The Lost Gardens of Orkney (6) – Seeds

It is claimed that when the forces of Oliver Cromwell put Orkney under occupation one of the things they introduced to the islands was the growing of cabbages. Of Cromwell, Cavaliers and Covenanters: Orkney Under Occupation

Whether that is to believed or not, growing vegetables for your own use was an important part of the Orkney diet. Potatoes and swedes were grown in most gardens and plots, but peas, beans and fruits were also produced.

Advert in The Orkney Herald and Advertiser 4th April 1934

Just as today, there were many varieties and every gardener had their personal favourites. There was also an abundance of places you could buy seeds from locally as well as having the opportunity of getting them by post. By the middle of the 19th Century seeds could be bought in small packets. This meant that no matter where you lived you could purchase packets of seeds and have them delivered to you.

James Flett & Son of Bridge Street Kirkwall was advertising in the Spring of 1909 the following:

  • Peas- Gradus (1/- a pint); Stratagem (10d a pint); Telephone (8d a pint)
  • Broad Beans – Taylor’s Broad Windsor (6d a pint); Masterpiece (8d a pint)
  • Runner Beans – Best of All (1/- a pint); Champion Scarlet Runner (9d a pint)
  • Beet – Covent Garden Blood Red (6d per oz); Dell’s Selected (6d per oz)
  • Carrot – Altringham 4d per oz
  • Cress – Extra Curled 2d per oz
  • Celery- Leicester Red (3d pkt); Standard Bearer (3d pkt)
  • Lettuce – Hardy Winter White ( 8d per oz); All Year Round (cabbage) (6d per oz)
  • Onions – Ailsa Craig, 1/- 6d per oz
  • Parsley – Triple Curled, 4d per oz
  • Turnips – Golden Ball and Early Snow Ball, 3d per oz.

Also in stock – Sweet Peas, Splendid Mixture, 3d per oz

Growing potatoes was important and at E. Cooke, 10 Bridge Wynd Kirkwall (1923) you could buy several varieties of seed potato: Duke of York, Templair, Sutton’s Abundance (early), First of All, Kemplestone, Kidney and Kerr’s Pink (Champion).

During the years of both World Wars people were encouraged to grow their own vegetables ( The Lost Gardens of Orkney, 3: Allotments) and there was lots of advice and support to help them to do so. The Dig for Victory campaign was especially effective during World War 2.

Although vegetable and fruit growing provided for mealtime, gardeners were also keen on growing flowers and shrubs for their beauty.

A packet of flower seeds would cost you a penny from John Muir, 6 Shore Street Kirkwall in 1891 or you could browse through some of the many seed catalogues available and send away for them.

For those who wanted the instant satisfaction of ready grown plants you could get those from George Leith in Kirkwall. In 1912 he was selling the following:

  • Wallflower: 9d and 1/- per dozen
  • Canterbury Bells, Sweet William and Polyanthus at 1/- per dozen
  • Japanese Larch Trees at 3d each
  • Large Lilium Auratum Bulbs for 8d each
  • Strawberry plants at 2/- and 6d per 100.

Some of these went out of favour for a time but seem to have come back into popularity as fashion swings about. And of course then, as now, people collected their own seed, took cuttings and got gifts of plants from friends.

Image credit: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Fiona Grahame

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2 replies »

  1. PS
    Mike got the tatties, which cost £4.25. We’re still eating last year’s crop. Our tattie patch measures about 10 ft X 10 ft. That’s a lot of food at little cost – and from a small space.
    We’re also still eating last year’s carrots and broccoli from the mixed veg patch – same dimensions. Only recently finished the cabbages and kale. The spinach just kept on providing leaves.
    The seeds for all these cost very little, and we still have some left which we’ll use this year.
    And – left-over seeds for salad crops too – cut and come again varieties, so once they’re there, they’re there all season.
    Using a coupe of garlic bulbs from last year’s crop to divide and plant this year.

    I’m thinking of Fiona’s pieces about Council house gardens – and allotments.