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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

The fruit-garden illustrated

Double-page illustration of various types of grapes: the claret, the July and blackcurrant, with leaves also shownIllustration of various types of grapesThe long period of domestic peace and growing prosperity which England enjoyed in the 18th century saw the rise of the English country house, with its large and productive estate, gardens and parkland.

Improvements in agricultural and horticultural techniques, coupled with the anxiety, on the part of both long-established country landowners and the newly rich mercantile class, that their grounds should be laid out in accordance with current notions of fashion and taste, led to a plethora of books on landscape design and gardening.

The son of a Twickenham gardener, Batty Langley (1696-1751) was a prolific writer on architecture, building and garden design. He favoured what he called an ‘arti-natural’ style of landscape, with twisting paths and sudden surprises of vista, design principles which he elucidated in his 1728 work, New principles of gardening. In Pomona, however, he deals with the more practical topic of fruit cultivation. The book is full of sensible advice for the gardener on the siting, planting and care of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.

Grapes were often grown in 18th century southern English gardens, usually against a sheltered south-facing wall, but sometimes, as the caption to the picture of the claret grape indicates, in an open vineyard. The vagaries of the English climate have generally prevented the large-scale cultivation of grapes but some vine growers met with success, as Langley’s text makes clear:

If any doubt or dispute the truth thereof, let them but go and view the vines now growing in the garden of Mr Warner of Rotherhith, which, by his judicious management …, annually produce great quantities of the Burgundy, and, if I mistake not, the claret-grape also, with which he makes cheerful nectar for the accommodation of his friends.

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