Sibylle Kreutzberger by clicking here).  There is a wonderful article on the gardens of Waterperry, as they look today, by Alison Hoblyn in the recent issue (November, 2011) of The English Garden magazine.  To check out the Waterperry Gardens website, you can click here.

Below, is a review of Garden People from IndieBound.

A charming photographic record of the English gardening scene by one of the best-known figures in postwar British horticulture.

Lady Birley of Charleston Manor
photo by Valerie Finnis
Nancy Lancaster, society hostess and interior designer, sports an elegant straw sombrero and snips delicately at her roses, while Mr. Shepherd, her gardener, wields his shears and neatly clips the topiary at her house, Haseley Court. They and many other dedicated gardeners are captured here by the discerning eye of Valerie Finnis—with just the gentlest touch of humor—in her photographic portraits.

A well-known and well-loved figure in postwar British gardening, Finnis was also a talented photographer. With great skill and verve, she took photographs of gardeners, gardens, and plants from the mid-1950s on, using a Rolleiflex camera that had been given to her by a friend.

Together with her husband, Lord David Scott, Finnis traveled through Great Britain, meeting the famous—Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst, Lady Birley at Charleston Manor, Roald Dahl and his family at Great Missenden—as well as less-known gardeners, nurserymen, plant enthusiasts, designers, and artists. All are seen at home in their gardens, weeding, inspecting, watering, and standing proudly by their plants, wearing the fashions of the day, epitomizing life and society in the second half of the twentieth century. 200 illustrations, 100 in color.

For more featured books from The Garden Bookshelf, click here.


  1. Clearly I need to get my fashionista flair in gear. But I've gotta say = they don't make sombreros like they used to...

    Come on, Joe = Doesn't this call for a photo or two of you in full retro regalia?

  2. Tovah, Lady Birley has inspired me to dig into the attic next spring for some fetching new ensembles. Not sure I can match that hat, but it really is stylish!

  3. Would that be 18th century or pre-WWII regalia, Tovah? Because I have hats for all occasions. Except I have yet to figure out how to wear a fedora without looking like I should be investigated.

  4. Well Paula, I always say that when you wear a hat to a party you're the only one in the room. But really, I think in Lady Birley's case it's the babushka ensemble that steals the show. We've got to get our millinery mojo rising.

  5. Definitely the 18th century straw poll, Joe. I know what you mean about felt = it's shady for sure...

  6. I am with you on this one Joe...I read about another book today that is on my list to check out when I am next in a bookstore....

    The Making of the English Garden by Margaret Willes..looks promising :)

  7. Hi Jeanne! Isn't that funny! I just read a review of the Willes book today in this month's Gardens Illustrated. It looks intriguing. I think we have similar tastes in gardening books. I remember talking to you about Garden People some time ago when both of us agreed it was pretty special. Great to hear from you! Thanks for checking in!-- Joe


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