Digging up the past

It’s always a bit of a surprise to be reminded each spring what is actually buried under the soil

I’m aware of there being too many bluebells (hopefully English but possibly not) in my front garden and some lovely miniature daffs in a pot by the back door, but otherwise, it’s always a bit of a surprise to be reminded each spring, of what is actually buried under the soil. The re-appearance of Scillas, crocus and iris brings much-missed colour back to my small garden and reassures me that at some point I must have done something right, despite my rather rudimentary gardening skills.

Daffodil borders at Harlow CarrHere at Harlow Carr, as I watch the seasons change, it’s clear the garden team don’t have this problem. The magic they create, whilst looking entirely natural, is grounded in a thorough understanding of which plants work well together across the seasons. But even they can sometimes get caught by surprise at what comes out the ground.

Buried treasure

new Bath House pathIn the autumn, renovations were carried out to paths behind the Bath House, one of the original 19th century buildings in the garden. This involved some deep digging to move earth. Imagine their surprise when a ‘treasure trove’ of broken crockery, glass bottles and suchlike was unearthed. This area of the garden hasn’t been altered since the paths were first created by the founders of the Garden in the early 1950s and were possibly put in by those early pioneers as makeshift drainage fodder, the current garden team felt as though they’d unearthed a small piece of Harlow Carr history

Whilst we happily recycle current unwanted glassware with barely a backward glance, when it’s from a by-gone era it has a charm of its own.  Intriguingly labelled bottles led us to do a little research into their contents. One attractively shaped bottle bears the lettering ‘Dr Adolf Hommel’s Haematogen’, apparently containing cow’s blood, alcohol and flavourings, it was marketed as a cure for anaemia.  Another (beer-size) bottle bears the name ‘Braimes, Tadcaster’, the product of a small local brewery, which later became part of the more well-known Samuel Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster. These are snapshots of another time and help us connect with our garden’s history.

"Personally, I rather like the idea of our early path-making gardeners quenching their thirst with a little local ale but not so sure about them drinking cows' blood to sustain their energy levels."

Curiosities on display

Buried treasure on display

As proud custodians of the Garden’s archive, our Library team is keen to share these ‘relics’ with our visitors. The 'treasure' will be on display in the Learning Centre foyer at Harlow Carr during April. Visit us at the Library and enjoy this unexpected connection with our gardening predecessors. If you would like to do some ‘digging’ of your own – come and see how our Library collection can help with your research.

We look forward to welcoming you.

More information

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.