'Toby Musgrave's delightful book about the single-minded and often tyrannical horticulturalistic pioneers of the English country garden.' Independent on Sunday The great head gardeners of Victorian and Edwardian Britain enjoyed a status and an importance that extended far beyond the walled frontiers of their fiefdoms. Only the very best of the uneducated country lads who were taken on as garden boys survived the apprenticeship of up to fifteen years, but those that did were men of strong character who had educated themselves in the sciences of botany, etymology, plant breeding, plant physiology, surveying, perspective drawing and much else. As well as ensuring that the great houses were supplied with flowers, fruit and vegetables the year round - pineapples by the dozens, peaches and apricots by the thousand were harvested from their greenhouses - they learned to cultivate the host of exotic plants that their employers imported from the ends of the earth. They invented the trade of floristry. They wrote bestselling books and published the first gardening magazines.The fame and reputation of great houses and their owners depended upon the skills of the head gardeners and competition for their services could be intense. Some tyrannised their employers to the extent that they durst not pick a flower or pluck a fruit for fear of the head gardener's displeasure. Others, like Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, became the friends and confidants of those who paid their wages. They ran what were, in effect, large horticultural businesses which might employ fifty or more staff and have annual expenditures that would run into the millions in today's currency. In this scholarly and highly entertaining book Toby Musgrave rescues the head gardeners from the backwaters of horticultural history and restores them to their rightful place as the founders of their profession.
The Head Gardeners