Good Victorian watering advice

July 13th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mignonette (Reseda odorata)

I know, it’s been hot. And dry. Scorching. And everything has needed watering. Here’s what our old friend Joseph Harrison, “conductor” of the Floricultural Cabinet magazine had to say on the subject in 1852.

“It will be highly necessary,” he says, “during the continuance of dry weather, to administer copious supplies of water. This should be done towards the evening of each day, because the plants have then time to absorb water gradually and appropriate such portion as contributes to their well being. It is only in extreme cases that water should be given in the morning, because it is then so quickly exhaled from the soil, as well as the leaves, that its refreshing and nutrimental properties are almost wholly wasted.

“A few annuals, such as Mignionette,” he continues tangentially, “may now be sown to bloom in the autumn.”

“appropriate such portion as contributes to their well being” – they certainly have a way with words, these Victorians.

So, water in the evening. Use seephose, also known as soaker hose, rather than an overhead sprinkler. It’s more expensive to set up but saves a lot of water.

And what about those mignonettes – as we spell them these days (we’ve lost the i), which he slips in at the last minute? As you can see from the picture they’re not the most colourful of annuals, but it’s the scent. Used in high end perfumes a hundred years ago (synthetic versions are now used) the scent is hard to describe: “ambrosial” and “vibrant green-floral” and “very sweet-smelling and pleasant Mediterranean flower with violet-like and fruity nuances”. None the wiser, are we, really…

But a patch in a corner where early annuals have become scorched or in a pot by the door, mignonette is delightful. Water first, sow into the damp soil and your mignonette will be flowering in six or eight weeks time. I know you’ll enjoy it.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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