A helping hand for gardeners since 1839

Philanthropy in the 19th century enabled pre-welfare state pensions for gardeners, says Matthew Biggs.

Gardeners at Wentworth Castle Garden in 1897 - image: Reproduced by kind permission of Wentworth Castle (www.wentworthcastle.org)
Gardeners at Wentworth Castle Garden in 1897 - image: Reproduced by kind permission of Wentworth Castle (www.wentworthcastle.org)

Just two years before the first edition of The Gardeners’ Chronicle rolled off the press, The Gardeners’ Benevolent Institution, now known as Perennial, was founded at an annual dinner for ‘nurserymen, florists and amateur gardeners’ held in the Crown and Anchor Tavern on The Strand, London. Among the founders was George Glenny, a horticulturist known for organising flower shows in London and starting the first ever gardening newspaper, The Gardeners’ Gazette. It paved the way for other publications dedicated to the art of horticulture, including The Gardeners’ Chronicle.

From its outset, The Gardeners’ Chronicle has advocated the work of Perennial, supporting its aim to care for horticulturists in times of need. John Lindley was the principal editor of The Gardeners’ Chronicle until his death. He persistently promoted the better education of gardeners, the support of the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Institution, and in horticulture the reduction in the cost of glass as a means to popularise domestic garden greenhouses and conservatories.

The aim of the Gardeners Benevolent Institution was to form a secular society exclusively for gardeners, providing financial relief in sickness and provision for old age. At the time it was not uncommon for gardeners and their dependents to lose their home at retirement. After years of living in tied cottages, on low wages and with no savings for the future.

Early records of the Institution’s activities are sketchy and individual applications for help were discussed by a committee and awards made accordingly. In 1840 the first pension of £75 was shared between three beneficiaries.

A typical example was Henry Graveson who, according to The Gardeners’ Chronicle of 3 January 1874, suffered a nervous breakdown after losing  all the savings for his declining years in a bad investment. But he was not alone; The Gardeners’ Chronicle of 1892 mentions twelve beneficiaries in similar straits, among them Henry Bartholomew of Hornsey, aged 71, who together with his wife, aged 75 "are very infirm". Also: "Lydia Bostock of Bootle, aged 69 years who is in a delicate state of health and unable to earn anything and Jemima Grace Turon of Launceston who has chronic bronchitis".

Annual fundraising dinner of The Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society in 1920 - image: Perennial

By 1889, 154 gardeners and their spouses, widows or families were receiving a pension from the institution. For a hundred years the institution granted royal status by Queen Victoria in 1851 operated as a subscription pension for employees, typically head gardeners, and a charity receiving donations from the wealthy, among them royalty and aristocracy with large gardens employing large numbers of workers.

A typical recipient was head gardener James Wells who, according to The Gardeners’ Chronicle in 1892, was supported for 31 years until his death, at the age of 103. He received a total of £521 from Perennial’s funds. When state pensions were introduced in 1908, Perennial turned its attention to housing needs, providing retirement accommodation and running a care home for older gardeners. Financial assistance broadened to include emergency grants and help for those who could no longer work.

Perennial retains the essence of the organisation that was established on The Strand in 1839, but today new needs are being responded to. Personal and financial hardships still remain, becoming more complex and increasing in number. Now the breadth of cases has changed from age-related problems to more complex challenges like mental health, debt and divorce.

In 2012, for the first time ever, Perennial helped over 1,000 horticulturists and their families – an alarming 86% under retirement age, many needing help due to the emotional and financial stress and unemployment caused by the economic downturn. Perennial still receives requests for help with basic needs like fuel bills, children’s clothes and shoes, even weekly food bills, as it helps those in need, alleviating stress, calming fears and restoring lives, with care and discretion.

Perennial’s foundations are built on a bedrock of philanthropy, but more inventive ways of fundraising are now required in a more crowded and pressured industry.

For many years, fundraising depended on the generosity of the wealthy at Annual Festival Dinners but these ceased sometime in the early 20th century and the charity subsequently depended on carefully managed investments to continue providing help to gardeners.

After the Second World War, fundraising changed. In 1949, the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Institution sold its first charity Christmas cards and the first radio appeal for funds was broadcast by Fred Streeter ARHS, VMH. Ten years later a group of health charities formed the ‘1959 Group’ of which Perennial was a guest charity and is now a proud member charity. Now known as Cards for Good Causes it still raises funds for its member and guest charities by selling Christmas cards and gifts from local churches and halls throughout Britain.

Times have changed since those first appeals to the garden-loving public for support to help gardeners in need. Support has remained high for Perennial’s continued help for all UK horticulturists, but more inventive and often ‘extreme’ ways of raising money are favoured in the 21st century. In 2012, Phil Voice raised over £6,000 by driving 1,250 miles from Bergerac in France to John O’Groats on an Etesia mower, averaging just 7.5mph. This prompted the launch of HortAid, Perennial’s annual fundraising campaign, encouraging more professionals to get behind their industry charity. In 2013, a group of 15 cross-industry supporters climbed the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales, cycling a total of 450 miles between each mountain, raising over £26,000 for Perennial. This year, the Three Peakers Ride Again team hopes to smash their 2013 total, aiming to raise £50,000 by cycling from Snowdon to Lands End in September.

A lasting legacy

The kindness and foresight of those who leave legacies benefits generations of gardeners to come
A growing service area for Perennial is its education and training programme, made possible by a generous legacy from Miss Joan Lironi, left to the charity in 2009. The fund offers a range of training initiatives available to those who are in need of financial support and recognises the need to encourage young people to choose a career in horticulture and maintain standards of excellence in the industry. Other recent legacies include York Gate Garden near Leeds, Fullers Mill Garden in Suffolk and the intended bequest of The Laskett Gardens in Herefordshire by Sir Roy Strong, CH. Speaking about Perennial’s role in shaping the horticulture industry in the future, chief executive Richard Capewell says: "We are hugely grateful to all those who choose to leave Perennial a gift in their will. They allow us to continue to support all those working in and retired from this wonderful industry who need a little extra help or who have ambitions they are desperate to realise. Through our Lironi Training Fund we are working to increase the training opportunities available to horticulturists, and we will continue to seek sources of funding to bolster our offering. We are ambitious and see our role as one of encouragement and possibility."

Tel: 0800 093 8510; email: info@pereninal.org.uk; www.perennial.org.uk

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