Edward Hobday - the Victorian Gardener


In 1911 amongst the one hundred households in Blinco Grove you would have found nine men who described their profession as gardener; in Marshall Road the proportion was even higher, eight gardeners out of fifty seven households. Some were 'not domestic' and would have been found in nurseries, but many worked in local homes.


One of the most celebrated Cambridge gardeners would have been Edward Hobday. From before 1891 he lived with his wife Emma and four children at no. 4 Rock Road (today's 39), and ran the nursery on the corner of Hartington and Rock Road next to  the library. He was born in Worcestershire around 1833 and during his life published two books on gardening, Cottage Gardening (1877), and Villa Gardening (1887). The latter is a 500 hundred page manual on everything one need to know on how to manage a large (1 to 10 acre) garden - its flower, fruit and vegetable production. The book on cottage gardening runs to only 120 pages and is clearly aimed at a smaller plot but still one an enterprising gardener might use not only to feed his own family but also produce a marketable surplus.


Villa Gardening gives us today some insight into how the many professional gardeners would have been employed. At the back of the book there is a handy calendar of jobs. You might have expected January and February to be quiet months. Not for Mr Hobday! Here are some highlights: 



Fruit garden: wash pear and peach trees infested with scale, and apples on which cotton-blight exists, with a strong solution of Gishurst solution (a soap based concoction that was in use from 1859 for almost 100 years.)

Vegetable Garden: Sow cauliflowers in heat.

Conservatory: keep up a genial temperature of 45 to 50 fahr. Keep down insects as much as possible with the sponge.

Stove: night temperatures need not exceed 60 to 65 fahr. Give no quarter to mealy bug.

Forcing flowers: Roses,... Lily of the Valley, Dutch Bulbs, etc., can be brought forward as required; night temperature about 60 fahr.

Forcing fruit: to have ripe grapes in June, the vinery should be closed for forcing about the middle of the month.

Pines: Keep the temperature steady at 60 to 65 fahr.

Peaches: to have fruit ripe in June, close the house early in the month.

Figs should be pruned and cleaned ready for an increase in temperature.

Strawberries: start the plants in a temperature of 55 fahr in successive batches of 50 or so.

Forcing Vegetables: Plant French beans in pots in the Pine-stove or vinery. Force Asparagus in hotbeds, with a bottom heat of 75 fahr. Make up mushroom beds in succession.


No shortage of jobs here for the ambitious Victorian gardener and clearly some resources with which we are less familiar today.The Plant Stove was basically a hot house in which Hobday describes, as well as orchids, a wide vareity of tropical flowering plants such as Bougainvilleas, Stephanotis and Water lilies. Seven pages are devoted to the growing of 'Pine Apples'; he describes how to organise a fruiting house for 100 plants, warmed by hot water pipes. However, the most important method for the Victorian gardener of providing the extra heat required to force or protect plants, was the hot bed, fuelled by fresh horse dung. Tracking down supplies of fresh manure today is a little tricky; in Hobday's time you could probably tread in it everywhere you walked. He gives precise instructions and timings on the creation of these beds which, with careful management, would give the gardener a couple of months extra growing time at the beginning and end of the main season and play a vital role in supplying a wide choice of vegetables and fruit in the days before global imports.


I am going to attempt to recreate a hot-bed on my allotment once I track down the ingredients and hope to report in the next edition.