‘Nowhere in the world is there anything like the English cottage garden. In every village and hamlet in the land there are these little gardens, always gay and never garish, and so obviously loved. There are not so many now, alas, as those cottages of cob or brick, with their thatched roofs and tiny crooked windows, are disappearing to make way for council houses and modern bungalows, but the flowers remain, flowers that have come to be known as ‘cottage flowers’ because of their simple, steadfast qualities.’ - Margery Fish, Cottage Garden Flowers, 1961
Margery Fish has become one of the most influential gardeners of the 20th Century and remains an admired gardener and garden writer who published many books and articles, which highlighted her expertise and passion for nature. Mrs Fish’s journey began when she was in her mid-forties, developing a concept of cottage gardening that was heavily influenced by traditionally grown plants that were once so densely planted in British cottage gardens. Through her work both on paper and in the oil, Margery Fish illustrated her ability and understanding of plants in such a way her infamous garden at East Lambrook Manor remains a monument of her work and is a popular site to visit.
However, her professional life did not begin in the midst of nature; quite ironically it began in the concrete jungle of Fleet Street. In 1911 Margery Townsend (maiden name) left secretarial school, and although for the time it was rare for a middle class woman to embark on a career, began working on Fleet Street. Showing talent and diligence she was soon promoted to work under the Daily Mail’s Editor, Tommy Marlowe and the newspaper’s founder Lord Northcliffe. Although known for his ruthful and dictating ways he also showered his staff with friendliness and instilled in Margery the importance of aiming high.
During the Great War, Lord Northcliffe became the most powerful man on Fleet Street, which followed a proposal from the prime minister to head the British Mission to the USA. Upon this appeal Northcliffe immediately requested that Margery be on his staff, which she accepted without hesitation. Since crossing the Atlantic with the risk of falling victim to enemy torpedoes, Margery spent three years in the USA and was awarded the MBE for her contribution.
It has been said that through her professional relationship with Northcliffe and his influence she went on to work for Walter Fish, the newspaper’s News Editor. In 1922, Walter became the Daily Mail’s Editor and was quickly seen as an inspiration to work for. Working for several years with Walter, Margery became the object of his affection and in 1933 the couple wed.
With the threat of the Second World War looming, Margery made a decision that changed her life forever. The Fish’s decided to move away from the dangers of Central London and set up home in a 15th century manor house in East Lambrook, Somerset. With no prior interest or knowledge of gardening, Margery commenced her second career, which resulted in her becoming one of the most prominent female gardeners of all time.
During the time of the Second World War money was scarce and the public had to adapt to life without paid gardeners. Margery Fish was able to promote this change and created a cottage garden on a domestic scale to which anyone could relate. Her approachable garden along with countless accounts of her gardening methods enabled gardening to become a passion that all could part take in.
Mr McGregor at Notcutts