Horticultural discoveries in Guildhall Library

126One would think that a volume offering the results of a series of experiments on the nutritional quality of animal fodder would be a book for the interested minority – not so as I recently discovered on a visit to our underground store. A colleague was shelf checking items from the Gardeners’ Company Library and called me over to take a look at this remarkable volume:

Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis: Or, An Account of the Results of Experiments on the Produce, and Nutritive Qualities of Different Grasses, and Other Plants, used as the Food of the more Valuable Domestic Animals: Instituted by John Duke Of Bedford; By George Sinclair


This 1st edition copy was published at the Duke’s expense in 1816.

The title page tells us that it is “Illustrated with dried specimens of the plants upon which these experiments have been made, and practical observations on their natural habits, and the soils best adapted to their growth; pointing out the kinds most profitable for permanent pasture, irrigated meadows, dry or upland pasture, and the alternate husbandry; accompanied with the discriminating characters of the species, and varieties.”

It is an example of ‘natural illustration’ i.e. the volume is illustrated with 123 dried specimens and 35 samples of seeds mounted on blank leaves. The Latin and English names are printed on small labels and attached to the illustration. This was a common way of labelling natural illustrations as it was simpler to allow plenty of space on the mount for variation in the size of the plants across the volumes.

151This ‘herbarium’ (collection of dried preserved specimens that document the identity of plants and fungi) is an early 19th century ecological experiment. The work was directed by Sinclair and was highly regarded by Charles Darwin who made use of it for his Origin of Species.

It is difficult to assess the Duke’s expectation of interest and sales of the volume. The Duke’s herbarium was attractive but not economically viable and later editions were printed with conventional illustrations.

It is not surprising that the production and the subsequent preservation of this type of volume presented challenges for bookbinders and conservators. Common problems with herbariums are distortion of the binding owing to the thickness of the specimens, keeping the specimens attached to the mount and staining from the plants resulting in a transferred image on the facing verso.

131Fortunately Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis is interspersed with tissue guards offering some protection to both plant and page. The tissue guards carry imprints from the plants and are also a feature of interest.

George Sinclair (1786-1834) was born in Berwickshire and his father and uncle were professional gardeners to the nobility. He superintended the gardens at Woburn Abbey for the Sixth Duke of Bedford for about seventeen years.

The sixth Duke went on to produce Salicetum Woburnense (1829) and Pinetum Woburnense (1839) with the assistance of his later Head Gardener, James Forbes.

George Sinclair went into business with Cormack & Son, nurserymen and seedsmen at New Cross. He became a fellow of both the Linnean Society and of the Horticultural Society.

The Library of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners has been housed at Guildhall Library since 1891. Library users are welcome to consult volumes from this library by signing in at the enquiry desk and showing proof of name and address (passport, utility bill, driving licence etc.) All of the Gardeners’ Library Collection can be found on the library catalogue at http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/cityoflondon/

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ collection

With Guildhall Library’s exhibition showcasing some of the gems of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ Horticultural Library now open, this week our blog looks at the history of this fascinating collection, and some of its key items.


In April 1891 the Worshipful Company of Gardeners passed a resolution to grant funds for the purchase of books to form the nucleus of a library of horticulture at Guildhall Library. Behind this resolution was the public spirited intention of providing a collection of current gardening manuals as a reference resource for City workers. The collection was placed under the Library’s control in 1922 whilst remaining the property of the Gardeners’ Company.

In recent decades, the comparatively low cost of gardening manuals has increased general ownership and the focus of the collection has shifted toward antiquarian and rare books. The gardening manuals were transferred to the lending libraries in the 1960s but the Company’s collection remains at Guildhall Library and can be consulted on production of one form of identification (showing proof of address).

The collection ranges from almanacs to zoophytes; so this is just a sample from around five hundred printed books and journals from the sixteenth-century to the present.

John Evelyn’s Kalendarium Hortense: or, The Gard’ner’s Almanac: Directing What he is to Do Monthly Throughout the Year and What Fruits and Flowers are in Prime  (1691) tells gardeners that in November they should “hardly be too sparing of Water to your hous’d plants…the not observing of this destroys more plants than all the rudenesses of the season.” The volume concludes with “a catalogue of such excellent Fruit Trees as may direct Gentlemen to the Choice of that which is good, and Store sufficient for a moderate plantation: Species and Curiosities being otherwise boundless, and without end.”

Gardeners collectionThe Compleat Florist was first published in 1740 and offered advice to flower growers and pleasure for the general reader. Our 1794 edition offers a series of plates (see left) giving detailed engraved illustrations for each flower, time of flowering and instructions for cultivation. Today it is an informative guide to the plants available to the eighteenth-century gardener.

The library includes several of the works of Gertrude Jekyll including Wood and Garden (1899) and Home and Garden (1900) which describe the creation of her house and garden with architect Edwin Lutyens at Munstead Wood in 1896. These volumes are illustrated with Jekyll’s own photographs.

Another volume to enjoy for its text and illustration is Poet Laureate Alfred Austin’s prose idyll The Garden that I Love (1906 2nd edition) with sixteen reproduced watercolours by artist George S Elgood RI. 

Gardeners postcardA list of the publications in this collection can be viewed on our catalogue here.

The Gardeners’ Company promotes good gardening and supports centres of horticultural excellence. It is probably best known to city workers for its ‘Flowers in the City’ campaign, which aims to “’beautify’ the City, to make the City a place to be proud of, and a joy to work or live in.”

Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian

Guildhall Library is holding a free exhibition showcasing some of the collections held by The Worshipful Company of Gardeners, usually not on view to the public, from 2 May – 26 July 2013.

‘The Temple of Flora’, plants as medicine, the history of botany and London gardeners are all brought vividly to life through manuscripts, monographs, objects, robes and even a silver spade!