Feb 2, 2010

Forcing The Issue

A partial list of the vegetables grown out of season for the Duke of Devonshire by Sir Joseph Paxton:
3,000 strawberry plants
2,000 broccoli
300 pineapples
12,000 celery
1/2 acre of rhubarb
6,000 endive
ten months worth of kale and kidney beans
2,000 brussel sprouts
100 banana trees
1 acre of asparagus

I just finished reading The Head Gardeners:  Forgotten Heroes of Horticulture by Toby Musgrave.  And I am hapy to say, I am glad I am a gardener in 2010, not 1810.  It is clear; I never would have been hired back then.

These head gardeners (and it seems, they were all guys) were underpaid, considered servants, self-educated, worked a 60-hour week, and often spent 20 years employed by one individual, only to be dismissed by the next generation.  Yet, what they accomplished was truly amazing.

These were some of the demands:

You had to be a magician no matter what:  If the duke or duchess sneezed, a delicious peach needed to appear regardless of the season.

In your spare time, you needed to invent the coldframe and the hot bed so Lord so and so could stick his face into a ripe melon.

No twitter, no blog, yet each head gardener had to publish or rot.

It may not have been Gucci or Prada, but in the 19th century, the garden was a status symbol:  rare and expensive was the currency of the day.

You may have thought being a horticultural genius was enough, but not really.  You had to be an architect/engineer as well.  This was the era of the glasshouse.

You may have been a homebody, but it didn't matter.  Your boss demaded the unusual and exotic, therefore, you needed to become a plant hunter extraordinaire.

Just when you thought it was time for a pint, you had to invent that weeding machine or some other gizmo to save the garden.

Last year it was tough to grew a single tomato in season.  Boy, am I glad I don't need to produce 6,000 endive out of season!


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