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Gardeners’ Choice

by Evelyn Dunbar and Charles Mahoney
Persephone book no:

113 114 115

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781910263044

Gardeners’ Choice is the second gardening book we publish. The first is Persephone Book No. 66 Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart – and we apologise for any confusion the similarity of titles may cause. Both books were originally in black and white and both are published in facsimile; also each one is idiosyncratic and informative; and would be an excellent present for any gardener.

The authors of Gardeners’ Choice had first collaborated on a mural at a school in Brockley and in 1936 were asked to write ‘a really new book’ about gardening. Cyril (always called Charles) Mahoney had taught Evelyn Dunbar at the Royal College of Art and she was asked by him to work at Brockley. When they did the book together it did not occur to either of them to sign their drawings, with the result that we have no idea apart from intuitive appraisal who drew what. In the same way we do not know if the text is Charles’s or Evelyn’s.

The writing is quite serious and is for the truly dedicated gardener – there are detailed descriptions of the plants that the two devoted gardeners would ideally choose for a garden. But the main delight of the book is the drawings – black and white illustrations that have never been reproduced since their first publication in 1937. The reason for reissuing it now is that recently a cache of 500 of Evelyn Dunbar drawings and paintings were discovered in a house in Kent: someone had brought a Dunbar work to the Antiques Roadshow and seeing it had prompted the owner of the archive to get it down from the attic. 


The endpaper design for Gardeners’ Choice is taken from the original jacket for the book (which was done in three colourways, pink, orange and green).

Picture Caption

Pansies and Violas, a 1946 oil on canvas by Evelyn Dunbar (on display at Pallant House)

Read What Readers Say

Alison Oldham, ‘Ham and High’

An unconventional illustrated gardening book first published in 1937. The text continually reveals the authors’ knowledge and their sometimes subtle humour

Mary Keen, ‘The Telegraph’

‘Gardeners’ Choice’ is a delightful find, illustrated with line drawings and word portraits of plants. The writers have an eye for the unexpected and this book makes you look at flowers with a fresh eye.

Categories: Country Life House and Garden

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