Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: project methodology
- Written by Sally Reckert
Questions about the home
We asked interviewees about their childhood homes: layout, utilities, number of residents, and occupation of the householder. These questions are significant, because if a house is too small or crowded to store produce, what happens to gluts of fruit and vegetables? (More often than not, any excess was shared fresh with neighbours.) (Listen to Myra's sister, DG's oral history here)
Questions about the gardens
We asked our interviewees to draw sketches of the gardens they remembered. This had several benefits: interviewees relaxed while drawing, which aided memory recall, and they usually talked through the garden as they drew, leaving the interviewer to note future lines of investigation.
The sketches show where fruits, vegetables and flowers were grown but not the exact size of plots or numbers of rows. Sometimes we were loaned - or could take - photographs of the garden.
Not all cottages had gardens, so allotments and neighbours' land were used. The rocky landscape meant homes, such as those in Muker (Swaledale), perch on their small plot with no room for a garden. Other hamlets, such as Satron (Swaledale), are in permanent shade for six winter weeks.
Good land has always been at a premium in the upper reaches of the Three Dales, and it went to grazing and hay before gardens. Lower down the dales, farm labourers were given tied cottages with land to grow fruit and vegetables to supplement their low agricultural wage.
In Richmond and some villages, council housing was built from the 1930s onwards, with land back and front for gardens. Allotments exist in small numbers and in odd corners.
Questions - plants and how they were grown
People have found it easier to remember how their parents gardened than the cultivar names of what they grew. Cabbages and potatoes were common, but tomatoes were a very rare treat, only for those families who had a greenhouse.
From the age that they could walk, our interviewees followed, played and then worked alongside their parents in the garden and home. One interviewee remembered being sent out to scythe thistle in the home field, at five years old.
Horse, cow and hen manure were all to be had for the garden, but many interviewees remember, as children, going with their fathers out on to the moors to collect sheep dung to be turned into precious liquid manure. The dung was wrapped in cloth and weighted down in a water butt, to be stirred regularly as the washing was hung out.