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Gardeners

Links

wikipedia - a history of gardening - quite a comprehensive article on the history of gardens, though I don’t think it mentions Arab gardens for example.

encyclopaedia Britannica - A very comprehensive article, several pages long on the history of gardening

Really the topic is too large to give a list of useful links.  It depends what aspect of gardening and gardeners you are interested in.

The garden is one of literature’s most potent images.  Almost every culture has it’s own version of a Garden of Eden and gardens are almost always portrayed as idyllic places, havens of beauty, peace and harmony, not to mention abundance, an escape from the preoccupations and distresses of the everyday world.

The other side of the garden as haven is the neglected garden, overrun by weeds (although one’s man’s weed is another man’s prized possession it seems to me) and rampant growth.  The jungle.  A wilderness representing the wild, the unknown, the untamed.  Indeed some gardens are carefully cultivated to look wild and natural.


But the reality for the people who worked tin gardens in the past was most probably very different.  It must be another of those very ancient professions - who tended the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for example?  The answer is most probably an army of slaves, but slaves with a particular skill - or maybe not.  Perhaps the skill was known only to their overseers.  They simply provided the labour.


There are gardens large, gardens small, and gardens tiny.  There are exclusive gardens - landscapes even - for the private use of the rich and the aristocratic.  Then there are the other private gardens - those of the peasants and the middle-class which often provided food as well as flowers.  The urban poor simply did not have the space or the time, until the expansion of the cities into suburbia.


I’m not sure at what time public gardens and parks came into existence, although a little searching told me that in England anyway, the first parks were, of course, hunting parks for the Royals and the aristocrats.  It seems that Charles I (a most unlikely king to do this I must say) threw open Hyde Park to the public.  Though whether the public meant absolutely everyone I have no idea.  And now I come to think of it there were the Vauxhall Gardens which seem to have been a public pleasure park in the seventeenth century in particular, so maybe it was Charles I.  Whoever, it was, gradually parks were opened, or created for public use and certainly by Victorian times there were very many.  London is interesting though, in that lots of those squares dotted around the city, have a park at their heart, which is private.  Kate Meyrick  lived on Park Square and my husband remembers playing in the park, courtesy of one of his aunts who lived on in Kate’s old house.


The idealisation of gardens continues into the depiction of the people who create those havens - the gardeners - as the illustrations on this page demonstrate.  They are generally depicted as wise, gnarled old men, doing something with a spade, a fork or a hoe and dispensing wisdom to the young.  But gardening, even now, is hard work.  Sure - some tasks such as pruning are less onerous - although it depends on how much you have to do - but on the whole gardening involves a lot of hard physical labour.


I suspect it’s a profession that is coming back - at least here in Australia.  Here we have everything from handymen/gardeners who mow the lawns and weed the gardens of the middle classes and the aged, to the trendy landscape architects and their gardening team who create stylish outdoor spaces for the rich and famous - and also the not quite as rich and famous.  There are gardening programs on television and radio and magazines galore offering advice and ideas, and people with gardens mostly spend a lot of time tending them.  The communal garden is also a booming trend.  Little plots of ground provided free, or for nominal rents to people who grow edible food for exchange.  Rather like the allotments that kept the British Isles fed during the war, and which continue to this day.  I remember seeing a television program that showed how, in Cuba, every available space is used for producing food for the people.  It made me look at grass verges and nature strips in a new way.


It’s a soothing and satisfying occupation for leisure - if there is no pressure.  Of course for our ancestors who were gardeners it was very probably not nearly as soothing or satisfying.  Like all labouring jobs the hours would have been long, the certainty of long-term employment would have been very low and it would have been very hard work.  The photograph at the top of the page shows the outdoor staff of a stately home somewhere - a vast army of people keeping the grounds, and kitchen gardens under control.  In these establishments, employment might have been more secure.  Less so, I would guess in the public parks, and smaller gardens of the middle classes.  I do not know what type of garden my ancestors worked in - well on one document related to Roger Magee it gives his occupation as gardener (domestic).  How domestic though, one wonders.  A one-man job or part of a small team.


What I do know is that we should be grateful to this army of men - for it was almost exclusively men - who created such beautiful, soothing and productive spaces for us to make use of.  Enjoy the pictures.

Almost every major artist has painted a garden or gardener.   Just some of them are shown here.  Almost all, it has to be said show an idealised and romantic view of the gardener.  Very few show the real hard labour that must have occurred.  Imagine for example, creating the gardens at Versailles.  Not easy.   And they almost all show the weather to be clement - not always true of course, particularly in England.