Looking Back in Amazement

And, I suppose, it would be appropriate to continue the title with “and forward in confidence”.

What has me looking back in amazement is a very little research I did recently on Sir Joseph Paxton (1801 – 1868). This was in connection with the recently restored vinery at Lismore Castle Gardens, now completed after almost three years work, a timescale extended by the interruptions caused by the Covid Pandemic lockdowns. In the overall scheme of Paxton’s works it could certainly be classified as one of the Lesser Paxtons but it remains nonetheless a representation of his work, in a garden of his design, and for that it is to be treasured.

The Paxton Vinery at Lismore Castle Gardens before restoration
And, after restoration. Note that there are twelve bays in the restored vinery. Four had been demolished/fallen in some years ago.
An information poster at Lismore Castle Gardens with mention of Paxton though stating he was employed at an undergardener does not tally with other records.

His greater works include The Great Conservatory at Chatswort House in England and The Crystal Palace of The Great Exhibition in 1851, this latter some 500metres long by 140metres wide and of ground-breaking design and construction for thousands of identical parts were manufactured offsite and then assembled with great speed in Hyde Park – and later disassembled and erected at Sydenham Hill in south-east London.

What kind of man was capable of such works? We would expect a man of great education and training but it seems that Paxton’s education was rudimentary, hardly beyond what would be our Primary School level nowadays, before he was admitted, a young lad, as an apprentice gardener at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chiswick’s Gardens. These gardens were leased from the Duke of Devonshire and lead to Paxton being appointed Head Gardener at Chatsworth in 1826, an amazingly high position for a twenty five year old.

From there, even a scant listing of his achievements is extraordinarily impressive. There was his work at Chatsworth – The Lily House to accommodate the recently introduced Victoria amazonica, The Great Conservatory, the successful cultivation of the Cavendish banana, the arboretum, the great fountain, publisher of several horticultural journals and books, designer of many significant buildings in England and abroad, successful businessman, Member of Parliament etc etc and all by a lad with only basic education. Perhaps, it is because I have spent my working days as a schoolteacher and have always placed value on learning and education that I find the success of a man without formal education an amazing achievement. One could question how our present education system suits those who proceed through it. For some, it will be perfectly suitable but, for others…?

They were different times and, perhaps, Paxton’s achievements were on the tailcoats of the Devonshires which certainly gave him tremendous advantages, yet his achievements were quiet impressive and the vinery he designed at Lismore Castle Gardens will certainly remind me of an extrordinary man.


A selection of views at Lismore Castle Gardens from a recent visit:

And, a selection of flowers which caught my eye:


One thought on “Looking Back in Amazement

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