The health benefits of gardening were also recognised in the 1930s. In the Introduction to How to Make a Garden Grow K.R.G. Browne says,
Though a lot of Britons now inhabit flats – and many of them pretty comfortably, too, thanks to Mr. Heath Robinson and myself (advt.) – the bulk of the population still prefers to live in houses, each with its allotted ration of this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. This is all to the good, in the opinion of authorities on hygiene, because even the smallest garden is a good place to get fresh air and gentle exercise in.
At the time the book was published there were concerns about levels of malnutrition and Britain performed poorly at the 1936 Olympics. It seems that a combination of factors were the cause of the lacklustre British Olympic performance. Lack of government funds, a strict code of amateurism and the generally poor state of the country’s health have all been blamed. However, these factors were also in place in 1924 when Britain did so well so the 1936 failure was probably because other countries had improved their sporting prowess considerably since 1924, due perhaps to state funding of sport, while Britain rather rested on its laurels and didn’t think change was needed. The celebration of the body beautiful that began in the 1920s was therefore revived in the next decade by the Government’s National Fitness Campaign and by a general focus on outdoor recreation in the fresh air. Activities such as hiking, swimming, camping, sunbathing and gardening were all advocated as healthful pursuits. We can see Heath Robinson and Browne’s take on the combination of gardening and sport in this illustration:
Of course, laughter is also good for the soul. People have often poked fun at the British love of gardening. I was an avid reader of the Asterix and Obelix cartoon books by Gosciny and Uderzo when I was a child and I remember that one of their British characters in Asterix in Britain used the phrase ‘A garden is a lovesome thing, Got wot!’. K.R.G. Browne also uses this reference in How to Make a Garden Grow. It comes from an awfully sentimental poem by Thomas Edward Brown called My Garden:
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not--
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.
This poem led to the phrase ‘Godwottery’ to mean a garden of affected and elaborate style. A garden with gnomes, sundials, bird baths, rockery and sundry statuary are all features of Godwottery. Heath Robinson gently ridicules the Godwottery popular in the 1930s with cartoons on gnomes, sundials and, his particular favourite, bird baths.
So, once a young couple has got married (see How to be a Perfect Husband) and moved in to their modern bungalow (see How to Live in a Flat, which also covers bungalows), they can escape from the trials of early twentieth-century life in their garden and gain valuable advice from How to Make a Garden Grow. The happy couple will also benefit from the many Heath Robinson devices designed to make their gardening easier – from the Eeziweeda to the Ever-Ready Cat-dowser, for the benefit of the cat-ridden. Heath Robinson and Browne don’t claim to be gardening experts but in How to Make a Garden Grow, as in all the How to… books, they have expertly captured both the spirit of their time and the essence of what it was (and in many ways still is) to be British. What they remind us of is that a key aspect of that essence is the ability to laugh at ourselves, particularly in difficult times.