Mary Evans Picture Library Collections Crossover: Flowers and Gardens

Mary E

June marks the time of peak abundance in our gardens, and whether you’ve got a few pots on a balcony, or couple of acres of manicured lawns and herbaceous borders, with the sun shining on at least on some of us this week, it’s likely that pottering or sunbathing in your outdoor space will be high on the agenda. It therefore seems a blooming good time to make this week’s Collections Crossover all about gardens and flowers, a perennial-ly popular theme with many rare and unusual varieties among our contributors.

Reginald A. Malby was one of the finest horticultural photographers of his era and official photographer of the Royal Horticultural Society in the early years of the twentieth century. As well as working in black and white, often photographing plant species for the first time, Malby employed colourists who would painstakingly apply colour to the 5cm square images using a magnifying glass and fine paintbrushes. The results are beautiful and have an almost hypnotic quality. Click here for a glimpse into the world of green-fingered Edwardians via this collection.

The John Innes Centre is an international centre of excellence for plant science and microbiology and their small but fascinating collection offers some intriguing images such as a pamphlet called, ‘The Nursery Man of the Comely Garden’ and a colour illustration of some quite spectacular carrot varieties. We also have an excellent set of images relating to gardening pioneer, Gertrude Jekyll via the Annabel Watts collection, including Jekyll’s home and garden, Munstead Wood.

There’s a long tradition of saying it with flowers, and so it’s no surprise that historic publisher of prints and cards, The Medici Society built up a feast of floral paintings and illustrations by artists such as Barbara Everard, Margery Stephenson and Molly Brett, not forgetting Margaret Tarrant’s delightful fairy illustrations based on different flowers. Meanwhile, both Florilegious and Antiquarian Images are a rich resource for historic colour plates and prints of exotic plants and blowsy blooms. A mention should also be given to the exquisite watercolours of flowers by Helga Hislop.

Finally, here’s a hand-picked selection of other garden-themed images harvested from across our own archive and other contributors. Enjoy characterful Victorian gardeners with mutton chop whiskers and impressively far-reaching watering cans, palatial greenhouses, lawn mowers, walled kitchen gardens, seed packets, shed and summer house catalogues, garden gnomes, and gardening magazines. Plus take a trip through the changing landscape of our gardens with a selection of famous examples, as well as vintage snaps of ordinary people in theirs.

We’ve only raked over the topsoil of what we have on this evergreen subject. If you’ve got a horticultural project on the horizon, let us know how we can help. And whatever you’re looking for, do get in touch by emailing us at or calling 020 8318 0034 and we’ll see what we can dig up and weed out.

Image credit © Mary Evans Picture Library