Gardeners’ Chronicle 150 years ago …

screenshotWhen I’m researching garden history I often find myself thumbing through the pages of Gardeners’ Chronicle, probably the most famous horticultural magazine ever published. It’s the best source for everyday life in the gardening world in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today was no exception, except that I got side-tracked from my planned piece when I realised that I was looking at the volume for 1866 and thought it might be fun to see what was going on in the horticultural world 150 years ago.screenshot


screenshotGardeners’ Chronicle was founded in 1841 and entered a growing market for horticultural magazines, including two monthlies run by one of its founders, Joseph Paxton. He had started  The Horticultural Register in 1831, and the Magazine of Botany in 1834. But its biggest competitor was The Gardener’s Magazine edited by John Claudius Loudon, although the competition didn’t last long as Loudon died in 1843 and his magazine died with him.

Paxton joined forces with John Lindley, who was professor of botany at University College London and also assistant secretary of the Horticultural Society of London. With them was Sir Charles Dilke, a Liberal politician, keen gardener and one of the brains behind the Great Exhibition.  The magazine was published and printed by William Bradbury, who clearly knew a good thing when he saw one, since he was also to be the publisher of Illustrated London Life, Punch, and much of the work of Charles Dickens.

The full 1841 original issue can be found at

The full 1841 original issue can be found at

Published weekly priced 6d it started by covering all sorts of news as well as specifically horticultural subjects but it soon dropped general items and began concentrating on just gardening.  It was mainly plain text with just one or two small line engravings in each issue. By 1851 its circulation had reached about 6500 which  included most professional gardeners and all the influential garden makers and owners of the day, and even a sizeable overseas readership. In 1856 it changed it’s name, adding Agricultural Gazette to its title although this only lasted until 1874 when it was relaunched under its original name.screenshot

So what was in it by 1866?

screenshotThe front page was, like The Times, just small ads, with an index in one corner. These covered everything from national and provincial flower shows, through a huge number of specialist nurseries offering plants of every kind, to agricultural seeds and catalogues.

There are still famous nursery names, like Waterer…screenshot


and long forgotten nurserymen like William Chater but whose plants, in his case, selections of Double Hollyhocks are still commonly commercially available…screenshot

and seed companies like Suttons…screenshot


Unusual plants were offered alongside bedding plants by the thousands…




and there were florists displays and fashionable accessories just like a gardening magazine today.screenshotscreenshot

But turning the page brings everyone’s impressions of a Victorian gardening magazine to life.  There on page 2 and 3 are lots more adverts this time with archetypal illustrations.


screenshotOne of the largest categories for these illustrated adverts was right up Paxton’s street.  It was for glasshouses and their associated technology. These had become much cheaper after the repeal of the glass tax in 1845 and huge interest had been generated by the Great Exhibition six years later. And of course Paxton was the designer of many of them, notably  the one in the middle of the page above – the Hothouse for the Million. It had clearly been a very profitable sideline for him until he died in 1865.

screenshotTwo more pages of adverts followed, prominent amongst them one for the International Horticultural Display then taking place at the Horticultural Society’s gardens in Kensington.

Painting of a scene at a flower show marquee signed, 'A Bright, 1866'. Research suggests that this painting could depict a scene at the 1866 Great International Horticultural Exhibition. The exhibition was held under canvas on the site of the Great Exhibition in Kensington adjacent to the Royal Horticultural Society garden. Proceeds from the exhibition were used by the society to purchase the Lindley Library.

Painting of a scene at a flower show marquee signed, ‘A Bright, 1866’. It is thought  this painting  depicts a scene at the 1866 Great International Horticultural Exhibition. Image from the Lindley Library

This wasn’t really a forerunner of the Chelsea Flower Show but  the third International Horticultural Exhibition to be held. The first had been in 1864 in Brussels, with a second in Amsterdam in 1865. Paris was to follow in 1867 and finally Vienna in 1872.  Incidentally the proceeds from the London show helped the Royal Horticultural Society buy the library of botanical books owned by John Lindley who had died the previous year and which were advertised for sale by auction in this very issue of Gardeners’ Chronicle.


Given that they had had to sell their own because of a financial crisis as recently as 1859 this was a remarkable turn around, and the books were invested in a board of trustees in order to make sure the society could not sell them off again should they have a repeat of their financial problems. So in a way it was the International Exhibition 150 years ago this week which founded the Lindley Library as we know it today.

screenshotEditorial copy does not appear until the very bottom corner of page 5 – and is there probably only because there was a shortage of advertising – and when it does it is completely dominated by the International Show.

screenshotThere was a report of “the Exhibition as seen by an Englishman” and another “as seen by a German’, and pleasingly there was no sign of xenophobia in the coverage of the many medals won by foreign nurserymen. Something of a surprise given that Europe was hardly a peaceful place at the time. The Risorgimento in Italy was happening, the war over Schleswig-Holstein had only recently finished and the Austro-Prussian war was to begin just a few weeks later!

These accounts  were followed by what was called “A  Report in Detail”. This carried a comprehensive list of new plants shown in many different categories, and then the various plant competitions  that were held. This included  virtually a whole page on the display of and competitions for orchids, but also accounts of a whole range of ornamental plants from agaves to ferns and from azaleas to pelargoniums. Nor were fruit and vegetables forgotten. Although pineapples and grapes headed the list, news that the Earl of Derby won first prize for his mushrooms or that Mrs Earley of Digswell had sent in a fine jar of pickles were also covered!


This meticulously filled 5 pages and was followed by 2 more pages of lists of prizes and awards in 230 different classes, with a note saying the rest of the results would be printed the following week.

It was not just obviously much to early to report fully on the proceedings of the associated Botanical Congress which was presided over by Alphonse Pyramus de Candolle, the pioneering French botanist. He was responsible for the formulation of the first rules of botanical nomenclature, which gradually evolved into the present International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants  that was adopted the following year at the Paris International Botanical Congress of 1867.  screenshot

Candolle’s speech, which ran to about 3 whole pages was reported in full, complete with references and footnotes. In it he suggested in elaborate detail a scheme to build  an experimental greenhouse  to investigate plant growth scientifically, and in particular the effect of light in different colours and intensities.screenshot

There was also a short account of the first days meetings of the Botanical Congress and a list of some of the papers given or to be given. It’s a sign of the level of education and interest of the Gardeners’ Chronicle readership that the editor adds a footnote saying that fuller accounts of the more important papers would be published in future issues.

If you are interested in knowing more about what was discussed then  all the papers were published the following year – in their original languages. All 430 pages of the Congress Proceedings can be found on Google Books, although you will need to register in order to read them:

screenshotOf course no big event is complete without a grand banquet with lots of toasts and speeches. But the International Exhibition was special and it had two!  One hosted by the Lord Mayor at Guildhall, to which the Prince and Princess of Wales had sent their apologies, with the  toasts and speeches reported in minute detail. The other at St Martin’s Hall on Long Acre, a slightly lower key affair where the majority of speeches were made by gardeners and other exhibitors but again were fairly fully reported. Some comments would still be appropriate today: Rev Dix’s observations, for example,  that gardeners had the skills needed in order to carry out scientific research, but lacked the funds to do so properly, and that young people [OK he does say men but this was 1866] needed to be trained.


The horticultural section ends with the usual account of the weather at Chiswick , not just for the week but with comparisons for the previous 40 years, and finally with an apology that because of “the extraordinary demands on our space” the magazine “are compelled to postpone what was one of their regular features, the replies to correspondents who wrote in with horticultural questions and problems to be solved.screenshot

Then it was on to the agricultural content. This might not at first sight seem to be of much interest to those of us primarily interested in garden history. But we must remember that, apart from the fact that many of the magazines readers were head gardeners on estates where agriculture was a principal source of income, the mid-19th was a time of great technological change and scientific experiment and innovation and often what affected agriculture also affected horticulture.

screenshotSo alongside reports on horse shows and farmers clubs and the Royal Agricultural Society, there were articles on such things as Cattle Plague and Sewage Irrigation [see my earlier posts on guano to realise the importance of this  and even a note on how to use saltpetre to prevent butter from going bitter!  But as usual, it is the adverts that prove most interesting.

screenshotThere are ads for obviously agricultural things like steam ploughs, sheep dip and turnip manure or even Grant’s portable railway [look it up!] but there are also  ads  for  garden netting, fencing and gates, garden rollers and hydraulic pumps.

You could buy bees and beehives, garden ornaments, cold frames and cucumber glasses, and all sorts of garden gadgets….as well as drinking chocolate! [but do you have any idea what the Homeopathic, Rock, Iceland Moss and Pearl have to do with cocoa? – I didn’t either but the answer is at the end!]screenshot



You could check out plant sales, auctions of  bankrupt nurseries, or


you could also compare lawn mowers.

Apart from the technical side of things which has never appealed to me what I found most interesting about these ads were the  various claims they make.screenshot

For example Shank’s machines, apart from being the only kind used at Kew “are the only machines that have been in operation in Her Majesty’s Gardens for a quarter of a century.”  They were patronised on five separate occasions by Her Majesty the Queen during the season of 1865″ and four times more during 1865. To say nothing of the patronage of the Kings of Saxony, Holland and Prussia.

screenshotHowever their rivals Greens claimed equally boldly that “they are the only machines in constant use in the Royal gardens at Windsor” and in Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Have I missed something or was one of them not quite telling the truth or was Victoria two-timing both of them?

Incidentally the answer to the question about Homeopathic, Rock, Iceland Moss and Pearl is that they were all types of drinking chocolate that had been adulterated in some way – Iceland Moss for example contained about 10% of Iceland Moss gelatine as a dietary aid.  Heaven alone what the others had added.

For more info see:

Anyway as you can probably guess anyone of these  Gardeners’ Chronicle images or sections could have become a pleasant  sidetrack to meander down and while away another afternoon but to do so in comfort would have required the purchase of what was advertised on the back cover of this issue…. so if you already have one and want to read the whole issue then go to:

About The Gardens Trust

Email - Website -
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.