"It was June, and the world smelled of roses"

June: a month of long bright days, beautiful gardens, the scent of the wisteria, cream teas and village fêtes, a nostalgic picture of Britain from the past when the sun always seemed to shine. YFA volunteer, Val Baxter, has been enjoying an array of films on a horticultural theme, and here she shares her picks of the bunch ...

Many gardens are blooming at this time of year. Roses: miniature, standard, small shrub, large shrub, climbing, rambling, modern, old-fashioned. The huge variety of clematis, some with flowers as large as dinner plates, gaudy geraniums and pelargoniums and endless cottage garden favourites.  

My absolute favourite is the cornflower because of the vibrancy and depth of colour and their easy to grow nature.  Flowers are very much integral to our lives and also have many meanings associated with them, some because of their historical references and some because of their personal resonances. Everyone knows that a red rose stands for romantic love yet the rose has also represented England since the 1400s, when the Houses of York and Tudor battled for the English throne. York of course fought under the sign of the white rose, while Lancaster chose red. Following the unification of the throne, a new double rose incorporating red and white was adopted by the Tudor dynasty. And not to leave out our other nations, Wales is represented by the golden daffodil, Scotland, the purple flowered thistle and Northern Ireland, the pale blue flax flower. Our ancient British landscape is full of wild flowers and native trees but we are certainly a nation of gardeners and we have many films that illustrate our passion.

To get us going and thinking of the power of flowers: 

Alexandra Rose Day in Sheffield (1915) is a poignant film of women and girls in various locations of Sheffield, a year into World War One.  Beautifully dressed in white, a symbol of peace, adorned with baskets of flowers hung around their necks, they sell flowers for charity.  We see them pin flowers onto the uniform of an army officer and other onlookers. Several more flowers are sold as a horse and cart passes by in the background, followed by cars and a bus.  A large group of army officers, some with their arms in a sling, pose with several nurses. Alexandra Rose Day is a charitable fundraising event, first launched in 1912 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Queen Alexandra, wife of the late King Edward VII. Ten thousand silk roses were produced in total and on the 26th of June 1912 the streets of London were flooded with female flower sellers. 

On a more upbeat note, and a particular favourite of ours at YFA, is Flowers for Leeds (1953).  This was a garden competition sponsored yearly by the Yorkshire Post in which a variety of residents from different postal codes in Leeds – encompassing churchyards, large back gardens,  small front gardens down to the window boxes in tower blocks – are represented.   The film takes a look at some of the contestants, each house and  gardener is identified and we have wonderful shots of immaculately tended gardens, herbaceous borders teaming with gladioli, pelargoniums, sweet williams, dianthus, violets, snap dragons, looked after with pride as children and adults are shown weeding and hoeing and caring for the plants.  We are not sure when the competition finished but this film is a must for both the small and grander gardener, especially as many of the flowers grown have had a renaissance in flower shows of late.

In my Garden (1953), is an amateur film made by a Sheffield filmmaker, Kenneth Tofield.  It features his wife and son in their back garden with close up shots of the flowers. Dad and John walk out carrying tools and flower boxes.  They dig the soil together and plant some flowers. John and his mum stand at the front gate, and two boys walk towards the camera.  They are invited in to play in the garden.  A Terry's Milk Chocolate box sits on the grass, and John gives one each to his friends.  John and his mum pick and eat apples. Pure enjoyment of a garden.

June is also a time to check out the gardens of stately homes – and don’t forget your local hidden gardens.  Now, wouldn’t we all wish to have a greenhouse as impressive as this one at Wentworth?  Wentworth – The Glasshouses (1940) is a film made by Willie Thorne featuring the beautiful glasshouses at Wentworth Woodhouse, a rarely-seen stately home near Sheffield that has, at 606 feet, the longest facade of any house in England. The glasshouses were used to cultivate and grow exotic flowers and fruits and were recently restored in November 2013.The opening shot in this film shows the exterior of Wentworth Woodhouse from several different angles. The filmmaker then shows visitors entering the large impressive glasshouse. An exotic orange flower comes into view as a centre piece of the glasshouse. We then cut between different sections of the glasshouse showing fruit trees, with lovely views of grape vines that grow across the glass ceiling.

Garden all done?  June and July are not only about hard work tending gardens but are also traditionally the months of the village fête, featuring not only stalls of home-grown produce and plants, but all the traditions you can ever think of.  Yarm Fair: Egglescliffe Garden Fête (1948) does not disappoint. This film has all the ingredients, bunting, Punch & Judy, miniature steam railway, tea gardens, baby competitions, white elephant stalls, games and raffles, and the not-to-be-missed risqué “best ankle competition”.  Lots of smiles and milling around, great weather and no sign of rain!  A real feel good film.

The film begins with shots of Yarm Fair in 1948, as the High Street is transformed into a fairground for three days, and then moves to the traditional English garden fête held in the grounds of the Egglescliffe Rectory, Butts Lane. We see a beautiful house covered in wisteria and the gardens and churchyards being tidied up ready for the event.  

Church Fenton Village Events (1958) opens with crowds outside the village hall paying to enter the world of stalls, games, cakes and flowers. There is a young woman dressed as the anointed village Queen, presented with flowers, but I think the really interesting section is the Sunday School flower service where children are dressed up holding bouquets of flowers, looking very poised and innocent.   

So, even if you haven’t got a garden of your own, or time to go visiting, just a walk around your neighbourhood can reveal pockets of colour to brighten any day.

Val Baxter: YFA volunteer