‘A handsome flower-garden about half an acre, square’: gardens, gardening and horticulture in eighteenth-century Birmingham

Category: Ph.D. Research


Trade card of Brunton & Forbes, Nurserymen and Seedsmen of 25 High Street, Birmingham (collected 1792). Sarah Sophia Banks Collection, 74.5 © The Trustees of the British Museum  


Trade card of Brunton & Forbes, Nurserymen and Seedsmen of 25 High Street, Birmingham (collected 1792). Sarah Sophia Banks Collection, 74.5

© The Trustees of the British Museum
 

A neglected aspect of Birmingham’s social and cultural history in the eighteenth century, my research focuses on gardens, gardening and horticulture in a town that is more widely celebrated for taking the products of nature and turning them into the products of the Industrial Revolution. In a period when gardening underwent its own revolution, towns were as much nodes of horticultural enterprise, gardening activity and botanical knowledge as the freshly landscaped country estates of the élite.  My aim in uncovering Birmingham’s horticultural capital is to expose aspects of its history beyond its manufacturing nature and to cultivate new perceptions of the town at this period. 

As the business of gardening became thoroughly commercial and plants part of a global trade, the new tools of the eighteenth-century consumer society were adopted to cultivate the market. The business of horticulture met the business of print and my research explores this interaction. Investing in the polite aspects of consumption, nurserymen ordered engraved billheads and trade cards; they published nursery catalogues and advertised widely in newspapers and town directories. Print put them on the map and established their businesses as part of a commercially vibrant and enterprising town. The growth of a culture of print also encouraged the dissemination of new knowledge about plants through advice manuals, herbals and floras; subscription publications guided the gardener on new plant introductions and their cultivation, offering a world of floriferous opportunity in text and images. The partnership between plants and print is firmly rooted in the eighteenth century.


Members involved in this research

Elaine Mitchell


Ph.D. Research Projects