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Charity No. 1020908

The History of E. A. Bowles

ea bowles

'E A Bowles'

Edward Augustus Bowles "Gussie" to his friends was one of the 20th century's great gardeners. He was born at Myddelton House in Enfield on 14th May 1865, the youngest of three sons. A sickly child, he was educated at home by the local vicar from whom he drew inspiration for a career as a priest.

As a child he was a very keen natural historian and gardener and later whilst studying at Cambridge for the priesthood he joined the Cambridge Entomological Society. It was in 1887 whilst completing his BA that tragedy struck the Bowles family, his brother and sister dying of consumption. Bowles returned to his parents to comfort them and abandoned professional priesthood. Instead he devoted himself to helping his local church as Vicar's Warden and lay reader, the organisation and running of a night school for local boys, charitable work for the local poor and the creation of a garden from uninspired parkland at Myddelton House.

He was a self-taught gardener, botanist, botanical artist, and garden writer as well as plant hunter. Despite the loss of sight from his right eye, the several hundred detailed paintings now held at the Lindley Library and Natural History Museum are a testimony to his talent as an artist.

Bowles joined the Royal Horticultural Society in 1897 and purchased life membership for 26. A bargain for both as he was to serve on 15 committees and was a council member for 36 years, as well as attaining Vice-Presidentship from 1926-1954. In 1916 he received the highest honour the RHS can bestow, the Victoria Medal of Honour. Following his death in 1954, an area of the RHS Wisley Garden was named Bowles' Corner.

Apart from the many scholarly articles and papers he wrote on various plants, he was the author of three books about his remarkable garden: My Garden in Spring, My Garden in Summer (both published in 1914), and My Garden in Autumn and Winter (published in 1915). Best sellers in their day, they have been reprinted several times and are still available on a print-to-order basis and at the Myddelton House Visitor Centre. A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum was published in 1924, revised in 1952, (crocus being one of his great passions) and A Handbook of Narcissus in 1934.

Many strange, rare and difficult plants were successfully grown at Myddelton House and people came from far and wide to admire them. All were made welcome by Bowles and visitors usually left with bulbs, roots, cuttings or seeds. The children he helped and befriended either through the Church, Church Lads Brigade, Forty Hill School or Night School became known as "Bowles Boys" and had the run of the garden at weekends where activities were laid on for them like fishing, football, cricket or skating on the pond or New River. Others could be found helping him in the garden, removing blanket weed from the pond, weeding and other tasks.

During the Second World War work began on a sixth book, a monograph on the anemone. Alas this project had to be abandoned halfway through due to lack of funding. His final book, on snowdrops, in collaboration with Colonel Sir Frederick Stern, was published posthumously in 1956 under the title "Garden Varieties of Galanthus".

His death in May 1954, one week short of his eighty-ninth birthday, marked the end of an era. Three hundred people attended his funeral. His ashes were scattered in his favourite patch of garden, the rock garden - an area which he himself maintained.

E A Bowles' lasting legacy is broad, including his writings and botanical illustrations, the many plants named after him and his remarkable garden at Myddelton House. We should also not forget the positive influence he had on the lives and subsequent careers of many of the Bowles Boys and their families.

Plants named after E A Bowles that are still available today and listed in the RHS Plant Finder (AGM signifies that the plant has the Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.)

Anemone hupehensis 'Bowles's Pink'

AGM

Anemone nemorosa 'Bowles's Purple'

 

Buxus sempervirens 'Bowles's Blue'

 

Carex elata 'Aurea' (Bowles's golden sedge)

AGM

Chelidonium majus ' Bowles's Variety'

 

Colchicum cilicicum Bowles's form

 

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'E A Bowles'

 

Crocus sieberi 'Bowles's White'

AGM

Crocus 'Snow Bunting'

AGM

Cyclamen hederifolium var. hederifolium f albiflorum Bowles's Apollo Group

 

Cyclamen hederifolium var. hederifolium f albiflorum (Bowles's Apollo Group) 'Artemis'

 

Cyclamen hederifolium var. hederifolium f hederifolium Bowles's Apollo Group

 

Daphne mezereum f. alba 'Bowles's Variety'

 

Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'

AGM

Erysimum 'Bowles's Yellow'

 

Fragaria vesca 'Multiplex' (syn. 'Bowles's Double')

 

Galanthus plicatus 'Augustus'

 

Galanthus 'E A Bowles'

 

Hebe 'Bowles's Hybrid'

 

Lavandula angustifolia 'Bowles's Early'

 

Mentha x villosa var. alopecuroides Bowles's mint

 

Milium effusum 'Aureum' (Bowles's Golden Grass)

AGM

Narcissus 'Bowles's Early Sulphur'

 

Philadelphus coronarius 'Variegatus' (syn. 'Bowles's Variety')

AGM

Phlomis 'Edward Bowles'

 

Plantago major 'Rosularis' (syn. 'Bowles's Variety')

 

Pulmonaria officinalis 'Blue Mist' (syn. Bowles's Blue')

 

Pulmonaria rubra 'Bowles's Red'

 

Ranunculus ficaria 'Double Bronze' (syn. Bowles's Double)

 

Rheum palmatum 'Bowles's Crimson'

 

Rhodohypoxis 'E A Bowles'

 

Salix 'Bowles's Hybrid'

 

Santolina pinnata ssp. neapolitana 'Edward Bowles'

 

Skimmia japonica 'Bowles's Dwarf Female'

 

Skimmia japonica 'Bowles's Dwarf Male'

 

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus 'Foliis Variegatis' (syn. 'Bowles's Golden Variegated')

 

Vinca minor 'Bowles's Purple'

 

Vinca minor 'La Grave' (syn. 'Bowles's Variety' & 'Bowles's Blue')

AGM

Viola 'Bowles's Black'

 

Further reading (most of these publications can be found at the RHS Lindley Library) By E A Bowles:

My Garden in Spring. Published 1914 by T C and E C Jack. Reprinted 1972 by David and Charles. Reprinted 1997 by Timber Press Inc.
My Garden in Summer. Published 1914 by T C and E C Jack. Reprinted 1972 by David and Charles. Reprinted 1998 by Timber Press Inc.
My Garden in Autumn and Winter. Published 1915 by T C & E C Jack. Reprinted 1972 by David and Charles. Reprinted 1998 by Timber Press Inc.
A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners. Published 1924 by Martin Hopkinson & Co Ltd. Reprinted 1952 by Bodley Head. Reprinted 1955 by Garden Book Club. Reprinted 1985 by Waterstone & Co Ltd.
A Handbook of Narcissus. Published 1934 by Martin Hopkinson Ltd.

Biographies of E A Bowles:

Allan, Mea. E A Bowles and His Garden at Myddelton House 1865-1954. Published 1973 by Faber and Faber Ltd. Second edition 1973 by Readers Union Group.
Hewitt, Bryan. The Crocus King. E A Bowles of Myddelton House. Published 1997 by The Rockingham Press.

Other references to E A Bowles, his plants and garden:

Buchan, Ursula. An Anthology of Garden Writers.
Elliott, Charles. The Transplanted Gardener. Published 1995 by Lyons and Burford.
Griffiths, Mark. A Century in Photographs: Gardening 1900-2000. Published 2000 by Times Books.
Hadfield, Miles. One Man's Garden. Published 1966 by Dent.
Lewis, Norman. Jackdaw Cake. Published 1985 by Hamish Hamilton.
Macleod, Dawn. The Gardener's London. Published 1972 by Duckworth.
Massingham, Betty. A Century of Gardeners. Published 1982 by Faber and Faber.
Pankhurst, Alex. Who Does Your Garden Grow? Published 1992 by Earls Eye Publishing.
Shulman, Nicola. A Rage for Rock Gardening. Published 2002 by Short Books.
Stebbings, Geoff. The Life of E A Bowles. RHS The Garden volume 122, part 10, October 1997.
Thomas, Graham Stuart. Recollections of Great Gardeners.

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