Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930


197 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88902-983-0




Reviewed by Nora T. Corley

Nora T. Corley is a librarian in Ottawa.


Though the first settlers in Canada became the first gardeners, gardens as things of beauty did not become popular until the end of the nineteenth century. Reformers encouraged gardening: “The poor who looked after their little plots of ground were considered less likely to indulge in wife-beating; neither did they neglect their children” (p.viii). Educationalists believed that the character building of the youthful tenders of school gardens was more important than the results of their efforts. Horticultural societies sprang up to ensure beautiful surroundings that would “purify home life.. promote greater love of home.. and thereby lay the foundation of a patriotism worthy of the land we possess” [sic] (p.71). The Canadian Pacific Railway Company advocated station gardens along their tracks from coast to coast in the belief that “the agent with a nice garden is the agent with a clean and tidy station” (p. 17). All this pious rhetoric led to the beautification — by gardens, trees, and parks — of public property, schools, and homes. Vacant lot gardening was also encouraged. Home gardeners trowelled on because of their belief in the “psychological, spiritual, moral, economic, social and healthful benefits of gardening” (p.98). Canadian gardens, obviously so good for mind and body, were spurred on by the nursery industry, horticultural writing, and plant breeders. Our legacy from all this is cities and towns adorned with beautiful parks, boulevards, and public and private gardens which can be enjoyed by all, regardless of the moral rhetoric, class values, and commercialism that may have motivated them originally.

This history of gardening in Canada during the first three decades of this century is most interesting, telling us also much about the social conditions of the times. It is well written and researched: there are eight three-columned pages of endnotes and a useful bibliography of periodical titles and over 140 books, articles, and theses. There are numerous illustrations. Unfortunately, all of them are very grey, and some, it would seem, are out of focus.


Von Baeyer, Edwinna, “Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37907.