We are all familiar with the life upstairs downstairs at a great house thanks to Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. What is less familiar is the outside job of gardener to a wealthy family. The life is governed by the seasons and has evolved from a menial task to a highly skilled and qualified position. Gardeners have been employed to grow fruit, vegetables and to manage sometimes huge formal gardens, since Tudor times. And many more intrepid men and women changed gardening into what it is we recognise today. For example, father and son gardeners John and John Tradescant [below] travelled the world collecting plant specimens. John the father sailed to the Arctic Circle and fought Barbary pirates on the coast of Algeria. His son John sailed to America. Father and son were both, in turn, appointed Royal Gardener. So, having a gardener in your family tree could be very interesting!Where to search for your relative
Gardeners employed at large houses should be found in the wages books, garden accounts or the records of estate management. Start first at the National Archives Discovery catalogue. Also try regional trade directories, the autobiographies of landowners and histories of stately homes.
Try local newspapers for horticultural news, at the British Newspaper Archive.This might include job vacancies, appointments, horticultural prizes won, local flower shows etc. Trade directories including lists of gardeners who worked at large country homes and suburban residences can be found at the University of Leicester’s Special Collections website.
Places to visitStart at the Royal Horticultural Society to get an idea about gardening, the seasons, and to find some gardens to visit. Also try the National Trust for more great houses with gardens in your local area. The Lost Gardens of Heligan at St Austell in Cornwall were abandoned in 1914 and restored in the 1990s [above: Heligan gardeners in 1900]. Read Tim Smit’s story of restoring the Heligan gardens, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. The Garden Museum in London explores and celebrates British gardens and gardening through its collection, temporary exhibitions, events and garden. Find out more about the Tradescants and see a gardener’s notebook [above] dating from 1890 including tips about propagating vines.
For inspiring stories about women gardeners, read Gardening Women: their Stories from 1600 to the Present by Catherine Horwood.
For the life of a female garden designer, read about Gertrude Jekyll. She wrote more than 1000 gardening articles for Country Life and The Garden magazines. Read Penelope Hobhouse’s book Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening.
To learn about the 18th century gardeners who collected plants and seeds from overseas and changed our gardens forever, read The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf.
If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.
This post is inspired by an article in the May 2018 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.
Don’t know where to start investigating your own family history? Try Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Was your relative a gardener? #familyhistory https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3zz via @SandraDanby