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Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: project methodology

Article Index

  1. Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: project methodology
  2. Interviewing
  3. Questions
  4. Verification and cross-checking
  5. Conclusion
  6. Endnotes and sources
  7. All Pages



Recruiting interviewer and interviewees

A feasibility study was run in October, 2007 [1], with the subsidiary aim of recruiting volunteer interviewers. Displays of old garden tools, archive photographs, nursery catalogues and questionnaires were put on in museums and Yorkshire Dales National Park tourist information centres.

Success in recruiting interviewers also brought interviewees, as they all knew someone to interview.

1960 was chosen as the last year by which interviewees had been born for several reasons:

  • Supermarkets had begun to change people's expectations of what fresh fruit and vegetables should look like, and by then it seemed cheaper to buy than grow.
  • With electricity came televisions, and time previously spent growing produce was given over to this type of leisure pursuit.
  • The availability of plants in plastic flowerpots, promoted by advertising, meant incomers could fill their gardens with immediate colour, brought with them from their local and urban garden centres. Aesthetics demanded flowers not vegetables.

Making the recordings public

With advice from the Oral History Society we learned how to interview people, adapting their technique to one of focused interviews set within more general conversations. If we were going to use the gardening stories to create gardens we needed to focus questions to elicit specific answers about food plants and how to grow them.

An Excel database was set up to capture results, and the recordings themselves are being stored for public use. Curators and archivists said that they would like to have the recordings, but had no time or money to process them.

The Dales Countryside Museum [2] holds joint copyright with me, and will deal with requests to use the information on the recordings. The North Yorkshire County Records Office, through Unnetie [3], will also hold a copy of the recordings for public use.

Some of the interview data may be found on the Parks & Gardens UK database by searching on North Yorks Dales Cottage Gardens, Swaledale, North Yorks Dales Cottage Gardens, Wensleydale or North Yorks Dales Cottage Gardens, Arkengarthdale.

Interview equipment

We recorded the conversations on a Marantz PMD660 machine using a solid-state flashcard with an external lavaliere microphone. Recordings are in PCM WAV format. Each recording was downloaded through free software (iTunes) on to a read-only CD.

Following guidelines developed by the Parks & Gardens UK team we have created interview summaries to accompany each CD. Not only are recordings kept in multiple copies but also on different sites, and as further security they have been backed up to a separate hard disk.

As well as gathering information, interviews were used to generate good will. People have enjoyed sharing their memories. The building of good relationships between interviewer and interviewee means we are able to ask further questions, and have been loaned precious personal photographs, garden notebooks and recipe books, and been given the names of more interviewees.

The people interviewed about their gardens

So far we have interviewed 35 people. Our interviewees are the sons and daughters of threshers, shepherds, dry-stone wallers, road lengthsmen, miners, cowmen, pig-killers, market gardeners, gamekeepers, estate gardeners, quarrymen, tenant farmers, army camp workers from Lower Swaledale, and German PoWs who worked on farms and stayed on after World War 2.

Haymaking in Wensleydale. 3 people on the left of the picture rake hay and the man on the right watches them. Copyright: A. Holubecki.Haymaking in Wensleydale, 1930s. Copyright: A. Holubecki.Without electricity and running water women's work in the home was a full-time job in itself. They also tended the hens, cared for their sick and elderly neighbours, managed the dairy and creamery if the family farm had cows, and - together with children - worked as seasonal labour, haymaking, harvesting and potato picking. (Listen to Marry Rutter's oral history here)

Children learned to grow and prepare food by working alongside their parents, usually their fathers in the garden and their mothers in the house. In school holidays they were often in service to relations on farms in other parts of the dale. In Swaledale and Arkengarthdale, some of the National Schools had their own allotments where boys learned to garden while girls learned domestic skills.

In some areas, such as parts of Wensleydale, there is little tradition of gardening, as any reasonable land is used for grazing and haymaking. Meadows rich in wildflowers were the gardens for these interviewees.