Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Valerie Finnis's Garden People - A Snapshot of a Changed World



This wonderful book caught my eye while I was queuing at a charity shop counter last week.


Valerie Finnis was a well-known and well-loved figure in post-war British gardening, a noted alpine-grower and plantswoman but, author Ursula Buchan notes that "alongside the dungarees-and-digging Finnis, there existed a completely different Finnis, actressy, mischievous, a woman who adored gossip and outrageous hats. She joined the exclusive circle of People who kept Pugs (Suzanne!), the last of her pug dogs, a beguiling barrel-shaped creature called Sophie".  


Valerie was also a gifted photographer. With great skill and verve, she took photographs of gardeners, gardens and plants from the mid-1950s onwards, using a Rolleiflex camera given to her by a friend. Together with her husband, Sir David Scott, she travelled around Great Britain and beyond, meeting the great and famous in gardening - Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst, Lady Birley at Charleston Manor, Roald Dahl and his family at Great Missenden - as well as lesser-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, epitomising many aspects of life and society in the second half of the twentieth century.

David & Valerie on their wedding day in 1970. An hour after they were married, they were out in the garden weeding.

Valerie Finnis's photographs are a wonderful record of the gardening scene of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and show a snapshot of a world sadly changed forever.

Interior designer with Colefax & Fowler, American-born Nancy Lancaster accompanied by her elegant dogs
 Mr and Mrs Gerard Parker, snowdrop enthusiasts and stalwarts of the Alpine Garden Society

Hollywood actress, Patricia Neal, Roald Dahl's second wife, and their daughter Tessa at Great Missenden
Vita Sackville-West (in red, inspecting an urn) at Sissinghurst Castle
Cecily "Parsley" Mure in her garden at Buckingham Palace Mews, London.
Margery Fish of East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, who always gardened in a dress (just like me!)
Jack Drake, in his Inshriach Nursery, near Aviemore in Scotland
Amy Doncaster, wielding a fork, at Valerie's Alpine Nursery in Waterperry some time in the 1960s

Taken in the Dolomites, this is Norah Warre, who had a garden in the south of France at the Villa Roquebrune, near Menton
Author of the Collins Guide to Alpines and Garden Plants, Anna Griffith, in front of her alpine house in her Cambridge garden
Rhoda, Lady Birley, wife of Sir Oswald Birley, the artist and fashionable society painter

Aren't they wonderful images? I want to be Rhoda when I grow up!

If you're a fan of social history, vintage fashion and gorgeous gardens I'm sure that you'll love this book as much as I did. You can find secondhand copies of Garden People, Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening by Ursula Buchan HERE and HERE.



Rank amateur, Vix, examines her latest specimen, a blue hydrangea, dressed in a vintage Van Allen cotton maxi (bought from eBay 15 years ago) and an Empire-Made sun hat (found in a charity shop bargain bin last week).



Here's what else I read in April (all now re-donated to the charity shop.)

Linking to Judith's, the Style Crone, Hat Attack #70

See you soon!

53 comments:

  1. what an excellent book, have just ordered myself a copy. I tend to garden either in a dress, nightdress! or my dutch army boilersuit! The last is usually more practical!
    Amanda

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    1. What an interesting sounding collection of gardening outfits -I think you need to be in this book! xxx

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  2. just reading abattoir blues, im a sucker for odd books found in charity shop dump bins

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    1. Me, too - hours of fun for very little money. Never watched DCI Banks but loving the books, got another on the go now. x

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  3. Thanks for the pug shout-out! ; )

    These photos were so fun to see. I love your gardening dress and hat.

    I haven't been around much as we have had another health emergency/crisis.

    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

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  4. Timely post, I seem to be doing way more of everything in the yard this year. More veggies, more plants, more pots. Our back yard is an oasis and we sit in it a lot. Last night I read a book on the patio until it got dark and colder. Gardening is good for the mind - as is reading.

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    1. I love a container garden - we've got frost forecast for tomorrow so I can shift mine closer to the house to protect them from damage. x

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  5. put that hydrangea into the ground in a shady place - and in a few years it will be a huge bush - this plants do not like to be in the hot sun the whole day, esp. midday/afternoon....in pots they do not stay long - to dry.
    looove the book! those breeches!! must get the BW to buy it....
    xxxxx

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    1. The book is fantastic, I think you'd love it!
      Our garden has too much shade. I planted another hydrangea elsewhere in the garden and had to shift it to a sunny spot as it couldn't cope with all the tree cover, poor thing. 27 trees is like a forest rather than a garden. xxx

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  6. Ha, I just ordered a copy! I have decided it's the year of the garden. Xx

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    1. I can see some fabulous garden photo shoots inspired by the book! x

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  7. What a fabulous book, and so up my street, I'm going to order one for myself. It definitely belongs in my gardening library, where it will have the company of at least one vintage Vita Sackville-West book and Margery Fish's We Made A Garden. Margery used to be one of my heroine's when I first moved to Dove Cottage and started gardening. I have visited East Lambrook Manor twice, it's utterly gorgeous! Incidentally, I have some of Valerie's photos in a book called Women Gardeners. Thank you for sharing! xxx

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    1. Fancy you having both Margery, Valerie and Vita's books - a copy of this book will be the icing on the cake! xxx

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  8. This sounds like a fascinating book! What a great find. I once read a fascinating book about a woman who was an artistic paper cutter in the 19th century; after reading a Guardian review of it. I will see if I can get a copy of this one. I once found a beautiful photographic book of writer's houses in a charity shop which I still like to look at ten years on.

    I'm wondering what Mr. Gerard Parker had in his miniature suitcase...

    Lady Rhoda looks like she's wearing the traditional Welsh hat in that photograph and it's interesting how women wore hats back then all the time - even to garden!

    I've decided to read all of Arnauldur Indridason's books in sequence; some of which will be rereads. I went to the library the other day to start this process off and could I remember his name when I got there - could I heck! I'll have to go back next week with it written down!

    I can't believe you got your dress 5 years ago on ebay; I had no idea they had been around for so long. It's a fab dress and you looked lovely and summery in it.
    xxxx

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    1. Your artistic paper cutter and writer's houses books sound wonderful. I get so much pleasure out of photographic books.
      Mr Gerard Parker looks like a character from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - I think snowdrop collecting is a front!
      I'm just like you with books, I regularly come home with the one I've already read!
      The lady I bought my dress from had two of them (one in green) so i bought both! They came with a letter telling me all about them, how she'd saved her money from her Saturday job in Van Allen to buy them and how she'd worn one to the Isle of Wight festival and seen Jimi Hendrix! xxx

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  9. What a fabulous post Vix, I really enjoyed it and I’m going to order that book.
    The First Lady gardener I became aware of was Gertrude Jeykll who was married to British architect Sir Edwin Ludwyn. I saw an exhibition of her art and the gardens she designed. It must be over 20 years ago I saw it in our local art gallery Touchstones. I don’t know why it appealed to me so much at the time but it did. I’ll have to dig the book out that I bought.
    I’ve also been to the Waterperry Gardens in Oxford and Jack Drakes nursery in aviemore.
    Back upto date I’ve always loved Lancashire gardener Christine Walkden. She really is a one off, she’s often seen on The One Show but a few years ago she had her show. It was brilliant, you got to see her at home with her dog and with her neighbour old Ralph. I bet he’s popped his clogs now. I also like Carol Klein from gardeners world. xxx

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    1. Such an inspiring little book, Lynn, you'll love it!
      I'm so impressed that you've been to both Waterperry and Jack Drake's nursery, you definitely need a copy now!
      I loved Christine, she used to be on the One show quite regularly and seemed such a thoroughly nice, down to earth lady - same as Carol, I've got one of her gardening books in my collection. xxx

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  10. I can just imagine my maternal grandmother fitting in with that set. She was of that era and very serious about her roses. Love the pictures!

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  11. Yes, I do hope you didn't rip that second to last photo out of the book. You do fit right in with all the swells. Keeping the scene alive, you are.

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    1. I was tempted to, I want to frame Rhoda and admire her- the coolest gardener ever! xxx

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  12. It is a time gone now, but I'm running into young people at the garden centres starting small urban gardens-so there's hope. I will have to request our library purchase a copy (they're pretty good about that) as I know it would be the sort of book that people would enjoy. Our library also hosts a seed library, where you can get seeds, or share what extra you have.

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    1. That's exciting news - I'm very happy about that! I think a lot of people would enjoy the book, it so reminds me of my Grandparents and their passion for gardening. xxx

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  13. What wonderful images!!! I love them! It reminds me of the garden album of my Grandparents which I purloined from their house after Grandad died. So beautiful!
    Vix is looking very good too!
    Interesting books- I loathe Jodi Picoult though!

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    1. It reminded me of my grandparents' garden photos, too - so much pride and joy in their work.
      I avoided Jodi Picoult books for years wrongfully assuming they were lame chick lit. MY sister's Keeper changed all that- the endings are always unexpected and she does so much research in her writing (she's ace in real life, too - she rescues animals and has bang-on socialist views) xxx

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    2. My Sister's Keeper is actually the one that put me off! I was bought it as a present! It's the type of content of that book that I dislike as my sister loves all that kind of thing and used to make me watch all the Weepies videos when i was a teen and so I just tend to avoid it

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    3. That's funny 'cos i didn't find it at all weepy - I detest stuff like that. I often think I have a swinging brick instead of a heart! xxx

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  14. They are all so famous and yet so ordinary. Apart from the photo with Vita Sackville - West and those breeches or britches? I want some! Life before stretch fabrics eh?
    Thanks for sharing and also showing us your gorgeous flowery gardening outfit. You could just sit still and decorate the garden. Very handy when plants are slow to flower :-D
    xo Jazzy Jack

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    1. You can still get those jodhpurs made to measure in Jodhpurs (where else?) She looks fab, doesn't she? xxx

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  15. What a cool book! I love coming across old ones like that - they are such a treasure for their glimpses of the past. Rhoda's hat is awesome - look at that crown! The gardens make me think of my Gram and Grandad, great avid gardeners. I did not inherit any of their gift, sadly. Fabulous dress, Vix!

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    1. Rhoda is amazing, isn't she? I can see her with a Martini, a fabulous kaftan and a cigarette in a bejewelled holder! xxx

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  16. There sure a lot of pretty blooms.
    Coffee is on

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  17. Oh wow!! Lovely gardens for sure! The photos are amazing.

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    1. I can't stop looking at those photos! x

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  18. What a great find that book must be. The photographs alone make it a worthy find. I really enjoyed Valerie's photography you shared. I'm a big fan of film, and sometimes I get film nostalgia....it's like digital photography seems to lack something I can't quite pin down. Gardening is an interesting subject. We often get British gardening programs aired on our local channels, and it is amazing how decided many people are to gardening. It's an art form really. I think that today people have less time for gardening and it is not as appreciated as it once was. Finding good seeds can be hard too, because everything is mass produced. It's a shame it might become a dying art because gardening is a very educating activity. I do think one can learn a lot about plant life and sustainability that way. Plus, spending time in a garden teaches one to appreciate nature more.

    I love your printed cotton maxi dress...and the hat is adorable as well. Great gardening look.

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    1. As always, you're spot on with your observations. there's something about old film that makes these photos so atmospheric and flooded with nostalgia.
      The British are very keen on their gardens, we love our gardening programmes! xxx

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  19. What an interesting book, serious gardeners appear to wear hats - I need one!

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    1. You do - a glamorous gardening hat is an essential bit of kit! xxx

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  20. What enchanting images of a time when Time Moved at Different Pace! And what style those grand personalities displayed, in their gardens and in their persons! Your own ensemble is charming, Vix, a pretty example of your discipline of dressing for every day because it IS worth the effort.

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    1. Thanks, Beth! Disciplined dressing - I like that! What I don't mention is that i nearly always garden with bare feet - it probably makes me sound like a dippy hippie chick but it makes me feel more connected to the earth! xxx

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  21. Hi Vix
    That's interesting you say that you feel connected to the earth gardening in bare feet. Our homeopath, who was also a Dr, always advised at least 20 minutes, I think it was, a week outside in bare feet for exactly that reason. She insisted that it was necessary for human health. I completely agree and am often in the garden in bare feet. Great book I saw a Litchfield 1970s book today at Canons Ashby great photos of elegant women. I didn't buy it I already bought others. Which, of course I now regret! Great dress I loved Van Allen back in the day.

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    1. How interesting that your homeopath said the same about bare feet, I'm not such a weird hippy after all.
      That book sounded gorgeous but, as I always say, you can't buy everything.
      Van Allen were fab, weren't they? xxx

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  22. What an interesting book, love those pictures of ladies doing their gardening and wearing headscarves and hats!. You look lovely in your floral dress and floral hat!, you rock!
    besos

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    1. Thanks, Monica! I loved the old world where everyone seemed to make an effort! xxx

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  23. Such wonderful books, I could look at these for hours. And I want Anna Griffith's alpine house, how beautiful is that?!
    xx

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    1. It's such a lovely book. I went out looking for Alpines after loving Anna Griffith's beautiful house but it seems like they're out of fashion. xxx

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  24. What wonderful atmospheric pictures!

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Thank you for leaving a comment. If you have a blog I'll pop over and return the favour.

Lots of love, Vix