18th Century Folk Tune: “English Country Garden”

HGTV2501174-gardens-rms_perennials-minnesota-triciaf_s4x3.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725.jpegEnglish Country Garden is well known in the United Kingdom, English Country Gardens was originally a Morris tune (that is a tune usually played on the accordion or violin to accompany traditional English Morris dancing).  The tune was collected by Cecil Sharp, and has more or less entered the contemporary British national consciousness. (Acoustic Music Archive)

According to WikipediaCountry Gardens is an English folk tune collected by Cecil Sharp,the founding father of the folk-song revival  in England in the early 20th century, and arranged for piano in 1918 by Percy Grainger,an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist. In 2008, Country Gardens was added to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia registry. A version of Country Gardens appears in the Quaker’s Opera  of 1728.

The tune and the Percy Aldridge Grainger arrangement for piano and orchestra is a favourite with school orchestras, and other performances of the work include morris dancing. Jimmie Rodgers  sang a well-known version (“English Country Garden”), which reached Number 5 in the UK charts in June 1962. Anglo-Australian comedian Rolf Harris recorded a satire of the Rodgers version in the 1970s. Comedian Allan Sherman  used this melody as the tune for his 1963 song, “Here’s to the Crabgrass.” 

How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Daffodils, heart’s ease and phlox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupin and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden

How many insects come here and go
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Fireflies, moths and bees
Spiders climbing in the trees
Butterflies drift in the gentle breeze
There are snakes, ants that sting
And other creeping things
In an English country garden

How many songbirds fly to and fro
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Bobolink, cuckoo and quail
Tanager and cardinal
Bluebird, lark, thrush and nightingale
There is joy in the spring
When the birds begin to sing
In an English country garden

imgres.jpg You Tube: PERCY GRAINGER: Country Gardens 

220px-Jimmie_Rodgers_1968.JPG You Tube: Jimmie Rodgers – English Country Garden



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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7 Responses to 18th Century Folk Tune: “English Country Garden”

  1. JanisB says:

    Oh my goodness! Back when I was doing international folk dancing we would occasionally engage in Morris dancing, and I’m sure this is one of the tunes we danced to. It is so pretty yet a little odd too, no?

  2. Not sure of the source of the words you give, but it cannot be British. Most of the birds mentioned live only in North America. If they turned up in an English garden, the place would be totally inundated with “twitchers” trying to see them!

    • Admittedly these are from the Jimmie Rogers version – the one I know. If you have a copy of the original lines, please share them. For the life of me, I could not find them on the internet, but I could be using the wrong search words.
      Above is the version found on https://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/e105.html and https://www.acousticmusicarchive.com/english-country-garden-chords-lyrics and http://www.metrolyrics.com/an-english-country-garden-lyrics-nana-mouskouri.html

      • There seem to be many versions and parodies, some of them rude. The best I can find for that verse is:

        “How many song-birds make their nests in an English country garden?
        I’ll tell you now of some that I know, and those I miss, I hope you’ll pardon.
        Babbling, coo-cooing doves, robins and the warbling thrush,
        Blackbirds, lark, finch and nightingale.
        We smile in the spring when the birds all start to sing in an English country garden.”

        At least those are all British species!

      • Thanks for adding the verse. It is interesting to note the changes. I am always learning something new. Once I wrote this wonderful scene where the heroine is sprayed by a skunk, but then I realized that I never read of a skunk in England. The scene ended up in the trash.
        I have been trying to look at ballads and other ditties from British history. In the past I have done a piece on “The Oak and the Ash,” “God Save the Queen,” “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at,” and “Auld Lang Syne.” I used “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender” in one of my novels. There is a movie called “Songcatcher” that is based in NC and the Appalachian mountains. Songcatcher is a 2000 drama film directed by Maggie Greenwald. It is about a musicologist researching and collecting Appalachian folk music in the mountains of western North Carolina. Although Songcatcher is a fictional film, it is loosely based on the work of Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and that of the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp, portrayed at the end of the film as professor Cyrus Whittle.
        In 1907, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer), a professor of musicology, is denied a promotion at the university where she teaches. She impulsively visits her sister Eleanor (Jane Adams), who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There, she discovers a treasure trove of traditional Scots Irish ballads, which have been preserved by the secluded mountain people since the colonial period of the 1600s and 1700s. Lily decides to record and transcribe the songs and share them with the outside world.

      • The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was an avid collector of folk songs. Benjamin Britten also used some in his music and set versions of others. However, it’s probably fair to say all of them, including Cecil Sharp, tended to be more interested in the music than the words. Perhaps that’s because the words had so many local variants. The same tunes were also reused for different songs. When I lived in the US, I was often surprised to find British tunes used in entirely different contexts, including our national anthem! Lots of bluegrass melodies are indeed Scots-Irish, as you say. To an English ear, they sound distinctively different to old English tunes, which share a generally melancholy feel, derived from the constant use of the pattern known as “the dying fall” at the end of musical lines and phrases. ”Greensleeves” is full of these patterns, for example.
        Didn’t know of the film, but will look out for a copy. Thank you.

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