Lethal weapon, Victorian style

Nowadays gardeners are able to head to the garden centre to meet their every need. However, the RHS Lindley Library is packed with books from the days when gardeners had to be much more self-sufficient …

Garden Receipts by Charles W QuinOne of my favourites of these books is Garden Receipts by Charles W Quin, published in 1877. This contains a very ambitious range of remedies and recipes – everything from insecticides to fireproof paint, potpourri to waterproof boots. Most of the recipes cannot be recommended for the average household today*; the ingredients are either too obscure or too dangerous. A surprising number contain arsenic. They also are rather bloodthirsty and macabre, such as this suggestion on page 93:

'Fill a barrel half-full of water and sprinkle a layer of powdered Cork on its surface, and over this sift a layer of flour or oatmeal. Place a chair and a box or two in the neighbourhood, whereby the Rat will be enabled to gain the edge of the barrel. He sees nothing but the meal ...he sniffs, he leaps, and goes gently through the meal and Cork to his watery grave. If any of his friends see him disappear from the edge of his barrel they hasten after him to get their share of the probable plunder, and are in their turn taken in by hospitable death.'

Rats are good swimmers – so perhaps it is the element of surprise that works in this cunning plan. However Mr Quin does offer a back-up suggestion: ‘Buy three or four ferrets and turn them loose on your premises in different places.’

As for weeds in lawns he recommends sulphuric acid dropped on the weed from above, ‘a single drop should be sufficient.’ However he also says, ‘If the lawn be large, set to work some women or boys, with a man to superintend.’ Presumably because without a man to oversee them, who knows what trouble a bunch of women and boys could cause in the garden?

Luckily for us all the RHS Lindley Library also has lots of modern books giving much safer and more reliable advice. RHS members can borrow books for free and everyone is welcome to visit and browse.

*For up-to-date advice on controlling pests and diseases, please visit https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/plant-problems


RHS members can borrow from the thousands of gardening books held in the Lindley Libraries – visit our online catalogue.
Even if you are not an RHS member, the Lindley Libraries are open to everyone and provide access to modern collections of books and journals on gardening and related topics. Our heritage collections of rare books, photographs, art and archives are accessible by appointment

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