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The Trade Of The Gardener

March 4, 2020
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish this piece by Sian Rees from her fascinating horticultural blog PLANTING DIARIES, Gardens, Planting Styles & Their Origins . I am proud that Sian is a graduate of my blog writing course.

There are only a few places available on my last ever Advanced Blog Writing Course on 28th & 29th March. You are eligible if you already have a blog or some experience in writing. Drop me a line if you would like to know more

The Gardener, 1814

Stories about the real world and real lives were considered as interesting and exciting as fiction in children’s books of Georgian England.  Trades were a popular subject – what people did and how things were made were described and illustrated with woodcuts, bringing these occupations to life for the young reader.

One such example is Little Jack of all Trades (1814) from Darton & Harvey, publishers of many children’s books from the later eighteenth century into the Victorian era.  Author William Darton begins by likening workers in the various trades to bees in a hive, where everyone has their specific role to play within a larger inter-connected structure:

‘all are employed – all live cheerfully and whilst each individual works for the general good, the whole community works for him.  The baker supplies the bricklayer, the gardener and the tailor with bread; and they, in return, provide him with shelter, food and raiment: thus, though each person is dependent on the other, all are independent.’

I was delighted to see that the book includes a profile of a gardener, who appears alongside other practical tradespeople such as the carpenter, blacksmith, cabinet maker, mason, bookbinder, printer and hatter – to cite but a few.

The gardener is portrayed handing a large bouquet of flowers to a well-dressed woman – most probably the wife of his employer.  Our gardener is a manager – his two assistants behind him are engaged in digging over the soil and watering a bed of plants – while we learn his specialist skills include grafting and pruning.

In the background, a heated greenhouse extends the season for the production of fruits and other crops. Smoke from the building’s stove is visible rising from the chimney on the right.  All the tools of the gardeners’ trade remain familiar to us today:

‘the spade to dig with, the hoe to root out weeds, the dibble to make holes which receive the seed and plants, the rake to cover seeds with earth when sown, the pruning hook and watering pot.’

From a contemporary perspective, it is interesting that Darton’s description of the gardener makes the connection between gardening and well-being:

‘Working in a garden is a delightful and healthy occupation; it strengthens the body, enlivens the spirits, and infuses into the mind a pleasing tranquillity, and sensations of happy independence.’

William Darton (1755 – 1819) was an engraver, stationer and printer in London and with partner Joseph Harvey (1764 – 1841) published books for children and religious tracts.  His sons Samuel & William Darton were later active in the business.

Darton & Harvey’s books for children always contain plentiful illustrations, packed with details of clothes, buildings and interiors, that convey a powerful sense of working life in the early nineteenth century.

More recently, the status of gardening as a skilled trade has been undermined and eroded – so it is pleasing to see the gardener in this book taking his place on equal terms alongside other tradesmen.

The Basket Maker

The Carpenter

The Black Smith

The Wheelwright

The Cabinet Maker

The Boatbuilder

The Tin Man

The Mason

Images from The Victorian Collection at the Brigham Young University courtesy of

Click here to see the entire contents of LITTLE JACK OF ALL TRADES

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Darton’s Nursery Songs

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Julia Harrison permalink
    March 4, 2020

    As a bookseller and children’s book specialist I am fascinated to learn about the books being published for children in the late eighteenth century. I love Little Jack of all Trades and especially the description of how gardening ‘infuses into the mind a pleasing tranquility and sensations of happy independence’.

  2. March 4, 2020

    Congratulation, Sian, on this most interesting piece!

  3. March 4, 2020

    A most charming and interesting blog Sian, it has cheered up an otherwise miserable day.
    Thank you for sharing ‘A Jack of All Trades’……simply lovely.

  4. March 6, 2020

    I was going to start with “charming” as well! It really is, and informative in a gentle way and also quite therapeutic . Actually, and happily I think, qualified gardeners are still in evidence today and still revered for their knowledge and expertise – though probably only encountered in big estates and show gardens. Anyway, much appreciated and a big thank you.

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