THE HEAD GARDENERS: Forgotten Heroes of Horticulture

by Dr Toby Musgrave

Publisher:  Aurum Press (September 2007)
ISBN 84513 283 1

Hardback £18.99

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The Head Gardener has for a long time remained an unsung and elusive hero.  His name and something of his work may have survived but little of the man himself is recorded.  This is quite remarkable when you consider there were over four thousand of them in 1914.  In an age without formal education and classed as a servant, the Head Gardener had to be intelligent, adaptable, ingenious and be possessed of superb managerial skills and honed horticultural talent. These men of strong character educated themselves in various aspects of work including botany, etymology, plant physiology, plant breeding, and the cultivation of flowers, fruit and vegetables, some of which were introduced into this country with no previous experience of growing conditions. (The word endenizon’d is introduced to describe the success in establishing these plants)

In this book, Dr Toby Musgrave has excelled himself by gathering so much interesting, detailed material about these forgotten heroes of horticulture. We learn of the practical working life of trainees through the progression from Garden Boy in apprenticeship, to Journeyman to Head Gardener – much first-hand detail coming from diary extracts.
I am particularly interested in chapter 8 which is an account of the work of James Barnes at Bicton in Devon and gives us a very detailed account of the range of activities undertaken and the crops grown by this Head Gardener. The long list of rules and regulations at Bicton include a fine of 3d for coming to work any morning without shoes being laced or tied!

The comprehensive bibliography and chapter notes enable the reader to explore in more detail each aspect of the book which I found most fascinating in revealing the life and times of the Head Gardener.

David FJ Pearce