The harsh industrial conditions of the northern counties at the end of the 18th century, and particularly in the 19th, led to a new and delightful and very highly skilled form of gardening. The mill owners who, in the early days, had lived close to their works, moved away to country estates as the factories became larger and belched out more and more fumes, and developed their properties in the newly-arising suburbs. The houses for the mill hands became more and more tightly packed round the factories; fresh air and greenness slowly vanished. Life was grim, particularly in periods of bad trade. One compensation was the cultivation in tiny gardens of florist’s flowers. They were grown to achieve a perfection laid down by the strictest rules of size, form, colour and proportion. The plants chosen to bring colour into the sooty air were the tulip, auricula, carnation, pink, anemone, ranunculus, hyacinth and polyanthus. Hundreds of local florist’s societies were formed, and regular meetings and exhibitions held. These artisan gardeners knew intimately and tended with parental solicitude every one of their plants.
The factories were often closely concerned with the production or manufacture of iron, and cast iron in particular entered very much into the gardener’s world. The early 19th century saw the beginning of the era of mechanical and labour-saving gadgets.
One invention that had a revolutionary impact upon gardening was the mowing machine. The ‘shaven’ that were the pride of the 18th-century landscape gardeners were mown by gangs of men and rolled with stone rollers. Then in 1831, Ferrabee’s new mowing machine appeared. It was invented by a certain , and was based on a machine used to cut the pile on cloths. The principle was identical with the majority of mowers in use today. By 1858, seven thousand had been sold, and in 1860 Messrs. Green of Leeds were selling a machine that not only mowed but rolled and collected its own grass. The original Ferrabee machine was particularly recommended because ‘country gentlemen may find, in using the machine themselves, an amusing, useful and healthy exercise’.
Within a decade or two the gardener’s world was completely revolutionized. By the early 1850’s, wire-netting had become available plain or galvanized. Vulcanized rubber hose-pipe was in use, and hand syringes were being produced to take the place of man-handled ‘water engines’ — tanks to which jet-throwing pumps were attached.
The gardener was gaining more and more help from mechanization, but he also had to cope with new problems, not the least of which was scientific progress. To comprehend this, a better education was needed. In 1836 the Horticultural Society of London decided to admit no young men into their gardens as journeymen who had not received some school education; nor would they recommend their men for situations as head gardeners unless they had received the certificates of proficiency which were dependent on the society’s regular examination in scientific knowledge.
At this period began the great development of the greenhouse, warmed by the circulation of hot water. Apart from housing tropical plants, such a greenhouse enabled the gardener to raise quantities of half-hardy plants (plants that would grow outdoors satisfactorily in summer, but which needed protection in winter). These were bedded out as soon as the fear of frost had passed, and brought dazzling new colours to the garden. The cultivation of flowers, vegetables and fruit reached new standards of perfection.
But during the 19th century, although mechanical developments were numerous, the gardener still worked without the armoury of insecticides and fungicides and the wide range of compounded fertilizers available to him today.