Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Mrs. Jane Loudon

Jane Wells Webb Loudon (1807-1858) was an accomplished English author and gardener. Orphaned and penniless at age 17, Jane decided to try to become a writer to support herself. She published a book entitled Prose and Verse in 1826 and then achieved success the next year with an annonymously published novel when she was still only 20. The work, The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, was the first in what became a popular genre of books about mummies. It was also an early example of science fiction, in which she wrote of the future with imagined changes in society and technology, some of which—like an early form of the internet, air-conditioning and espresso machines—seem prophetic today.

One of Jane’s inventions was a steam-powered digging machine, something which caught the eye of John Claudius Loudon, a well-respected landscape designer, botanist, gardener, author and publisher of Gardener’s Magazine. He asked a friend to invite the author to lunch and was greatly surprised when this turned out to be a woman. The surprise soon turned into love and just seven months later, in 1831, Jane and John married.

Through her marriage, Jane became an enthusiastic gardener and worked closely with her husband in his research and writing, including assisting in editing John's Encyclopedia of Gardening. Jane saw that there was a need for gardening manuals aimed at the growning market of middle-class women, and began a series of guides, including Gardening for Ladies and The Ladies' Companion to the Flower-Garden.
Probably the most famous of her output were the Ladies' Flower Garden books, which were both decorative and educational. Jane had taught herself to draw and these books were illustrated with her designs, beautifully rendered in hand-colored lithographs. These prints are well-known in today's market, but the story of their remarkable creator is undeservedly less well known.