Gardening isn’t just a relaxing pastime—it’s a hugely profitable industry with a long English historyby Roderick Floud / November 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
Is gardening just a hobby? Well, it is certainly a pastime, a passion, sometimes a chore, for the 50 per cent of British people who describe themselves as gardeners. But even if its purpose is to create an oasis of calm, it is also an economic activity. Oxford Economics estimate that direct expenditure on gardening—or “Ornamental Horticulture,” as they called it—is about £12.6bn a year, a greater contribution to GDP than aerospace manufacturing; it supports more than 370,000 jobs, as many as the accountancy sector. The overall impact of the industry—factoring in the supply chain and garden tourism—is estimated to amount to 1.2 per cent of the UK’s GDP.
Furthermore, a very large garden industry has been a feature of our country for well over 350 years. During all this time, it has been neglected by economists, historians and government. An activity that takes up more of our time than any other leisure activity except for watching television or using a computer—far more time than any sport—is treated as a frippery. All the time and energy that we collectively put into gardening is ignored, because that £12.6bn only counts the money that we spend, not the effort that we expend. But even if we only look at the money, we can see it is important—and has been so for a very long time indeed.
At the time of the English Civil War, there were already at least 10 large plant nurseries in London, which was—as it remained for two centuries—the centre of the garden industry. After the Civil War, when Charles II took up the throne, he immediately had a large rectangular lake dug in St James’s Park—and his enthusiasm for gardens soon spread through the aristocracy. Gardens proliferated, many of them on an enormous scale, and the garden industry prospered. Nurseries took up far more land in and around the capital than any other kind of retail trade.
The great gardens of the time—Longleat, Badminton, Chatsworth and others, including several royal parks—were designed and constructed by two men, George London and Henry Wise, the joint proprietors of the…