[No: XC | April 11, 2018 | By Viveka Hansen]

The history of gardens has quite often crossed my path during textile research. It may have been via etchings of wealthy visitors dressed in the latest fashion or gardeners in working dress, positioned in close surroundings of a manor house. Other evidence of pure economic or domestic use have been traced from contemporary written sources, for example in travel journals describing dye plants and mulberry trees in experimental plantations or botanical gardens. This essay will give a few examples of such observations, including various portrayed individuals as well as the exotic garden as an obvious status symbol – and how utilitarian gardens were put to the best possible use in a perspective of textile raw materials and dyes.

Etching from ca 1755 depicting a gardener/female servant in a somewhat concealed position, together with wealthy owners or visitors judging by the sumptuous and fashionable clothing. All four viewing ‘A Machine or a perpetual Electrified Garden’ used in a large glasshouse. (Courtesy of: Wellcome Library, London no. V0016451).

Leisure activities, luxury statements, walking or riding wealthy individuals in large gardens, greenhouses and orangeries with plants from far-flung parts of the world, were often present in these prints and etchings. An increasing trade via both East and West India Companies in Europe, scientific exploration, Grand Tours, curiosity of everything “exotic” as well as imperial expansion were important factors in making it possible for the prosperous in their everyday life to enjoy mulberry trees, carnations, figs, lemons etc all year around. At different levels this influenced the lives of royals, the landed aristocracy, gentry, bourgeois, merchants and farmers. ‘An idealised view of a gentleman’s garden’, was also a popular feature on etchings, with the fashionably dressed owner of the manor house gardening side by side with the gardeners in working dress.

This etching of unknown date by Thomas Kitchin (1718-1784) after David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) is showing ‘A gardener smelling a flower’. The image gives quite a clear picture of his working dress, including a practical linen smock, but also that he worked for a wealthy household due to the desirable carnations in several garden pots etc. (Courtesy of: Wellcome Library, London, no. V0007698).

The main objective for this engraving dating ca 1750 is the large ‘Type of greenhouse’ for ‘Ananas, and other Exotics’ in England, but it is also possible to study some details of the gardener’s and his young assistant’s clothing. Their dress is more difficult to identify in exactness compared to the gardener’s on the previous image, but maybe a smock (or everyday shirt/jacket for upper garments) and breeches were used. (Courtesy of: Wellcome Library, London, no. V0025736).

A depiction of a third gardener is sprung from a totally different tradition where the main objection is to impress, dating ca 1721. He is portrayed with tools, a parterr sketch, listed and numbered exotic plants, the most desired flowers for a wealthy household, citrus plants and carnations in pots – furthermore his dress looks very sumptuous made of the finest silks. It may be assumed that he was the head gardener at a castle or great manor house on the Continent, as the coloured engraving was made by Martin Engelbrecht from Augsburg. (Courtesy of: Wellcome Library, London, no. L0037480).

It was not only the Dutch, English, French and present-day Germany gardens that presented a multitude of exotic plants; manor houses in the Nordic countries also featured greenhouse and orangery plants of importance. An informative example can, for instance, be found in an inventory of 1738 from the Hesselbyholm garden near Stockholm in Sweden, showing cultivation of such plants as ‘fig trees, mulberry trees, peach trees, orange trees, lemon trees, bitter (Seville) orange trees, small bay trees’. From a textile perspective, the cultivation of mulberry trees is interesting as the dream of a domestic sericulture was reinforced from around the 1730s through decrees against extravagance in an attempt to limit the import of silk and velvet. Whether these trees were intended for sericulture, the sweet berries or merely a decorative feature in the garden is difficult to say for certain as they are described as ‘15 large mulberry trees in large basins’. That the trees were already large by the year 1738, and moreover placed in basins, may indicate that what was described was the black mulberry tree, Morus nigra, on which the silk worms do not thrive as well as on Morus alba.

Life-size picture-board dummies were popular to place in manor gardens already in late 17th century and continued to be so during the coming century. This lady may be assumed to depict a servant of a wealthy household in the 1790s, but depictions of elegant guests, gardeners and individuals from “exotic” countries are also represented on preserved dummies of this type. (Courtesy of: Nordic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. NM.0097091A-B. Digitalt Museum).

No life-size picture board dummies were mentioned in the Hesselbyholm inventory from 1738, but other decorative features were included, maybe some of them were depicting individuals. For example on page 4 of the inventory, in the Winter Quarter ’38 Images thereof 4 large which have 4 pedestals and 16 smaller with fine pedestals’ were listed. Additional adornment in the same quarter included ’45 painted flower canes with gilded tops’. Despite such detailed notes of expensive decorative plants and accessories, in this garden as well as in most gardens, the useful and economical realities were just as important as in the previous century. Including all areas of horticulture – medicinal plants, vegetable and fruit plantations, herbs as well as possible raw materials as flax and dye plants. Natural dyes and the economical advantages of domestic plantations for south-after dyestuffs were also studied by Carl Linnaeus and his seventeen “Apostles” in the period 1730s to 1790s.

Plain woven linen or woollen cloths were practical when keeping, handling or transporting heavy or delicate garden vegetables and fruits – on this oil on canvas such a cloth was depicted with “a giant pumpkin”. The written note included in the artwork by Olof Fridsberg (1728-1795), reads in translation from the Swedish: ‘Grown in the garden of Åkerö in year 1757, and weighed 115 skålpund [pounds/ca 50 kilos]’. Furthermore Fridsberg was not only a visiting artist in this garden, as he worked for count Carl Gustaf Tessin at Åkerö manor house in Sweden during a fifteen year period from 1756 to 1770. (Courtesy of: Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. NM 700. Wikimedia Commons).

– Christinehof Manor House, The Piper Family Archive (Christinehofs slottsarkiv, Piperska arkivet), Sweden. ‘Inventory of the garden of Hesselbyholm 1738’, (D/IIa). All quotes from the manuscript in translation from the Swedish.
– Hansen, Viveka, ‘Hesselbyholms trädgård år 1738 – En återblick på barockträdgårdens blomstrande prakt’, Lustgården 1990-1991, pp. 71-88.
– Hansen, Viveka, Katalog över Högestads & Christinehofs Fideikommiss, Historiska Arkiv (Piperska Handlingar No. 3), London & Christinehof 2016.
– Hansen, Viveka, Textilia Linnaeana – Global 18th Century Textile Traditions & Trade, London 2017 (p. 21).
– Nordic Museum, Stockholm (Digitalt museum, information on catalogue card).
– Quest-Ritson, Charles, The English Garden – A Social History, London 2001 (pp. 62-165).
Wellcome Library (Information on catalogue cards).

– Hansen, Viveka, ‘Working Dress, Fashion and Textile Raw Materials in 18th century Gardens’, TEXTILIS (April 11, 2018); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)