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Charles Jones, Photographer

July 10, 2023
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my tour throughout July, August & September


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

Bean Runner

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

The Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones by Sean Sexton & Robert Flynn Johnson is published by Thames & Hudson

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 Geffrye Museum

At St Mary’s Secret Garden

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    July 10, 2023

    Totally agree with you G.A. these are works of art. I AM that vegetable.
    Cucumbers like my late father in law grew. Bootiful.Taste the goodness.

  2. Pauline permalink
    July 10, 2023

    Such exquisite photographs. So pleased they survived. Thank you for publishing.

  3. Eve permalink
    July 10, 2023

    humble plants captured in all their simple honest wholesomeness – it’d be nice to see Charles Jones work exhibited somewhere like Kew gardens , or the Garden Museum perhaps..

  4. Gee Farrow permalink
    July 10, 2023

    What a talented man, and what a shame he didn’t have many home comforts towards the end of his life. Although I’m sure he would have kept himself in fruit and veg!

  5. July 10, 2023

    Wow! Marvellous! Splendid pictures by a splendid gardener.

  6. July 10, 2023

    Charles Jones is quite wonderful! I wrote a 3-part blog about him in 2015, when I first came across ‘The Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones’, on your recommendation, I now see!!!

  7. debra sewell permalink
    July 10, 2023

    Beautiful and clear photos. Plus he knew how to arrange the veggies for best photo shot.
    Thank you for these. I even love the color in the film


  8. Rosa permalink
    July 10, 2023

    These images are loving, sensual & profound.
    I’m not sure I’ve seen better.

  9. July 10, 2023

    They’re like Dutch still-lives on film! Some of them–the runner beans and the peas, especially, remind me of jewellery in their perfect form and the way they shine.

  10. July 10, 2023

    What a smart gent! We don’t tend to see things like mangolds now. Instead, the supermarket is filled with beans from Kenya and asparagus from Mexico. It’s time we took a leaf from Mr Jones and learned to love these marvellous home-grown veggies. I’ve just consumed the last of a tasty risotto with local broad beans from Herefordshire not many miles away.

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