Social Media….1950s style!

An incredible 54-year journal archive, evocative and full of Yorkshire wit, charts the first chapters in the story of Harlow Carr

When you work somewhere as stunning as Harlow Carr you want the whole world to know about it. In 2016 that’s not such a tall order. The RHS has a fantastic website with detailed visitor information on all its gardens and an impressive photographic gallery of the latest garden highlights. If you add to this the award-winning full-colour The Garden magazine which all members receive, we have no problem keeping everyone informed about all things ‘RHS’.  

But spare a thought for our early pioneers, the Northern Horticultural Society, who created the gardens in the late 1940s. When they were first opened to the public in 1950 they were very much a work in progress and attracting visitors and new members must have been something of a challenge. The Society was small with modest funds so there was little scope to advertise their ambitions far and wide… and no mighty RHS behind them or the internet to promote their existence.

Taking shape

The Society’s method of spreading the word was not only ingenious but has also left us with a fascinating written account of the development of the garden. They used the Society’s journal:  The Northern Gardener to post monthly reports, explaining how the garden was taking shape, including details of new plantings, paths, clearings and borders. 

The reports often took the form of a written guided walk sweeping their readers around the grounds on a tide of horticultural enthusiasm, laced with characteristic Yorkshire plain speaking! 

The weather was a regular topic, often of consternation: “Since I wrote my last article we have had to put up with an incessantly cold wind” and its effect on the garden; “What is there to see in the garden now?  Not much, except an abundant promise for the Spring”. The perennial problem of four-legged pests also crops up: “As for our chrysanthemums, considering the extent to which they were ravaged by one rabbit, they have done wonderfully well.” And their worries and frustrations, that we all have as gardeners, were recorded with blunt honesty:

“Before leaving the wood it is worth recording that Lilies of the Valley and Bluebells have at last made up their minds to establish themselves”

The descriptions give us a constantly changing ‘snapshot’ of the garden at a time when photography was more limited. Written in an intimate, conversational style they convey a clear commitment to produce a garden the Society could be proud of. When you are next at Harlow Carr, call in to the library and have a dip into the journals. They are the perfect advert for our early gardens.

See it for yourself

The library at Harlow Carr has a complete run of ‘The Northern Gardener’ from 1947 to 2001 which is available to read in the library. We are open from 11am – 4pm daily to all visitors and we also provide a lending service to RHS members.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.