8 Jan 2020

A good day at the library

This wonderful mosaic tiled floor at the entrance to the Lindley Library

A visit to a library is always a good thing.  When that library has shelves dedicated to all things gardening, it becomes a really good thing.  Yesterday I set out for my old stomping ground, Pimlico. I lived and worked there before I had my now adult son and always enjoy a wander down memory lane.  It was a wonderful place to live, just a short walk to the Tate and Hayward galleries, and the National Portrait gallery in Trafalgar Square; even Chelsea was just a quick hop by pedal power. My flat was 5 minutes walk from the Horticultural Halls but I hadn't discovered gardening ... yet. Yesterday’s mission was to return books to the RHS Lindley Library, equidistant between Pimlico and Victoria tubes but I prefer to avoid the hurly burly of Victoria's busy station and streets.

Gardening books on a library shelf
Just for starters ... 

I love gardening and I love books so when my twin passions collide, I’m in heaven. And this library is filled with joy for the gardening bibliophile. Shelves filled with gardening books of every topic, garden mags to read in comfy chairs, desks for quiet research and an archive of precious books, papers, artifacts, prints and manuscripts dating from the 15th century.  Add to that friendly helpful staff, a quiet atmosphere and regular small informative exhibitions - I find I don’t need much of an excuse to pop in when I’m in the area. (The RHS also has libraries which I've yet to visit at their Wisley and Harlow Carr gardens.)

Metal engraved title page of 16th century book: The Herball written by John Gerard.
Title page of John Gerard's 'The Herball', 1597 - predating Culpepper's herbal by 120 years
Metal engraving had replaced woodcut printing, used to beautiful effect here.

My first encounter with the library was the result of a talk offered at one of RHS London shows; those shows were always wonderful and sadly missed.  Shamefully, I can’t remember what that talk was about but can clearly recall the very beautiful old books brought out from the archives for the group to look at. I think the talk may have been to do with early plant use as one of the books was an original Gerard’s Herbal. (1597! That's over four hundred years old and no white gloves were required. Perhaps that was an oversight.) Incredibly, to my mind, the archive is accessible to all by prior appointment which seems very generous.  (Currently Tuesdays and Thursdays due to staffing levels.)

At the time of that talk I thought the library was exclusively for serious writers and researchers but one day, following signs to an exhibition (The Healing Garden, I think) I tentatively went inside and discovered over a warm welcome that the library was open to everyone (not just RHS members, although I am) and that I could join and take books home. That made my day I can tell you and has helped my book buying budget no end. I always check the online library catalogue now before buying a gardening book.

Dig for Victory leaflets from Second World War
Making the most of a small plot? I could do with that today! 

I've been to several of the mini-exhibitions since - Dig for Victory last October was memorable with artefacts and photos illustrating the social history behind Britain's wartime food growing, supported by the government and the RHS. On show were maps and cloth bags used to send seeds over to prisoner camps, leaflets on success with veg, and photos of allotments (in Hyde Park!) and back gardens being turned over to veg growing. (I remember being told by one of the older residents on my estate that the gardens here were dug up for food growing but returned to shrubs soon after the war was over for practical reasons.)


Autochrome photo of a bowl of red and green apples.
 Stunningly beautiful up close. I'd be happy to give it wall space.
William Van Sommen, autochrome photo.
(All photos are protected with a glass frame so apologies for the quality
but if you look closely my reflection is at the lower left edge of the bowl
)

My visit yesterday was intended to be a quick turnaround to return some books and head home empty handed. After a friendly chat with lovely staff at the welcome desk, it would have been rude to leave before having a look at the display of William Van Sommen’s autochrome photos, and from there it was just a quick step to the library shelves and magazine racks.  Gardens Illustrated, Kitchen Garden, Grow Your Own and the latest Permaculture editions (and more if I'd had time) awaited.

So, funnily enough I didn't leave empty handed as planned but came home with a small selection of books on urban growing, Beth Chatto’s drought resistant planting and wildflower gardening. Oops.  And I get to take them back in a month's time.
😄



Colour in the Garden is on until 24th January at 80 Vincent Square. The library is open Monday to Friday, there are loos on the 4th floor, a lift and wonderful views over the Westminster School playing fields on the way down.  More about what the library offers here.

The two RHS London shows this year are in April, free for RHS members; I'll be there, will you?.

4 comments:

  1. Drought resistant planting? Mud resistant would be more appropriate here.

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    1. It's also fairly damp here at the moment, Sue, but winter days are great for reading and planning! There's a 'drought border' near the veg patch (no nearby tap and the hose won't reach that far) that I want to overhaul this year so I'm hoping for inspiration.

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  2. The Lindley Library sounds like my idea of seventh heaven Caro. Would that it were nearer. I never realised that it has books for loan until I read this post. Do you know if it opens when the shows are on?

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    1. It's my idea of heaven too, Anna! I was surprised (and very pleased) to discover that I could take out books, especially as Pimlico is an easy tube ride for me. And I'm fairly certain that the library is open Monday to Friday most of the year (probably not Christmas) including during the shows. (But what a shame that there aren't more London shows!) There's also a library at Wisley if you're down that way. x

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