Monday, December 16, 2013

Special Collections Fossickings 30: Cottage gardening - North Queensland style

The two editions of "Cottage Gardening in Queensland" held in the North Queensland Collection of JCU Library.
 Are you a gardener? Do you pride yourself on your home-grown vegies? Or do you just bemoan the prices and the food-miles travelled by those on the supermarket shelves, regretting that you are too time-poor to grow your own? Either way, one little treasure in the North Queensland collection may be the book for you. Henry Treloar’s “Cottage Gardening in Queensland”, which went through several editions during and after the first world war, is in future to be made more widely available via the Special Collections digitisation program.
Frontispiece, (1920 edition) - Henry Treloar
According to one source the surname “Treloar” originated from the Cornish words “tre” (home) and “lowarth” (garden). If true, then how appropriate that Henry took to cottage gardening with an almost missionary zeal. He certainly did not forget his Cornish roots, naming his Warburton Street home “Redruth Cottage” after his home town in west Cornwall.  As well as being the proprietor of Treloar’s Red Arcade and Doll Hospital (in what later became Shaw’s Arcade), Henry contributed horticultural columns to the local newspapers under the pen name “Eucalyptus.” But it seemed his mission in life was to convert his fellow-citizens – regardless of their day jobs – to the virtues and benefits of fruit and vegetable growing. Readers will be amused at his abundant enthusiasm and a literary style laced with exhortations and exclamations: “What! A garden without French beans? Nonsense, man!” or, on peeling an egg-plant, “Cut that beauty into slices. No, don’t peel it! Dip in rich batter; fry rich brown; serve hot  … Yum, yum!”
Page 28, (1915 edition) - author's garden
It may be argued that Treloar had a vested interest since his own store advertised seeds, grafted trees, fertilizers and the like. Nonetheless, it is clear from his fervour that he truly believed North Queensland to be a paradise on earth, offering unrivalled opportunities for the home gardener. In addition to advice on varieties, many of them long since forgotten – Daisy peas, Cuban Queen watermelon, Trucker’s Favourite tomatoes, Siberian cucumbers to name a few –  and instructions on planting, fertilising and pest control, Henry offers tips on the basic economics of home gardening and the marketing of surplus produce.
Page 45, (1915 edition) - bisexual pawpaws
But not everything in Mr Treloar’s garden, or in his philosophy, is rosy and the modern reader will quickly discover a worm in the bud. His introduction to the 1915 edition features a racist tirade against the Chinese market-gardeners whom he believed had usurped a niche which ‘white’ Australians should reclaim as soon as possible. In Treloar’s view not only were the Chinese themselves grossly inferior, so were their vegetables, and he frequently refers to the superior taste and quality of “white-grown” produce. This makes distasteful reading today but it does give an insight into some of the attitudes which were not uncommon a century ago. Thankfully the 1920 edition omitted the worst of such comments and today’s gardeners may still find much to amuse, surprise and inform them among its pages.


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