Drunken Gardeners of History

Man, in his 6million year history has only really produced four great inventions – art, God, fermentation and the gardening blog.  Three to help us forget the universe’s lonely enormity, one to teach us cheap, fun ideas for small plots and to bang on about carrots.

My series Great Gardeners Of History has already fondled the divine and caressed the Muses, and I’m buggered if I’m writing The Great Carrots Of History, so today, ladies and gentlemen – Drunk Gardeners Of History.

Disclaimer. This post differs from the rest of the series in that it does not focus on one individual, but gathers a broad handful of the factual and the fictional. It also forms part of a wider campaign to get gardeners reclassified as ‘Land Sailors’. More information here.   

First some facts. I have created a scientific process for measuring how strong an association particular jobs have with drink. Using a web based pub review site (http://www.beerintheevening.com) I have entered various professions, and measured how many pubs they lend their name to. Gardeners birth a staggering 59 boozers (and this is by no means an exhaustive database). In contrast Bricklayers only have 46 pubs named in their honour and shepherds a puritan 44. And sailors? Sailors only have 43.

Can this be true? Are gardeners really 37% more drunk than the Jolly Jack Tars, famous the world over for their riotous drinking and enthusiastic brawling? Well not necessarily, critics might point out that sailors have a well known song referencing their drunkenness, and that it has an infinite number of verses. They would no doubt say that gardeners have no song at all about their inebriation, thus proving that Sailors are the greater wastrels. To those critics I say Ah! Signore. We have Mozart on our side. (Please watch the first 2 mins of this clip from The Marriage of Figaro for evidence( Feel free to watch the whole clip if you like it))

 As Mozart and Da Ponte knew well, drunken horticulturalists are just as dangerous and compelling as mutinous rum swilling pirate crews, and as fitting a subject for art and literature. Ernest Hemmingway began one of the stories in his first published work:  ‘On the four lire Peduzzi had earned by spading the hotel garden he got quite drunk’. He published this 27 years before The Old Man and The Sea, proving beyond all possible argument that half-cut gardeners held more sway over the imagination of young Ernest than the wide and open ocean. The  grandfather of all drunkards was Dionysus, also the Greek god of agriculture, though his wild and naked bacchanal seems to have been unfairly appropriated by the sailors (the greatest density of prostitutes over recorded was aboard a ship moored in Portsmouth Harbour) leaving the gardener with more of a solitary slumping stupor. Finally Noah planted and tended vineyards just so that he could get sloshed and expose himself, and he turned out to be a great sailor.

The Garden King

Art, myth, song, and archive all play from the same sheet, witness this extract from an employment contract between George Washington and a gardener named  Philip Bater…

 Articles of Agreement made this twelveth day of April Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven, by and between George Washington Esqr. of the Parish of Truro, in the County of Fairfax, State of Virginia, on the one part, and Philip Bater, Gardner,… [who] hereafter, mentioned, doth promise and agree to serve the sd. George Washington, for the term of one year, as a Gardner, and that he will, during said time, conduct himself soberly,… and that he will not, at any time, suffer himself to be disguised with liquor, except on the times hereafter mentioned.

George Washington doth agree to allow him (the sd. Philip)… four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights; two Dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two Dollars also at Whitsontide, to be drunk two days; also A Dram in the morning, and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon.

So there you have it Gardeners have grog rations and licensed drunkenness, they are the saliors of the land, and they should be treated as such. That is why I hereby promise that when, one day in the distant future, I am in charge of large public garden, my staff shall be given a tot of rum to start the day and flogged brutally if they shirk on the weeding.

Dead Mans Chest
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6 thoughts on “Drunken Gardeners of History

  1. Pubs are always the Jolly something which I feel is discriminatory. Where is the pub called the F**ing Furious Gardener? The Miffed Sailor. The Grumpy Cricketer? The Incandescent Guardsman?

    Gardeners cannot be expected to be the life and jolly soul all the time. Let the Plumbers or, at the very least, the Tree surgeons taken on a bit of the jollity for a change.

    “Rum, Sodomy, a sharp pair of Felcos and the Lash” that is how Winston Churchill might have described gardening. Although he missed a trick there and didn’t.
    I’m glad you are going part way to restoring the old traditions.
    Aye,Aye Capn’ Ben is what they will say with a mixture of deep respect and abject terror in their eyes.

  2. Notice that it took four dollars to be drunk for four days at Christmas, but only two dollars to achieve the same result at Easter. Is this the law of supply and demand at work? A hitherto unknown effect of solstice vs equinox? A “writo” (predecessor of the typo) due to the lawyer’s clerk also having an early morning grog ration in his contract?

    And does this ratio hold true in the present day? Perhaps you could carry out a holiday research project and report back.

  3. Christ – how drunk do you have to be to think tigers would be the smart option to pull your chariot (or, while you’re at it, to delight in a horned creature fondling your love handles?)

    I’ll have what he’s having…

  4. I haven’t put this to the test but I am certain that the aristocracy put gardeners in the shade using your method of measuring; in fact I’m not sure gardeners bother with the pub. Call me old-fashioned, but isn’t that what the potting shed is for?

  5. Just came across this while having (not beer!) my morning coffee. What a entertaining read to start the day with- thanks so much 🙂 I think I’ll be sharing this on Twitter!

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