English Clergy Gardeners

“There is no wind and no sun, only a sort of warm haze, and through it the mingled country sounds of a bee, a mowing machine, a mill and a sparrow.  Peace!    -Rupert Brooke

English Clergy Gardeners

On my mind when I began to write Greening of a Heart, was the interest I have in the clergy gardeners of England.The character, Henry Bernard, shared this interest and allowed me to make reference to what is a fascinating subject. We have all seen a Masterpiece Theater or BBC program were fund-raising fetes are portrayed, invoking Edwardian times; the English vicarage garden and clergy playing an important role in the life of the village. Charming and nostalgic, we watch the actors in their beautiful costumes stroll the herbaceous borders admiring the roses. We think of a rural loveliness were the clergy invited both parishioners and non-parishioners to enjoy their vicarage gardens.

Clergy-diarists have left behind an account of this nostalgic time. In the 19th century, a number of these clergy gardeners began to exert an important influence on today’s English garden.They emphasized flowers and a more natural design, making use of color and the new plants that were being brought into the country. Many of these vicarage gardens became places where people came to seek peace and to find rest; the same desire that Hannah Winchester came to have for the vicarage garden in Burford. Like many of the clergy gardeners, she too combined her prayer and work. One such priest was Arthur Townshend Boscawen, who became Rector of Ludgvan in 1893.The garden at Ludgven was just east of Penzance. In 1895 Boscawen became a fellow of The Royal Horticultural Society. “Fitting in these (horticultural endeavors) with his work as a parish priest couldn’t have been easy especially as Boscawen worked his own 2-acre garden with only one assistant, often downing tools and racing across to the church for wedding or funeral before returning with not a moment wasted. Far from interfering with his work, however, his passion for plants was seen by his bishop as an inextricable aspect of his vocation. ‘His life was a shining example of the inextricable aspect of the combination of personal faith and practical usefulness, of work and play, of beauty and fruitfulness, of activity and peace….it will be a happy thing for Cornwall if his example inspires many others, both clergy and laity, to seek the same paths of sympathetic co-operation with Nature and with their fellow-men.”’ The English Vicarage Garden,@ text by Piers.

In my research, I relied heavily on Piers Dudgeon’s work and where it directed me. As a reader you know how one book leads to another. Another day I will certainly want to tell you about others like Cannon Ellacombe and William Robinson, and Gilbert White. “We have met him in the woods and in the fields, in the village, in his study with a book or a pen in his hand. At last we find him in his garden!” -Samuel Reynolds Hole

 

 “We have met him in the woods and in the fields, in the village, in his study with a book or a pen in his hand. At last we find him in his garden!”  -Samuel Reynolds Hole

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About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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