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Liberty Hyde Bailey: surprising inspiration for Edward Gorey

-Magdalen Lindeberg

Manula of Gardening cover imageFans of the artist/author Edward Gorey might be surprised to learn that one of his works was inspired by Liberty Hyde Bailey, Cornell’s first Dean of Agriculture. As described in the recent biography, Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, Gorey was given a copy of Bailey’s Manual of Gardening by Judith Cressy, an employee at a used bookstore on Cape Cod where Gorey resided. Biographer Mark Dery describes Cressy’s recollection that on seeing the book, Gorey “whopped and rolled up the papers and tucked them in his pocket”. His subsequent work, The Improvable Landscape, was published in 1986.

Bailey wrote and edited a veritable library of books over the course of his lifetime on a broad array of topics related to plant systematics, environmentalism, plant breeding, horticulture, and the training of farmers. Manual of Gardening, available from Cornell’s Mann Library, was originally published in 1910. Written for the general public, it addresses landscaping and advice for the selection and care of fruit trees, vegetables, and ornamental plants.

Cover of Gorey's bookLocating a copy of The Improvable Landscape proved difficult. Though more than 70 of Gorey’s works are still in print, only 326 copies of The Improvable Landscape were printed and only one copy is currently for sale online.  However, images used in the book were also printed in a single page feature in the November 1985 issue of House and Garden.

A side by side review of Manual of Gardening and the House and Garden feature reveals that Bailey’s work served not merely as inspiration, but that in several cases Gorey’s images are near copies of illustrations and captions found in Manual of Gardening.  A selection of images from the two works are shown below.

Bailey and Gorey side by side
Illustrations from ‘Manual of Gardening’ alongside those by Edward Gorey

Manual of Gardening contains many additional illustrations with captions evoking Gorey’s distinctive blend of ironic wit and neo-Victorian judgement.

additional Bailey illustrations
Additional images from LH Bailey’s ‘Manual of Gardening’


Bailey, L. H. (1910). Manual of Gardening. New York, NY: The MacMillan Company.

Dery, M. (2019). Born to by Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Gorey, E. (1986). The Improvable Landscape. New York, NY: Albondocani Press

Gorey, E. “The Improvable Landscape.” House and Garden. Nov 1985: 124. Print.

Thanks also to Sara Catterall who first brought the Bailey reference in Dery’s biography to my attention

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