A Science Fiction Pioneer
Today is the birthday of Jane Webb, who married the prolific writer of all things gardening: John Claudius Loudon. Together they became magnificent partners in the world of botanical writing and publishing.
Jane was an extraordinary person.
She was a fantastic writer in her own right, but she also possessed an inner determination; she was a survivor. When her father lost the family fortune and died penniless when Jane was only seventeen, it was the beginning of her career writing Science Fiction.
Along with Mary Shelley, Jane was an early pioneer in science fiction writing. It's hard to believe, but this endeavor would set her on her life's path to garden writing.
Jane's book The Mummy was published anonymously, in 1827, in three parts. In her writing, Jane incorporated predictable changes in technology and society. For instance, she predicted that women of the future would wear pants. And, Jane also featured something agricultural that she imagined would come to pass: a steam plow.
Jane's vision of easier and less laborious farming is what attracted the attention of John Claudius Loudon - her future husband. Loudon wrote a favorable review of her book, but he also wanted to meet the author. Loudon didn't realize Jane had written the book using a nom de plume of Henry Colburn. Much to Loudon's delight, Henry was Jane; they fell in love and married a year later.
If you enjoy Victorian illustrations, you'll positively swoon for the frontispiece of Jane's 1843 publication Gardening for ladies: with a calendar of operations and directions for every month in the year. It shows a mother and her young child standing on either side of a lush arbor, and they are both holding garden tools.
Jane's garden books were very popular. She connected with her fans because she was always earnest and genuine. Jane wasn't raised as a gardener. She learned it as an adult. When it came to gardening, Jane was a conscious competent - and it made her an excellent gardening teacher. Jane was aware of this when she wrote,
“I think books intended for professional gardeners, are seldom suitable to the wants of amateurs. It is so very difficult for a person who has been acquainted with a subject all his life, to imagine the state of ignorance in which a person is who knows nothing of it…Thus, though it might, at first sight, appear presumptuous in me to attempt to teach an art of which for three-fourths of my life I was perfectly ignorant, it is, in fact, that very circumstance which is one of my chief qualifications for the task.”
Today, people often forget that Jane was not only a wife but a caretaker. John's arms stopped working as he grew older, after an attack of rheumatic fever. As a result, Jane became his arms, handling most of his writing. As with all of the trials she faced, Jane managed John's challenges head-on and with pragmatism. As for those who felt gardening wasn't ladylike, Jane wrote,
“…a lady, with the assistance of a common laborer to level and prepare the ground, may turn a barren waste into a flower garden with her own hands.”
Eventually, John's right arm got so bad that surgeons needed to amputate it. They found him in his garden when they came to perform the surgery. John replied he intended to return to the garden immediately after the operation.
Two weeks before Christmas 1843, Jane was helping John write his last book called, A Self Instruction to Young Gardeners. Around midnight, he stopped dictating and suddenly collapsed into Jane's arms and died. True to form, Jane completed the book on her own.
The orphan girl who never knew financial security, Jane Loudon, is remembered with affection to this day for her beautiful illustrations and garden writing for the people.