On 4thJuly 1957 our gardening civil servant and his wife Madge left London for their fortnight in Austria and Italy. Rather unusually ( but perhaps not so unusual for 1957 ) the couple cycledto town, deposited their rucksacks at the Air Terminal ( was this near Victoria coach station back then?) and then left their bikes at his place of work. They then caught a bus to London Airport, from where they flew by Swissair Metropolitan to Zurich, arriving at dawn. From here they took a train on a very hot day to Innsbruck and by early afternoon were settled in their hotel, the Weisses Kreug.
Being British our gardener devotes time to recording the weather ( from ‘Hot—jolly hot’ to ‘rains all morning’ and ‘rains slightly in afternoon’) , praising good meals and complaining about not so good meals, briefly mentioning sights visited and photos taken. Most of the holiday was spent among the mountains of northern Italy—in places like Cortina, Vigo di Fasso, and Bolzano, where they exalt in finding a restaurant that offers ‘ 2 courses incl. meat for 360L’. One of the main reasons for choosing this part of Austria and Italy is the prospect of locating Alpine flowers to photograph. They do find ‘ a fine meadow of alpine flowers ‘ and later our gardener leads Madge up Mount Marmolata in search of Entrichium, but fails to locate any. However ‘we do find other nice plants to photo…’ They also bump into the Olympic stands that were used in the previous February for the ‘Cresta Run’ and skating.
It is plain to see that our gardener was not a literary man, but even so it is disappointing to find that when there is an opportunity to elaborate on a description of a sight he signally fails to do so. For instance, a visit to the famous Schloss Ambras outside Innsbruck fails to excite. It is merely an ‘interesting 16thcentury Hapsburg ducal collection ‘. None of the towns the couple visit are described in any detail and the only point at which our gardener expresses any great excitement is when he and Madge take the Cristallo chair lift:
‘ That proved a sensational standing lift in chariots for two , almost to the top of M. Cristallo (10,000 ft)…’
It is revealing to contrast these terse entries with the lengthy descriptions provided by the diarist George Arney in his few months touring Bavaria, Bohemia and parts adjacent in 1834. Arney was quite capable of writing six pages of descriptive prose covering a single day.
Contrast too the dull holiday entries with our gardener’s dismay at what he finds on his return home on the 20thJuly:
‘ What a lot of earwig damage there is—& slugs galore on the beans, many premature Jap & other buds (Shoesmith roots toosoon) and worst of all, practical failure of tomatoes. All the ring plants hopeless, ash base still poisonous. But most others are useless also, due to ? virus ? poisonous subsoil ? overfeeding too early…’
Who’d be a gardener, eh?