Hidden horticulturalists

Quite a while ago now – back in the Glasgow book festival – I went to a talk about horticulturalists – two parts, of which the one that really interested me was about the early gardening trainees of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The story of the book began with the discovery in the RHS archives of a book of handwritten records by the young men who were the original trainees in their garden at Chiswick, dating back to the early 1820s. This was essentially the start of modern gardening – the first time that you would expect to have plants gathered from around the world in a garden, and would need to know how to look after them.

I ended up with the impression that the RHS don’t seem to have valued anyone who worked for them particularly highly – the trainees were so poorly paid that it was a requirement that they weren’t married, as they wouldn’t be able to support a wife! But hopefully they went on to better things.

The only one of the trainees who everyone has heard of, apparently, is Joseph Paxton, who went on to build the Crystal Palace – I hadn’t heard of him, but I have now, and it was while he was working at Chiswick that he first came to the attention of the Duke of Devonshire, who owned the land where the garden was.

I enjoyed the talk, and I liked the festival, but the one thing I do prefer about the Edinburgh book festival is the format of talks based around readings, as well as around discussion – I think it gives you a better idea of the book, as well as the topic.

Anyway, the library has the book on order, and I have a preemptive reservation on the currently non-existent book, so hopefully I will know more about it all soon.

The other half of the talk, although the wrong period, was about a man with the wonderfully Northumberland name of Collingwood Ingram, so I feel that he deserves a mention, although there was nothing Georgian or even northern about him – his great project was saving all the different varieties of cherry tree which had once been popular in Japan, and were vanishing in favour of only one or two kinds.

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