Modesty, thrift and restraint – the key bourgeois values – were to be encouraged, though recidivists would lapse into ‘a blaze of colour’. Philanthropic landlords with model estates, or paternalist industrialists like Cadbury at Bournville, where the gardens were generously supplied with the shrubs and flowers, were relentless in their rules and regulations, as were the enlightened municipal authorities that were then building the first council houses. On the Wythenshawe estate in Manchester ‘slum habits’, such as putting up a trellis for unruly sweet peas too close to the path, could land you in trouble. The lower orders soon learned to police themselves.

Alison Light reviews Margaret Willes’ The Gardens of the British Working Class (LRB)


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