Jane Wells Loudon (née Webb) was an author, a prolific writer on botanical, horticultural and natural science subjects and a magazine editor active in the 19th century. She was born near Birmingham, England on 19 August 1807, the daughter of a businessman, Thomas Webb.
Jane's mother died when she was 12 years old. Her father died around five years later. As a result of the financial constraints she faced, Jane started writing to earn a living.
Jane's first work was Prose and Verse (1824) and her second was a science fiction novel, The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. The latter was published anonymously in 1827.
When author and landscape designer John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) read and reviewed The Mummy! the following year, he was intrigued by it, particularly its mention of the use of steam ploughs, and wanted to meet its anonymous author. He was rather surprised to discover that the author was a woman, rather than the man he had expected, when he finally met Jane in 1830. By this stage Jane had also written Stories of a Bride (1829) and soon would write Conversations on Chronology (1830).
The pair were married seven months after their first meeting, and Jane worked closely with her husband for the rest of his life. They lived at 3 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London where they cultivated a small garden, designed by Mr. Loudon, and had an impressive collection of plants.
Jane studied botany after her marriage. She attended lectures by the renowned botanist John Lindley (1799-1865), after whom the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library is named, and often wrote up her notes as articles. She travelled widely with her husband, acting as secretary to him on trips throughout the British Isles, helping him to compile, record and edit his books and periodicals, working as his literary assistant,into the early hours of the morning.
Increased debt incurred during her marriage caused Jane to turn to writing again herself. In 1838 she penned the Young Lady's Book of Botany (1838) and in 1839 Agnes, or the Little Girl who Kept a Promise (1839). In 1840 she wrote the very successful Instructions in Gardening for Ladies, as well as the Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals (four volumes 1840-1848) and The Young Naturalist's Journey: or the Travels of Agnes Merton and Her Mama(1840).
These latter works were highly accessible, practical books and, as a result, were extremely popular with readers, in particular with female amateur gardeners. They went through several editions and were quickly followed by many other works including The Ladies'Flower-Garden of Ornamental Bulbous Plants (1841), The First Book of Botany … for Schools and Young Persons (1841), Lady's Companion to the Flower Garden. Being an Alphabetical Arrangement of all the Ornamental Plants Usually Grown in Gardens and Shrubberies (1841) and Botany for Ladies, or, a Popular Introduction to the Natural System of Plants (1842).
In 1842 Jane founded and edited the Lady's Magazine of Gardening. In December 1843, John Claudius Loudon died. With his death, Jane faced even greater financial hardship. She continued to write gardening books, often with the help of her daughter, Agnes (born 1832), and to edit and publish earlier editions of both her and her husband's works.
In 1844 Jane received an award from the Royal Literary Fund. She received a civil-list pension of £100 in 1846.Chief among her publications at this stage were her British Wild Flowers (1845), Amateur Gardener's Calender (1847), the Lady's Country Companion at Home and Abroad (which she edited between 1849 and 1851), The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants (1848), Tales About Plants (1853) and My Own Garden, Or, The Young Gardener's Year Book (1855).
Jane died at her London home on 15 July 1858, aged 50. She was survived by her daughter, Agnes and is buried at Kensal Green cemetery.
Sources:Desmond, Ray, Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists (London: Taylor & Francis, 1994), pp. 437-438.
National Archives, National Register of Archives, Person Details, 'Loudon, Jane Wells (1807-1858) nee Webb, Horticultural Writer, GB/NNAF/P141195' < http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=P17889 > [accessed 25 September 2008]
Shteir, Ann B., ‘Loudon , Jane (1807–1858)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) < http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/17030 > [accessed 25 Sept 2008]
Way, Twigs, Virgins, Weeders and Queens: A History of Women in the Garden (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2006)
Gathorne-Hardy, Robert, Garden Flowers from Plates by Jane Loudon, (London and New York: B. T. Batsford, 1948)
Howe, Bea, Lady with Green Fingers: The Life of Jane Loudon (London: Country Life, 1961)
Loudon, J. C., In Search of English Gardens: The Travels of John Claudius Loudon and his Wife Jane, edited by Priscilla Boniface (Wheathampstead: Lennard Publishers, 1987)