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Charles Jones, Gardener & Photographer

June 20, 2020
by the gentle author

Garden scene with photographer’s cloth backdrop c.1900

These beautiful photographs are all that exist to speak of the life of Charles Jones. Very little is known of the events and tenor of his existence, and even the survival of these pictures was left to chance, but now they ensure him posthumous status as one of the great plant photographers. When he died in Lincolnshire in 1959, aged 92, without claiming his pension for many years and in a house without running water or electricity, almost no-one was aware that he was a photographer. And he would be completely forgotten now, if not for the fortuitous discovery made twenty-two years later at Bermondsey Market, of a box of hundreds of his golden-toned gelatin silver prints made from glass plate negatives.

Born in 1866 in Wolverhampton, Jones was an exceptionally gifted professional gardener who worked upon several private estates, most notably Ote Hall near Burgess Hill in Sussex, where his talent received the attention of The Gardener’s Chronicle of 20th September 1905.

“The present gardener, Charles Jones, has had a large share in the modelling of the gardens as they now appear, for on all sides can be seen evidence of his work in the making of flowerbeds and borders and in the planting of fruit trees. Mr Jones is quite an enthusiastic fruit grower and his delight in his well-trained trees was readily apparent…. The lack of extensive glasshouses is no deterrent to Mr Jones in producing supplies of choice fruit and flowers… By the help of wind screens, he has converted warm nooks into suitable places for the growing of tender subjects and with the aid of a few unheated frames produces a goodly supply. Thus is the resourcefulness of the ingenious gardener who has not an unlimited supply of the best appurtenances seen.”

The mystery is how Jones produced such a huge body of photography and developed his distinctive aesthetic in complete isolation. The quality of the prints and notation suggests that he regarded himself as a serious photographer although there is no evidence that he ever published or exhibited his work. A sole advert in Popular Gardening exists offering to photograph people’s gardens for half a crown, suggesting wider ambitions, yet whether anyone took him up on the offer we do not know. Jones’ grandchildren recall that, in old age, he used his own glass plates as cloches to protect his seedlings against frost – which may explain why no negatives have survived.

There is a spare quality and an uncluttered aesthetic in Jones’ images that permits them to appear contemporary a hundred years after they were taken, while the intense focus upon the minutiae of these specimens reveals both Jones’ close knowledge of his own produce and his pride as a gardener in recording his creations. Charles Jones’ sensibility, delighting in the bounty of nature and the beauty of plant forms, and fascinated with variance in growth, is one that any gardener or cook will appreciate.

Swede Green Top

Broad Beans

Stokesia Cyanea

Turnip Green Globe

Bean Longpod

Potato Midlothian Early

Pea Rival

Onion Brown Globe

Cucumber Ridge

Mangold Yellow Globe

Bean (Dwarf) Ne Plus Ultra

Mangold Red Tankard

Seedpods on the head of a Standard Rose

Ornamental Gourd

Bean Runner

Apple Gateshead Codlin

Captain Hayward

Larry’s Perfection

Pear Beurré Diel

Melon Sutton’s Superlative

Mangold Green Top

Charles Harry Jones (1866-1959) c. 1904

Charles Jones photographs are currently being exhibited at the Michael Hoppen Gallery

You might also like to read about

The Secret Gardens of Spitalfields

Cable St Gardeners

Thomas Fairchild, Gardener of Hoxton

Buying Vegetables for Leila’s Shop

Heather Stevens, Head Gardener at the Gefrrye Museum

At St Mary’s Secret Garden

14 Responses leave one →
  1. June 20, 2020

    Golly, I didn’t know the creator of Bugs Bunny was such a fine photographer gardener as well!

    (wonder work, a favourite blog entry for sure)

  2. Annie S permalink
    June 20, 2020

    Wonderful photographs!
    Reminds me of the ones by Blossfeldt.

  3. June 20, 2020

    Such wonderful photographs: the glow on the delphiniums and peas especially is other-worldly! Inspired by your earlier article, I got the book in 2015, and wrote three pieces about the background, tracing some of the varieties he photographed which have survived:,,

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 20, 2020

    It is not only cooks and gardeners who can appreciate these stunning photos – it is artists and designers too!

    And indeed anyone with an ‘eye’ can marvel at the endless variety of shapes and forms which Jones has captured and celebrated.

    The prints are so stylish that I can see them being very popular in modern kitchens – especially now that so many people are getting into cooking and plant based diets.

    Thanks for sharing GA.

  5. June 20, 2020

    I have the book and recommend buying it to anyone interested etc……….

    The above images are very much a true reproduction of those appearing in this book, all of which are of a high standard

    GA, thx for posting this, great work as always and very very happy that you survived Covid



  6. June 20, 2020

    My imagination is absolutely buzzing, trying to re-create the scene of the glass plates used as
    protection for seedlings. As complicated as a Tim Walker fantasy photo shoot — and equally
    captivating. Thank you for bringing us this amazing, compelling series of photos — I love the
    full-frontal approach to the subject; perhaps an indicator of how much Jones appreciated the beauty of such things, and his confidence in his own (great) abilities.

    Bravo, Charles Jones. Bravo, GA.
    Stay safe, all.

  7. June 20, 2020

    Stunning pictures. What a marvelous photogapher.

  8. Jenny Moore permalink
    June 20, 2020

    The beans and peas – just incredible! What an amazing story of survival of these wonderful prints, but heartbreaking that he sacrificed the glass negatives to use as cold-frames.

  9. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 20, 2020

    Who knew photographs of veggies could be so sexy!
    Fantastic! Thank you, GA.

    Now I think I’ll go shell some peas!

  10. June 20, 2020

    What a wonderful collection of silver prints, what skill and beats modern prints from glass negs

  11. June 20, 2020

    Amazing Vintage Pictures!! Thank You Very Much.????????

  12. June 20, 2020

    Truly outstanding photographs. Thanks for bringing these to light.

  13. Ron Wilkinson permalink
    June 21, 2020

    Amazing stuff. Make a calendar, I’ll buy one and so will many others. Market it in the US too.

  14. Dave Hall permalink
    June 21, 2020

    A courtyard garden is usually called a Carmen in Spain ,from the Hebrew word Carmel which means ‘garden of God’

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