Good enough to eat! Apples in the Library...

This month the Garden celebrates its annual Apple Day, a chance for visitors to experience and learn about all things apple-related, as well as to enjoy the Garden in its autumn splendour. For this month’s library pick we explore the apple-related books in the Cory Library, and one in particular whose illustrations look quite simply good enough to eat!

One of many fabulous illustrations from the Herefordshire pomona.One of many fabulous illustrations from the Herefordshire pomona.
Fruit cultivation, and in particular the apple, has been the subject of many books over the centuries. In his New principles of gardening (1728), garden and landscape designer Batty Langley (1696-1751) summed up perhaps the two most important factors determining the English obsession with the apple: firstly, that “amongst the great variety of English fruits, there is none so universal as the apple; for be the land of a hot and dry, wet and cold nature, one or other of the sorts will produce fruit"; and secondly, of course, that “the excellency of the liquor extracted from this fruit is a sufficient encouragement for its propagation”!

As well as Batty Langley’s treatise, here in the Cory Library we are lucky enough to hold a number of other books on the subject, dating from the seventeenth through to the nineteenth centuries, which offer us glimpses of what was known or believed about the apple’s origins, its history, its scientific qualities, and methods of cultivation at the times they were written.

Most eye-catching is the enormous two-volume Herefordshire pomona, a magnificent example in the tradition of illustrated fruit books, called ‘pomonas’ (after Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruitfulness), which developed alongside a growing interest in fruit cultivation and the science of pomology (the branch of horticulture that is concerned with the study and cultivation of fruit).

The Herefordshire pomona, published in parts between 1876-85, was commissioned by the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club whose members, concerned by a decline in the county’s orchards, were keen to revive and preserve old apple and pear varieties. The Club held an annual autumn exhibition at which experienced pomologists gathered to judge, identify and record the fruits on display. Among these experts were Dr Robert Hogg, vice-president of the Royal Horticultural Society, and Dr Henry Graves Bull, physician to Hereford Infirmary and a leading member of the Field Club. Together they compiled, wrote and edited the Herefordshire pomona, a comprehensive study and record of the apples and pears displayed at the exhibitions (over 400 varieties in total!).

Illustrated with cross sectional drawings and colour plates, and with a text not only scientifically rigorous, but rich in literary, historical and cultural references, the Herefordshire pomona is a remarkable and important work in the history of pomology.

The vivid illustrations in the Herefordshire pomona are the work of Alice Blanche Ellis and Edith Elizabeth Bull. No expense was spared when it came to the method of printing selected for the reproduction of their beautiful watercolours. The work was undertaken by Severeyns, a Brussels firm well known for specialising in botanical and horticultural chromolithography.

Chromolithography was the most successful and highest quality of the methods of colour printing developed in the nineteenth century, all of which attempted to dispense with the need to colour printed illustrations by hand. The original watercolours would have been carefully redrawn onto a series of stone plates which, when printed one after the other onto a single sheet, would build up layers of colour and recreate accurately the effect of the original painting.

Each page of illustrations for the Herefordshire pomona would have required as many as ten stones - and therefore ten passes through the printing press - to capture all the subtle shades of the fruits and flowers. As you can see, the resulting depictions are astonishingly lifelike, so much so that one has to resist the urge to pluck them off the page and take a bite!

Jenny Kirkham
Cory Library Manager