chapter  2
22 Pages

Histories and Context

My First Garden: A Case Study of Ordinary Classed and Gendered Aesthetics

The photograph (see Figure 2.1) shows a back garden on a council estate in West

Yorkshire in the mid-1950s. If you look closely, in the borders there are carnations

and some orange hybrid tea roses, the kind bred and aggressively marketed for

working-class consumers in the 1950s (Harkness 1978). A mop-head hydrangea

resides in the far corner. The parameters, set in place by the council estate planners

– concrete posts and green chicken wire – act as an early fencing system until the

ubiquitous privet hedge was to grow up to the desired height. But the central feature

of this garden is the rectangle of nemesias in the centre of the lawn. Drawing on a

design reminiscent of municipal park planting schemes, the idea of a central bed in

the middle of the lawn is a typically working-class aesthetic trope. The lawn acts

as a frame for the summer pride of the working-class garden: the bedding plants

that create a riot of colour at its centre. Subsequent summers would see the same

bed full of roses and edged by bedding plants – precisely the planting scheme that

Figure 2.1 The Thornton Garden, Stoney Lane Council Estate, 1954

the contemporary garden journalist Christopher Lloyd1 (1984) warns the would-be

gardener against. Yet the garden in the photograph, the garden where I spent my

early childhood with my mother and grandparents, was admired and valued by local

people in the community. Indeed my mother told me that a neighbour ‘couldn’t

resist’ taking the slide because, ‘he thought the garden looked so colourful’.