The history of any enduring passion or pursuit is defined by the people that broke new ground, spread its influence, or refined the methods that have allowed it to survive across the centuries.
There are many such figures in the history of British horticulture, some that were trailblazers in levelling the field to make it accessible to everyone and others that stand today as pop culture icons. We decided to rake over the strata of our horticultural heritage and celebrate some of these figures as well as dig up a few that may have sunk into obscurity.
1. Lady Londonderry
Edith Helen Chaplin, or Lady Londonderry as she came to be known, lead the design, construction, and management of the famous Mount Stewart gardens in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Using her influence as 7th Countess of Londonderry, as well as the mild local climate, Chaplin created a rich and diverse tapestry of various cultivars and ecologies that was unrivalled at the time. Mount Stewart contained regional designs like the Spanish, Mairi, and Shamrock gardens as well as more esoteric imagery that alluded to Greek mythology and Gaelic folklore.
2. Thomas Birch Freeman
A gardener yes, but also so much more. Thomas Birch Freeman is the most famous for the missionary and abolitionist work that followed his gardening career.
Freeman’s greener exploits began with his employ as a gardener and botanist for Sir Robert Harland, a renowned Victorian botanist, however, he was dismissed due to a divergence in religious beliefs.
Despite this expulsion, and moving on to matters of greater concern, Thomas maintained a passion for plants and went on to secure several African species for Kew Gardens during his years of missionary work.
3. Alan Titchmarsh
Perhaps the most famous modern gardener and responsible for bringing many current and younger generations to the craft through the now-iconic program Gardener’s World.
Titchmarsh enjoys a reputation as David Attenborough’s horticultural equivalent and after nearly four decades in the field as well as acting as trustee for several charities, and a brief stint as the High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight, it’s fair to say he’s earnt it.
4. Norah Lindsay
A protege of horticultural icon Gertrude Jekyll and a socialite during the first half of the 20th century, Norah Lindsay is most famous for having remodelled the Blickling’s Parterre garden and Temple Walk prior to the outbreak of World War Two.
In addition to these accomplishments, Lindsay also tendered a collection of written works, paintings, and plants to Oxford University as well as consulting on a number of National Trust sites and gardens overseas.
5. Monty Don
The heir-apparent to Alan Titchmarsh’s legacy, Monty Don is the current face of the British horticultural landscape. Don has built on the success of those who came before and introduced the British public to the styles and traditions of Japan and the Islamic world and, although now the undisputed king of the green scene, has kept his wellies firmly planted on the ground.
Author of over twenty books, Don is currently taking a break from Gardener’s World to focus on other projects but we hope to see him return soon.
Thus ends our lineup of influential gardening figures, were there any we missed that you feel deserve an honourable mention? Get in touch to let us know and to find out if we can make some of your own gardening dreams a reality.