The Georgian period was one of great advances in gardening, but also one of changing fashions and taste. The formality of the grand parterres in the French Style were soon to fall out of favour and be grubbed up as the English style of landscape gardens slowly evolved and then blossomed.
Parterres, similar to these as Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, were common in the gardens of the larger estates.
There had always been areas of wilderness in many of the formal gardens, although it was not as wild as we may expect it to be; many of the pathways and ridings being cut in straight lines with the formally cut hedges cut to just above head-height lining the more informal planting within. Sometimes the lower growth of the trees was trimmed before being allowed to grow more naturally.
The wilderness at Ham House is a very formal design.
Some say that the ‘French style’ parterres were expensive to maintain, but having looked after small ones the maintenance is not such a problem – and acres of grass needs even more maintenance to look its best; even more so in the days before lawn mowers.
One major problem with scything a lawn to keep the grass short is that the mowing must be carried out when the grass is wet, either from dew or rain. Once the grass dries the scythe blade glides over the grass, rather than cutting it. This reduces the hours per day that the grass can be cut, especially in hot, dry weather. It also means that the men mowing the grass have to get up very early in the morning and cut as much as possible before the sun dries the grass.
At Berrington Court the grass goes right up to the house.
Another task was to roll the grass to keep it flat so that the scythe blades would not scuff raised parts. The rollers were usually made of wood or stone and depending on the size could be pulled by men or horses. One side effect of the regular use of rollers is the compaction of the top soil, reducing the speed of the grass growth, although this is not mentioned in the books of the period.
One small estate in Buckinghamshire had six scythes, three stone rollers with iron frames, one iron horse-roller and two large wooden horse-rollers. The man-power needed to maintain the large areas of grass was quite high.
Paths were often made of sand or fine gravel and made with a cambered profile over a hard-core base so that they would drain quickly. The paths would be dug up in late winter, when they were not being used very often, to remove weeds and to relay the surface. Worms were a problem as they leave casts of soil on the path surface, which encourages weeds to grow. Weeds were also controlled with hoes or by salting the gravel. Regular rolling of the paths compacted the surface, giving weeds little chance to germinate.
Most of the gardeners’ equipment was similar to that used today, although there were no secateurs for pruning and few digging forks. Many of the spades were made of wood with only a metal shoe to edge the blade. Most of the tools would be made by the estate blacksmith until factories became more common.
Regardless of whether the garden was formal or in the new landscape style, every estate needed a walled Garden to grow the fruit and vegetables needed by the family for the whole year. This required careful planning and a large labour force to not only grow, but to protect the crops.
Pest control could be simply driving the birds away with various noisy bird scaring tools, such as what most of us know as the Football Rattle – work for children and the apprentices.
There were also many poisons and ingenious traps to kill vermin and birds- if the birds, rats and mice eat the food, people cannot and food would have to be brought in from elsewhere. Early gardening books are as much about killing things as they are about growing plants.
People were also treated as pests. It was not only the internal walls of walled gardens that were trained with fruit trees, the external one were too. To deter children and adults from the temptation of scrumping the ripe fruit, mantraps were often set near the walls. The threat alone would probably have deterred most people.
William Cobbett, famous for his, Rural Rides, wrote a book about Gardening where he said it was better to plant hedges to stop people reaching the walls, ‘than ruining a man’s life by the use of traps.’
People were considered as much of a pest as animals.
Sadly, traps were cheaper than planting and maintaining hedges and the use of mantraps was not banned until 1827.
To grow the out-of-season early and late crops required heat and protection.
The making of Hot Beds was one of the most important tasks. Gardeners would barrow manure to the store areas next to the walled garden to keep it hot and then barrow it into the walled garden when it was needed it. They made large flat piles of hot dung by sifting the manure and straw with forks to open it. It was left for three or so days to get hot and then the pile was moved again by sifting once more with the forks. They checked the temperature for several days until and if it was not too hot they put soil over the pile and set the frames on it. For several days, the gardeners checked the temperature with their hands to make sure that it was not too hot, before eventually sowing their seeds.
If the weather was cold the frames were covered with straw mats to keep the plants warm.
Sometimes the dung was put into pits and the frames placed on top, which made looking after the frames much easier.
Hot beds were easier and cheaper than using stoves to heat the glass areas.
The hotbed was a frame set on a pile of manure. Later tanners bark was also used.
The fumes from the stoves would often kill the plants rather than preserve them.
John Evelyn designed a stove house that used a through- draught to keep the Stove House warm, but the prevented the air inside becoming stale.
Melons and cucumbers were grown in hot frames, but also later in the period, the much prized pineapples
Bell Jars, or cloches, from the French word for a bell, had been used since the late 1600’s cloches, the bell-like glass jars that were placed over individual plants to protect them from pests but that also kept them warm.
Life was not easy, nor very well paid for most gardeners. They would leave school at about eleven years old and become apprentices. The Worshipful Company of Gardeners had been granted their first Charter of Letters Patent in1605, with a second revised Charter was drawn up in 1616. The company suggested that apprentice gardeners should learn,
“The trade, crafte or misterie of gardening, planting, grafting, setting, sowing, cutting, arboring, rocking, mounting, covering, fencing and removing of plants, herbes, seedes, fruites, trees, stocks, setts, and of contryving the conveyances to the same belonging…”
After completion of a seven year apprenticeship the newly trained gardener could become a journeyman and leave his place of training to work in other gardens to widen his experience and knowledge. At about the age of 25 he would hope to become a foreman of an area within a large garden or the Under-Gardener to a Head Gardener, with the hope of eventually becoming a Head Gardener himself. The Head Gardener no longer worked physically in the garden himself, but supervised, managed and planned the crops.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown earned £26 a year plus some £6 expenses and was given one of the lodges as his home.
Apprentice and Journeyman gardeners lived in a bothy and were not allowed to marry if they wanted to carry on living in the bothy.
The bothy was often a dark, damp single storey building on the north side of the north wall, where not much would grow. They could employ an old woman, sometimes a widow, to tidy and cook for them- at their own expense, of course. Loudon, writing at a later date, suggested that she should be elderly and unattractive so as not to excite the young men.
The Bothy at Audley End.
After Lancelot Brown died the fashions in garden design began to change once more. People grew tired of the grass that grew to the base of the walls of the house. It may look lovely on a fine day, but it could look very depressing under a wet and grey English sky.
Humphry Repton began the task of pushing the grass away from the house and reintroducing terraces and balustrades. He added themed gardens, such as the American Garden, the Rose Garden or the Chinese Garden.
It was more pleasant to sit on the terrace sipping tea and nibbling your dainty morsels surrounded by surrounded by brightly coloured or scented flowers; the more exotic the better, especially if they neighbours couldn’t grow them; and you could still view the Landscaped parkland beyond the balustrade.