Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a private garden on three acres, south…
In America we are familiar with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, both launched in the early nineteenth century.
England, however, gave America the model for such a society of gardeners who banded together to promote gardening.
In the eighteenth century when any discussion of the ‘English garden’ appeared in print, whether in journals or books or even poetry, it was usually the garden of the aristocrat. Today you can still see examples of gardens from that time in the grand landscapes of Chatsworth, Stourhead, and Rousham.
Each of these belonged to wealthy landowners who sought to create a garden in the latest style of a more naturalistic fashion.
There were enough people of like mind on the relevance of gardening that in 1804 the Horticultural Society of London began with the support of King George III. The name would change later to the Royal Horticultural Society.
Since most gardeners were from the aristocratic class, it was no surprise that representatives of the middle class or laborers were excluded from membership in the Society, except for a working gardener or two.
Garden historian Jane Brown writes in her book The Pursuit of Pleasure: A Social History of Gardens and Gardening: “George III’s original charter to the Royal Horticultural Society is crowded with lords and baronets plus a bishop, though some good gardeners had to be added for efficiency’s sake.”
The Horticultural Societies in America began also with business owners, seed merchants, and nurserymen, but eventually included middle class gardeners as well.
You see from this case that gardening has long been connected with social class.
In America it was not uncommon for middle class suburban homeowners to envy the landscape of the estate outside the city with its long green lawn.
Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly once proposed an estate in New Jersey serve as a worthwhile example of what every landscape should look like: acres of lawn, hundreds of flowers, and numerous shrubs. That garden however had a staff of gardeners to take care of the property.
He was proposing it as an ideal that would motivate his readers who sought out his magazine to learn more about gardening and the landscape.
Jane Brown sums up the issue in her book with these words: “The English prefer their garden heroes to be aristocratic.”