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Gardening Notes from Victorian Barton-on-the-Heath

From 1877 until 1910 the Rector of St Lawrence at Barton-on-the-Heath was Arthur Nettleship. Nettleship was born in Yorkshire in 1828, attended school in Gainsborough, and after obtaining a BA in Theology from Oxford was appointed Vicar of Minsterworth in Gloucestershire. After the medieval church in Minsterworth was rebuilt in 1869, a new vicarage was built for Nettleship where he and his family stayed until 1877.

On moving to Barton, he brought with him a notebook which he had possessed since his schooldays, and in which in 1845 he had made detailed study notes on Virgil’s Aeneid. However, he had turned the book around and starting from the other end made entries on sources of seeds and plants, propagating from cuttings, control of garden pests and tips on how to obtain the best vegetable crops. We cannot be sure exactly who wrote all the notes and when (there are a number of different hands) but the book was in the possession of Nettleship when he moved to Barton.

He wrote to Carters for deliveries of seeds, and to ‘Cranstons in Huntly near May Hill’ for his roses. Plant varieties obtained were Chrysanthemums La Vogue, Amie Ferriere, Madame Poggi, Rio Novo, Christopher Columbus, Aurora Borealis and Queen of England. Nettleship lists Fuchsia Brilliant, Lily Helene, Phlox Madame Rousellon and Ranuncula cyclops amongst the perennials grown in his rectory gardens. Scarlet geraniums were advised ‘not to be watered in winter if covered with something to prevent the soil from getting too dry’ and ‘ammonia of sulphate when mixed at the proportion of ½ oz per gallon of soft water and applied every 4 to 5 days to geranium, fuchsias and other florists flowers are of great service when the pots are filled with roots’. The notebook also tells that ‘Begonia will not flower if allowed to grow too luxuriantly’ and advises that ‘when the roots are cramped and the branches are allowed plenty of room and not pruned, it will flower from June until September’.

We learn that ants may be dispersed by a pinch of guano, and red spider may be destroyed by applying a solution of ‘1lb of soap in 5 gallons of hot water’. There must have been a lot of red spider around to demand this industrial quantity of repellent! Wasps’ nests may be destroyed by pitting ‘a small phial of spirits of turpentine at the mouth of the hole, and let it run into the hole which must then be stopped up’. Many of these methods would seem archaic to us now, but some of the methods may well be worth a try with some care, especially with the wasps.

There are instructions on the making of hotbeds and turf pits, and on how best to obtain good results from compost heaps. The method of propagating cuttings from Ceanothus is given very detailed attention, even down to which hand should be used to hold the stem and which to manipulate the knife. Cuttings from ‘Hollies’ and ‘Portugal laurels’ are given a special place in the notebook.

In the book is found a separate sheet on ‘a secret worth knowing’. Apparently a pea inserted in a potato, with the potato (presumably a seed potato) then planted in the usual way will produce a large yield of peas and a splendid crop of potatoes, with the ‘important result of the entire freedom of the potatoes from any disease whatsoever’. This tip was also reproduced in a letter in the Agricultural Gazette of October 1857, so perhaps should be treated reasonably seriously. If any readers would care to try this recommendation or any other from Nettleship’s gardening notebook on even a small trial quantity of plants – forget the wasps please – I am sure that many subscribers to The LINK will be pleased to hear of the results!

Colin Maynell and John Castle

(via LINK Magazine)

Thanks to Warwick Record Office for access to the original notebook. For those wishing to read more, the record number is DR80/19, the above of which is only a very brief extract.


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