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The Industrial Revolution and Devon’s Gardens (S Devon Branch)

Thu. 17 March 2022 at 2:15 pm

£2 – £4

A talk, full title: “The Effect of the Industrial Revolution and Empire on the Gardens of Devon”, to be given by Suzanne Jones.

At the start of the 19th century gardening techniques and tools had altered little since medieval times. However, over the next hundred years with the development of knowledge, the growth of wealth and the flood of new plants into Britain from around the world gardens evolved. The growth of the middle class and the demonstration of wealth by grand houses and their gardens have given us the Victorian heritage we have today. This talk is to give an overview of Devon Gardens from the Landscape gardens 18th century through to the Arts and Crafts of the Edwardians, and the associated changes in society as seen through gardens, and the legacy they have left us.

Suzanne Jones has been a keen gardener and amateur historian all her adult life, as part of her retirement from the NHS she studied garden design at Bicton. This brought together her two passions, gardening, and history. She now shares that passion with her local gardening society and by giving talks on a range of subjects, whilst continuing to research the history of the local horticulture industry.

£2 for DA members, otherwise £4.

Report on the talk

From the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the end of World War 2, gardens were transformed by the introduction of plants from China, India and Australia. Professional gardeners appeared although the tools they used were hardly changed from medieval times.

A photo of Luscombe Castle in 1804 with its great sweep of lawns typified the style of the times when everything was about the landscape. This gave way to the seaside villa with their picturesque gardens which gave the middle classes a way to announce their arrival.

Suzanne showed a number of photos to illustrate this change – Reed Hall in 1867 was an Italianate villa garden, Tapley Park at Instow and Knightshays Court at Tiverton were also examples. These gardens were ostentatious, opulent and experimental in planting. Coombe Trenchard in 1906 displayed a garden in Arts and Crafts style while the cottage garden was romanticised, being an antidote to the grime of the cities.

John Claudius Loudon was a writer whose ideas still influence thinking today. In 1822 he introduced the Encyclopaedia of Gardening which was aimed at the rising middle class and which claimed the supremacy of man over nature.

Garden Societies were also founded during the Victorian Age. At the turn of the nineteenth century there were about two hundred garden societies; by the end of the century there were over one thousand. The Royal Horticultural Society was formed in 1804 but was not given its royal charter, by Prince Albert, until 1861. In 1860 the Foundation of Cottages Prize Society was established in Dawlish which is still in existence today.

Developments in building also contributed to the garden revolution. The repeal of taxes on bricks and glass in the 1850s and improvements in glass led to vast glasshouses in the large country houses. These were very expensive to heat and were labour intensive so most of them have not survived.

Science also played a part. Hybridisation was first recorded in 1845 and fertilisers from crushed bones and later guano appeared in the 1840s. Pesticides (using arsenic!!) were used, knowledge being spread through gardening magazines. The abolition of the tax on paper in 1861 brought about a surge in books and periodicals, many quarterly journals becoming monthly.

Lawn mowers were invented in the 1830s and by the 1860s were being manufactured for small gardens. Secateurs were introduced from France in the 1880s. The 1880s also saw a change in the holiday habits of the gentry – they went to the Riviera, not to their country house.

Careers in gardening appeared. A gardener boy could progress to Head Gardener – a prestigious post almost equal in status to a butler. He (and it was a “he” in the early days) was a respected member of staff. In 1895 Kew took in its first women gardeners but in 1914 the demand for women increased as the men went to war.

The climate in Devon is very suitable for Himalayan plants. The House of Veitch in Exeter sent out many plant finders. They brought back, for example, monkey puzzle trees and planted a line of them at Bicton. The Torbay palm was brought back from New Zealand; most of our half-hardy bedding plants were introduced by the Victorian plant hunters. Dahlias arrived in the 1840s and gnomes came from Germany in the 1860s! Arboretums were planted.

As a result of the gardening revolution, the landscape was changed, public parks full of bedding plants were established and garden societies and magazines were introduced. Reductions in taxation and the coming of the penny post meant that seeds could be delivered all over the country by national seed producers. Today we are still enjoying the benefits that arose then.

Chris Reader
March 2022




Thu. 17 March 2022
2:15 pm
£2 – £4
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South Devon Branch
Annie Maltby: 07771 277761


Newton’s Place
43 Wolborough St
Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 1JQ