Ancient Order of Free Gardeners
Garden Museum, London
There are records for the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners as far back as the late 1600s, the origin of the order appearing in Scotland. Orders were based in Lodges, very like the early Freemasons; indeed, the roles of the two groups were similar in many ways. By the mid 1800s the order had thousands of members across England, with even women-only and juvenile branches. The history reflects the importance of gardens and gardening for the gentry of society. Gardens were a way of demonstrating one’s style and wealth, through cutting edge design as well as exotic and new plant species. Though teams of gardeners would be hired by estates, gardening was also a very acceptable and fashionable pastime for those that owned them – an interest that spanned the classes, albeit to very different lengths of necessity. What is wonderful about this silk banner is the incorporation of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the downfall of man, here celebrated for its link to the garden. Adam and Eve stand on cloud-like tufts of moss, brandishing their tools, standing over the snake and its garden as one adjoined entity. The symbolic sun, moon and rainbow adorn the sky, with the beehive (a symbol of industry since medieval times) and three concentric circles (sacred in representing past, present, future or earth, air, water) below. This banner shows just how honoured a profession gardening was, something the Garden Museum takes us through with its historical displays. To create beauty with nature, to cultivate the land, is happily something we have not yet lost. Though the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners has long since died, it is a happy thought to remember the respect the gardener once commanded.