This book – the first by Fiona Davison, chief librarian at the Royal Horticultural Society – tells the story of a cadre of promising young men who qualified as gardeners in the early 19th century. Some met with success; others bumbled along and were then lost to posterity; a few went spectacularly downhill and ended up in prison or the workhouse. What is refreshing is that nearly all the names unearthed will be unfamiliar, even to garden historians... Since they contain only the barest biographical details, the handwritten entries are not particularly interesting in themselves, which is perhaps why the notebook languished unregarded for so long. But Davison has conducted deep research into the later careers of most of these gardeners, discovering what happened to them after they left Chiswick. The result is a revealing insight into the lives of aspiring working men in this period.
Social historian Fiona Davison’s delightful book tells the story of the first garden apprentices at what was to become the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). [...] The Hidden Horticulturists pulsates with the extraordinary energy and excitement of the time, as thrilling new plants were discovered and shipped back to Britain from all over the globe. [...] Today, as Davison points out, gardeners don’t have the status they deserve unless they appear regularly on television. These days, someone with the drive and dynamism of Joseph Paxton would probably go into the City or become a software designer.