Gardening in the 18th Century

I did a lot of research for The Pleasure Gardeners Companion. There are two really important books that I am greatly indebted to. One is The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds 1720-1800. It is a beautifully illustrated extensive tome written by Mark Laird and published in 1994. This is my reference book for all things related to the garden, and it is from this book that I got the title for my novel. In 1779 James Meader published The Planter’s Guide: or Pleasure Gardener’s Companion. When I read that title, I thought that’s my main character, Susan Kirke Dean.

The second volume that I want to mention is A History of England: England in the Eighteenth Century by Roy Porter, published by the Folio Society in 1998. This is my go-to book for some of the details of social life in this period. It is also where I found my character Mrs. Hardwicke, who is the inspiration for the weeder in the Kirke garden in The Serpentine Path. I changed her name, but unwittingly, I gave her the name of the man who passed the Marriage Act of 1753 which forbade the marriage of those under 21 without parental consent. This law made it necessary for Susan and John to elope to Scotland to get married.

I want to quote the passage from England in the Eighteenth Century which tells about the actual weeder and her husband James Strudwick:

“He worked more than threescore years on one farm; and his wages, summer and winter, were regularly a shilling a day. He never asked more: nor was ever offered less. Strudwick continued to work till within seven weeks of the day of his death; and at the age of fourscore, in 1787, he closed, in peace, a not inglorious life; for, to the day of his death, he never received a farthing in way of parochial aid. His wife survived him about seven years; and though bent with age and infirmities, and little able to work, excepting as a weeder in a gentleman’s garden, she also was too proud either to ask or receive any relief form the parrish. For six or seven of the last years of her life, she received twenty shillings a year …  With all her virtue, and all her merit, she was not much liked in her neighbourhood; people in affluence thought her haughty, and the paupers of the parish, seeing, as they could not help seeing, that her life was a reproach to theirs, aggravated all her little failings.”

So much is revealed in this little passage about 18th century society. All in all, the people were not so much different from today.

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