Heroes of Horticulture

Here are the outside staff of the Castle in the 1890’s. Nine in all, plus prize cockerel, prize cabbage and uninterested terrier. Good to know some things never change. At this stage the long glasshouse range at the back of the house, which outstripped Osborne House’s in size, was still intact and the grounds were an intensively gardened and productive 16 acres, rather than the 5 that are left.

The image is rather dour, long exposure times freezing smiles to a grimace. They brandish their tools like a badge of honour: is each indicative of that man’s role in the garden, or was the photograph more staged than that? Is the man holding the cockerel the poultry keeper? Perhaps the man with the bucket and paint brushes was solely concerned with maintenance? I like to think the older man with the broom, standing behind the terrier,  has been given this easier task because of his more advance years.

I assume the Head Gardener stands next to the cockerel man, as he is dressed in a suit and with chest out and strong stance, he seems a little squared up to the viewer: in charge. Toby Musgrove’s book on the history of the Head Gardener draws an interesting picture of these men. A man responsible for garden budgets, for staff, for all edible produce required by the house. A man who planned in advance the rotation of crops in the kitchen garden, seed storage and purchasing, the forcing on and holding back food crops for a year round supply. Who not only organised the kitchen garden, but oversaw the glasshouses, vinery, flower garden and ornamental borders, probably at this date in the history of gardens, bedded out with annuals grown from seed. He continued to educate himself  (what he received at school being fairly basic, he almost certainly trained on the job), so he could understand and share the garden owner’s enthusiasm for new plant introductions, de rigeur at that time. Below are two examples of this at the Castle: a gentleman, possibly Harry Baldwin with a Paulownia sapling newly planted in front of the house and a very proud gardener next to yucca flowers at about the same date.  For his crucial role in running all of this, the Head Gardener is of course woefully underpaid. John Tradescant the Elder, plantsman, adventurer and lover of gardens, paid his man £100 per annum in 1630. Given that this was the going rate in the mid 19th Century, wages hadn’t stayed in line with inflation.*

The Gardeners’ days would have revolved around the potting shed, which I have blogged about before (Peter outside the Potting Shed Door). But what I didn’t mention was that at some point one Head Gardener cut a narrow slit in the tongue and groove boarding around his office and carefully glazed it, to keep out the draft: now he can see who comes, who goes. From his desk in the office,  with the window overlooking  Upper Green Road, he can keep an eye out for deliveries, warming himself at the small fireplace in the colder months. He makes notes of what seeds to store, some of which remain inscribed on the seed trays on the walls. It is so unchanged, local song writer Mark Hickman has written a lovely ballad about this place. I will ask his permission to attach it to a blog, so you can hear that sometime.

Finding this photo made me finally make some record of the Garden Team working here. And they did just grab their tools, it was not staged at all.

*The Head Gardeners: Forgotten Heroes of Horticulture by Toby Musgrove, page 102



Ian (bricky), Luke, Trevor (Digger Driver) , Me, Alasdair and Steph. Peter in front.



Gentleman with Paulownia imperialis



A Gardener beside a Yucca in flower



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