A Little Piece of Gardening History

I just bought a little piece of gardening history. The best thing about it is that I didn’t know how interesting it was when I bought it. It’s the Ryder’s Vegetable and Flower Seed Book for 1948. That’s a seed catalogue to you and I. Beautiful ain’t it?

I just love the faded colour in the illustrations and the typography used in the logo. What a find?

I didn’t really think much about the date on the cover ‘1948’ when I bought it. I just thought, oh that’s a nice vintage seed catalogue. But when I read the welcome message on the opening page I realised that, of course, it’s only three year’s after the second world war and gardeners are still ‘digging to live’.
Here’s what it said:

“On the 6th August, 1947, the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. C. R. Attlee, pronounced in the House of Commons… ‘We must produce a great deal more of our food at home to replace imports which we can no longer afford to buy….’
Subsequent events have given added prominence to this warning, and the sorry fact exists that in this 1948 season, running into three years after the cessation of the second world war, we of these old and historic islands must literally ‘DIG to LIVE’.
Everything that can be won from the soil must be of value to the Nation and none more valuable at such a time than fresh vegetable foodstuffs.”

This is pretty cool in itself but then I did some err… digging around to see if Ryder’s seed merchants still exist. I don’t think they do because I found a house for sale in St Albans on ‘Ryder Seeds Mews, built on the former site of Ryder’s seed merchants’.

But, I did find some information on Samuel Ryder, the guy who founded Ryder’s seeds in the 1890’s. He has a wikipedia entry and it turns out that he was the first person to start selling ‘garden seeds in penny packets’. Apparently he built a successful business on the concept and became very rich. Later, he developed an interest in golf and started a little golfing tournament called… wait for it… The Ryder Cup.

I know! Crazy. What a fascinating story? I must say, I’m hooked. I think collecting vintage seed catalogues is my new mini-obsession. Alongside vegetable gardening of course.

14 Comments on “A Little Piece of Gardening History

  1. The Museum of St Albans holds some material relating to Ryder’s seed business (including, if I remember rightly, some seed catalogues) so if you are ever in the area it is worth popping in, though a lot of it is in the the archives so it would also be worth phoning ahead if you wanted to see it.

  2. There’s quite a lot of the old Ryder family buildings still in existence. The Comfort Hotel on Holywell Hill, St Albans is the old Ryder family home and the Cafe Rouge next door was their seed hall.

    I think Ryder himself is buried in St Albans at Hatfield Road cemetery.

  3. What a wonderful story and an exciting find. You must be thrilled, I know I am for you. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled, LOL. A little bit of the green eyed monster up here in Nottingham.


  4. Wow! That’s really neat that you were able to find something so unique. I love looking at old advertisements, flyers, newspapers, catalogues, etc…. actually my masters’ thesis was largely using those primary sources (in my subject area of course). Its a great glimpse into what was important and what attracted people at the time – and how people got messages out.

  5. Cool! What do you think the future will look like? Do you think in a post-apocalyptic world people will unearth dusty servers and fire up archived blog posts to marvel at how quaint our lovingly-crafted pages look?!?

  6. That’s a beautifully preserved catalogue – will have to look after my Thompson & Morgan’s! Where did you find it?

  7. My mum was born in Walton-le-Dale at Rock Cottage, other than that I don’t know any more about the area. But very interesting. I like things with a history about them.

  8. that is so cool! i love the hand drawn pics of flowers and veg…the font is great. i’d love to hear about any interesting varieties they offered back then…thanks for sharing.

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  10. Quite appropriate that you should read of the first gardens now since, from what I read, the Queen is, again, doing a garden for much the same reasons she did in WWII

  11. I used to grow Ryders seeds, they were taken over by Suttons.
    Ryders alway had a offer of for every 5 packets you bought from them they would give you one of your own choice free (as long as it was in the same price range)

  12. I started gardening in 1952 I was 11 yrs old at the time. My local barber advised me to buy Ryders seeds and at the time they used to give a fre packet of seed for every 5 pkts you bought I kept getting my seeds from them up until they were taken over by Sutton seeds. Also adam the gardener bools I have a few of there little treasurers I pick them up in second hand book shops The last one I bought I found in a book shop in Brecon (Mid Wales) Price marked for sale on the cover was 2/6 I paid £2.00 for it.