Olive Percival and her children’s gardens

The other day in a used bookstore I came across a book called ‘The Children’s Garden Book’ by Olive Percival. I now know this is only an excerpt from the full, never published, manuscript.

The first line of the forward is, “This is a book of suggestions for children to whom destiny has given such golden things as a plot of ground and many hours, or several years, uninterrupted by the city’s call (ever more insistent, clamorous) to indoor amusement”.

And further down, “If, for the first ten or twelve or fourteen years of life, the children of today could have personal flower gardens in which to play, to study, to read, to work, to dream, the world tomorrow would be greatly lightened of it’s ugly and menacing burden of materialism and general faithlessness”.

The next section of the book are thoughts and notes to the “to the young gardener”.

Here is an example, “Long ago, in Elizabethan England and when our colonial history was just beginning, a bouquet was not called a bouquet nor a nosegay nor a boughpot by those of highest fashion. It was called a tussy-mussy! Nobody seems to know why.”

Thanks to the internet you can read all about tussy-mussies!

The books goes on with more tidbits and advice and then she shares her garden plans for children. Things like “the Fairy Ring”, “The Kate Greenaway Garden”, and “the Moonlight Pleasance”. Each garden comes with a plant list, and illustration and planting plan and text describing details of the garden.

Olive Percival in her garden

“In this our lovely and bedazzling world – a perplexing world that deafens and deadens us with screaming sirens, rattling dragons, many toys, and noisy amusements (omg, girl, you have no idea.) – we contrive to to remain avowed lovers of flowers, even if allowed little time or place to make plants grow and willingly or unwillingly come into blossoms.”

It is so sweet. I fell in love with Olive Percival. Besides being a gardener of some fame and a published writer and poet, she was also a book and doll collector, an antique hat collector AND a milliner, an expert on Chinese and Japanese art, a traveler, and a photographer and generally a mover and shaker amongst the intellectual set of southern CA.

I love her because not only was she sweet and all into flowers, paper dolls, cats and 19th century children’s books but she was also a feminist and could bust out a bit of snark. We would have been friends for sure. Here’s a quote from an article she wrote for the LA Times in 1910,

“As for equal suffrage, I have never in my life heard one sane argument against it. I think the only argument that men who are opposed to the measure have ever advanced in justification of their unfair and un-American position, is that they do not want women to lose their delicacy and charm by rough contact with matters political. This is not ‘sentiment’ but sentimentality. . . . There is no sense or intelligence about it. Women must live in the world as truly as men and in many instances they are as well equipped for the actualities of life as men. . . .”

I have acquired one other book written by her, “Our Old Fashioned Flowers”. The Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA has her diaries and photographs.
I may have to road trip to the Huntington Library to see her photographs and all the gardens and art that it looks like that museum and botanic garden have. It looks awesome! They have a tea room! Maybe I will go by myself for my 40th birthday (fast approaching).

– Olive May Graves Percival (July 1, 1869 – February 18, 1945).

You can read more about her here.

I HIGHLY recommend listening to this 30 minute talk about her life. *sniff*

Oh, and someone’s term paper on her life here.

The more you read about her the more awesome she gets.

Add a Comment Trackback

Add a Comment