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    MEMORIES OF A GARDEN BOY

    18 MARCH 2004




A very interesting & informative talk was given by Laurie Manser, (LM) on his working life in gardening & how he started as a ‘Garden Boy’ in 1948. He was the 5th generation to go into gardening & learnt to do a job properly by helping his Grandad.

His Dad died when he was 7 months old, leaving his Mother to look after 3 young boys. At 11 yrs old he won a Scholarship for a fee paying school, but exams were pre set in English/French & had to pass to go into the 6th science. French was not mentioned before & he was told he couldn’t take the exam as he won’t pass. So he worked at a greengrocers, then saw an advert for a Garden Boy @ Broadwater Court, (a converted house to flats + communal garden) @ Tunbridge Wells. The street is nicknamed Millionaires Row & the entrance is still the same today.

LM was now 17 yrs old & was interviewed by Mr Jim Butcher, (Mr B) who queried ref LM entering the Services soon but was told he would fail the Medical, as could only see with 1 eye. Has since had an operation on the eye & is OK, if he’d had the op 70 yrs ago, he wouldn’t have been a garden boy. He got the job working with Mr B + another gardener & was on a 1 month trial.

On his 1st day, he had to sweep using a dustpan/brush from the top platform in the Vinery but broke a pane of glass & was told not to rush the job to impress. Then had to move bean poles & smashed a window again! Finally, he closed the cold frame lights, the pole knocked & the glass smashed! He wanted to go home now, but Mr B had yet another task, but still passed the trial. Mr B gave LM a diary to record his work & note planting sequences etc & had to learn the names of plants. Typically, the 1st one had a really long name & couldn’t remember it for a while. Mr B lived to 92 & called him Lawrence, not Laurie & after 2 hip replacements, still did shopping for the elderly! LM was asked to speak at the Funeral & whilst back at the wake, was asked if he was the boy who broke the glass!


LM turned 18 & couldn’t join the Services, as he was a Market Gardiner now. Broadwater Ct was now being sold & LM could stay til 12 Dec, when new owners take over, then go to Castle Crowbrough? @ Eridge. Then LM went self employed p/t at gardens; but now had to be conscripted as he was a private gardener, so registered & had the medical. He went into the Army (REME) & was told it was OK to shoot, as you close one eye anyway. He did the Vehicle Mech course, which has come in handy for servicing motor mowers etc. Upon leaving the Services, you were given a job for 6 months.

Mr B went to the Chelsea Flower Show & met a Mr Ferguson from Inglestone Hall, Shropshire (where the gardens were open to the public 3 days /week), who required help with the fruit, so Mr B told LM he had an interview with the Earl of Shrewsbury. Mr B sent a letter to LM saying, ‘if you don’t take the job, you can come back & work for me.’ At his new employment, LM 1st got to the house, went into the kitchen & said hello to all. The Head Cook told him off & said he should address her 1st! So not another good 1st day! He soon learnt it was good to make friends with the Cook at any establishment. He also got told off for whistling & putting an apron on. When LM’s Grandad died, his Lordship said he could take time off for the funeral & paid for a 1st class return rail fare, but later had to go back to his Mother, as one brother was in the Army & the other was married.

Items passed round the audience were – a job reference from Nov 1949 from Mr B, Inglestone Hall references + b/w photos & a Dinner Invite to all Estate workers, where the Lordship’s served & washed up and photos of a 1st prize in a Daffodil competition, which was a white Daffodil with a pink centre, named ‘Ann’s Blush’, after his wife.

LM’s son gave him a computer suggesting he write a book, so a book now follows on from the talks, with 10% going to the British Heart Foundation, after LM’s quadruple heart bypass!

Last Revised: 4 March 2005

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