"Following the completion of the Brockley murals Evelyn Dunbar looked for ways to earn some money, and was fortunate to be asked by Catherine Carswell, a Hampstead neighbour, to illustrate her and her husband’s book The Scots Week-End and Caledonian Vade-Mecum for Host, Guest and Wayfarer, inspired by Francis Meynell’s The Week-End Book. Following its publication by Routledge in the summer of 1936 she asked one of the partners, Mr Ragg, whether the firm had anything horticultural she could illustrate: his reply was negative unless ‘you can suggest someone who could write something really new on gardening.’ She passed this on to Charles Mahoney with the comment ‘Now mate what about it.’ (quoted Gill Clarke, p.54) Thus the seeds of Gardeners’ Choice were sown.
Although her earlier children’s book illustrations tended to be soapily pretty in a
Margaret Tarrantish manner, for The Scots Week-End Book she honed a more incisive style of black pen and ink drawing, refining this further for Gardeners’ Choice to create illustrations reminiscent of those in early herbals or eighteenth century chapbooks.
That up to this stage she did not have a clearly defined style is born out by her wash illustration for Wuthering Heights (CAT 129) commissioned for an article by Kenneth Clark in the November 1936 issue of Signature, which, like some of Paul Nash’s early work, is in a distinctly pre-raphaelite manner. However for Gardeners’ Choice she reverted exclusively to pen and ink.
The division of labour between Dunbar and Mahoney in Gardeners’ Choice is to all intents and purpose indistinguishable. The introductory chapter, ‘Community of Plants’, demonstrates their close collaboration: ‘In this book we present a small selection of plants which our practical knowledge of gardening and our personal outlook have led us to make. In addition to our natural pleasure in beautiful plants and our experience in raising and cultivating them, we have gained a close intimacy through drawing and painting them.