- Author: Esther E Blanco
So, what’s a Handkerchief Garden? It’s my friend Martha’s British description of small cottage garden (backyard). I wanted to learn more, so I did what every self-respecting Master Gardener would do - I Googled it. I found out that a “pocket-handkerchief garden” as defined in the Cambridge Dictionaries Online is “a garden or field that is very small and usually square”. Several sites offered descriptions of patchwork of plantings, usually containing flowers, fruit trees or vegetables.
Then I found a fascinating book written by Charles Barnard titled, My Handkerchief Garden. It had been published in England between 1838 – 1892. Barnard recorded his personal experience and advice on planting a 25 x 60 foot vegetable garden in England 138 years ago. He carefully documents his expenses, the plant varieties he selected, seeds he used, the cuttings saved, the supplies he needed. He estimated a dollar value of his harvested, and what produce he gave away, and the time he spends toiling in yard (minutes daily) vs. working (wages per hour). It’s fascinating to read the costs for plants and stocks and to read about the bounty of a home vegetable garden in 1838. Barnard speculated that an average family could save enough money to help pay all their household bills. I don’t know if he was being overly optimistic or if families didn’t have many bills back then. If you’d like to see his book in its entirety, it available to read online or you can download a PDF http://www.archive.org/stream/myhandkerchiefga00barn#page/n5/mode/2up
- Author: Esther E Blanco
My collage pal Martha grew up in England. She has a beautiful accent and a keen knowledge of just about everything. When I eventually purchased a townhouse with a very small backyard, I described it to Martha. I told her that my backyard was the size of a postage stamp. Her response was, “Oh, you have a handkerchief garden!”
I always loved her English description my tiny, suburban California, postage stamp size, backyard. The only problem with her description was that my backyard was totally barren. My Handkerchief Garden consisted of concrete, a volunteer Heavenly Bamboo bush (Berberidaceae), dirt and a pile of river rocks next to the garage. I was a rather pathetic Master Gardener, without an actual garden. I also didn’t have a lot of extra money to buy an instant landscape. So, I cleared the rocks, fixed the irrigation, and patiently filled the spots with things I got from other gardeners like bearded iris rhizomes (Iridaceae), spider plants (Chlorophytum), and two yellow tea roses (Rosacea Grandifloras) someone who no longer wanted in their garden. I even managed to purchase a few planting pots at garage sales, and one or two six-packs of flowers at the grocery store for color. Occasionally, I’d treat myself to a plant like a hybrid camellia (Theaceae C. Saluenensis) or a rhododendron (Ericaceae R. mucronulatum). I found the perfect planting table made from recycled fence boards, and a white Adirondack chair with matching footrest on clearance at Raleys. Eventually the once barren, dusty courtyard became a garden.
Over the years, Martha’s description of my yard helped to inspire my vision of what could be possible. And without realizing it, Martha had given me hope. I could see in my mind, the possibility that my tiny, barren backyard could actually become a brilliantly British inspired Handkerchief Garden!