“With a kiss of the sun for pardon, And the song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, Than anywhere else on earth.”
Britain’s Miniature Garden
As readers of this blog will know, I recently rediscovered one of my childhood joys – the plastic Britains Floral Garden – and have started accumulating a collection.
My interest was piqued however through specialist toy dealers on eBay by an earlier edition which debuted around 1930 for just a decade – this time in lead. I have to say, I’ve started collecting this too – more as a reference point to my first love, Britains Floral Garden, than anything else. Although, it is rather charming …
By 1940, the Miniature Garden had disappeared only to relaunch in plastic glory in the 1960s as Britains Floral Garden. Toy production obviously morphed into wartime production in WW2.
Looking at the individual pieces, you can see how the design has evolved by 1960 – fascinating to see what survived and what didn’t. In the 60’s recreation, this two dimensional toy became more alive – allowing little fingers to plant flowers and to add flower heads.
The plastic version (a necessity by 1966 with lead safety legislation coming into force) was more robust than the delicate lead stems, which could be carefully bent to create interest, but just as easily, could be broken if twisted a little too far. What it lost in the transformation to plastic however, in my view, was some of the charm of the original.
Kiddies on a see-saw or a boy on a swing, granny feeding pigeons, benches looking like they should be in a municipal park, the rather Monet-esque painting of the rockeries, even the variety of available plant species – all gone.
There’s also a social history element in play here too which screams out at you when you compare the 1930s version to the 1960s relaunch (see more soon). This lead garden was aspirational – it had ballastrades, steps and lily ponds with pirouetting statues. The costumes the milkmaids (the gardens and the farm series always intertwine) are very servile, the young girls wear aprons over the dresses and granny is dressed in a full length head to toe robe with an apron on top and a lace cap!
Who but the children of the wealthy had gardens like this or could even imagine gardens like this, so you can see who the toy was aimed at. As all the figures are working class too, one can see hands on gardening was not deemed a suitable hobby for a young boy or gal!
It was also deemed a professional design tool apparently for aspiring garden designers.
The forward to a Miniature Gardening catalogue says “In introducing their latest series to the public, Britains Limited feel that they are filling a long-felt want, that of enabling the gardener, amateur or professional, to plan out his garden in a thoroughly practical manner from the laying of the beds, paths, crazy paving, arches, pergolas etc and last but not least, filling it with a large variety of plants in full flower and in Nature’s gorgeous colourings, arranging and re-arranging his design in miniature until a satisfactory one has been reach.” Hmm.
Whatever the focus, the original – due to a mix of war and lead legislation – had only a ten-year life span with some of the elements being absorbed thereafter into the Home Farm series.
Strangely, a similar thing happened with the relaunch of the plastic Britons Floral Garden. Hugely popular in the early 1960s, sales began to flag at the end of the decade and figures were added to prop up the interest in 1967. It didn’t work and the Floral Garden died out in 1970 to be, once again, re-absorbed into the farm series.
I wonder what would happen if Britains Floral Garden relaunched today? Would it last over a decade this time, do you think with today’s emphasis on design in garden layouts?
Photographer & contributor: Sue Lowry
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