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Jane Webb Loudon ~ The Victorian garden

Jane Loudon was to Victorian gardening what Mrs Beeton was to cookery. Her beautifully illustrated books on gardening and plant identification sold in their thousands and women all over the country were enthused enough by them to take up gardening as a hobby.
- Loudon [née Webb], Jane (1807-1858), writer on botany and magazine editor, was born on 19 August 1807 at Ritwell House, near Birmingham. Her mother died when she was twelve, and her father, Thomas Webb, a businessman, suffered financial reverses a few years later. Little is known of Jane Webb's early education, but, following the death of her father in 1824, she set out to earn money by writing. In addition to Prose and Verse (1824) she published anonymously The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827), a pioneering work of science fiction that brought together political commentary, Egyptomania, and interest in technology.

References to a steam mowing device, telegraph, and other innovations led John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) to review the book favourably and to seek out the acquaintance of the writer, whom he believed to be male. They met in February 1830, and on 14 September of that year Jane Webb married Loudon, then forty-six, who was an indefatigable landscape designer. They lived with their daughter, Agnes (b. 1832), at 3 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London, in a suburban villa with an attached circular conservatory and a garden, all designed by Loudon.
Jane Loudon worked closely with her husband on his Gardener's Magazine. Embarrassed about how little she knew about plants when they married, she attended lectures in London given by the botanist John Lindley, and wrote up her notes as articles. During the 1830s and early 1840s she accompanied her husband on tours through England and into Scotland. She served as his amanuensis, recording his observations about kitchen gardens, conservatories, and great houses and their grounds, as he recommended improvements and endeavoured to promote a taste for gardening as art.

When production of her husband's Arboretum (1838) saddled the family with debts of £10,000, Jane Loudon turned again to authorship, and tapped the ready Victorian market for books popularizing horticulture, botany, and natural history. Instructions in Gardening for Ladies (1840) was hugely successful; 1350 copies were sold on the day of publication alone. The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals (1840), the first in a much-reprinted series of informative illustrated books, was followed by others about bulbs, greenhouse plants, and perennials.

Jane Loudon also brought information about the natural system of plant classification to popular audiences, in The First Book of Botany … for Schools and Young Persons (1841) and Botany for Ladies (1842). Identifying with readers who had little or no science education, she wrote:
    It is so difficult for men whose knowledge has grown with their growth, and strengthened with their strength, to imagine the state of profound ignorance in which a beginner is, that even their elementary books are like the old Eton Grammar when it was written in Latin. (Botany for Ladies, vi)

To make scientific knowledge more accessible and interesting, Loudon used familiar narrative forms; The Young Naturalist's Journey (1840) features rail travel by ‘Agnes Merton and her Mamma’ across the British Isles.
Jane Loudon was widowed in 1843, and debts from her husband's publications put her into financial hardship for the rest of her life. She received an award from the Royal Literary Fund in 1844, and a civil-list pension of £100 in 1846, and continued to produce many illustrated botanical books and popular natural history titles. She edited the Ladies' Companion at Home and Abroad (1849-51), a weekly magazine that promoted mental cultivation along with ‘separate spheres’, ‘Not to make women usurp the place of men, but to render them as rational and intelligent beings’ (29 Dec 1849). Although she did not support feminist initiatives in her day, she wrote sympathetically about women in distress. She died at 3 Porchester Terrace on 13 July 1858, aged fifty, survived by her daughter who later applied to the Royal Literary Fund for money to erect a monument to her mother in Kensal Green cemetery. /Ann B. Shteir - Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (, Retrieved on 5 April 2012.