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Sedgemoor Gardens Club – "The Victorian Head Gardener"

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sedgemoor victorian head gardener

Sedgemoor Gardens Club – "The Victorian Head Gardener" Our October meeting on Tues 8th was well attended and we were delighted to welcome several new members. Daffodil and tulip bulbs were on sale at wholesale cost and members took part in the monthly competitions and raffle. Our speaker for the evening was Dr Francis Burroughes, who delighted us with an extremely interesting talk about "The Victorian Head Gardener", drawing on the experiences of his father, who was apprenticed to a relatively small stately home garden as an eleven year old before the first World War.

Francis passed around photographs to illustrate his talk, which he gave without any notes or other aids. After talking about the hierachy of the 24 staff employed in the garden, with the pot boys (who did nothing but wash pots all day, from 6.30 am to 8pm – huge numbers of pots were used for the carpet bedding so popular at the time) and the gardener's boys at the bottom to the Head Gardener at the top of the pyramid, he asked us what we do when we are about to mow our lawns. He then went on to outline the actions needed to mow the lawns at his father's place of employment – starting with putting boots on two horses (so they wouldn't churn up the lawn) then harnessing one of them to the mower and the other to the roller. An under-gardener sat on the mower to steer it while a groom led the horse, followed by two men to rake the clippings to the side and two further men and two boys to pick them up. Two more men did a final sweep before the roller, with another under-gardener on the seat, followed on. There was an assumption that another man was required to pick up any droppings from the horses, as these would have rather spoiled the finished effect. Perfect stripes were required and all this had to be done by specific times so that the inhabitants of the house always looked out at perfect lawns, never on working men!

Of course WW1 changed everything and fewer large houses could afford gardeners and certainly not in the numbers before the war. Francis's father was in a reserved occupation at the start of the war and catching Spanish flu prevented him from being sent to the front towards the end. He was too old to fight in WW2 but in his free time he was in the Home Guard, "Dad's Army". Francis showed us the stirrup pump which was the weapon his father was issued with when guarding Sutton Bingham railway bridge – stratigically important as it was situated on the only piece of single track line between London and Plymouth. Thankfully the stirrup pump was never had to be used in anger.

There were many other fascinating insights into a long -ago world and the talk was very well received by members. At our November meeting, on Tues 12th, Jeremy Wilson will tell us about "The Scented Garden".Jeremy worked as a Head Gardener in several parts of the country before settling in Kingsbridge where he runs a Camelia nursery.

We meet in All Saints Hall, Langport and are always delighted to welcome new members and visitors so do think about joining us. Ring 250091 for more details or see our website –

Peter Goodenough

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