Sir Joseph Paxton: The Versatile Gardener

Architect and landscape-gardener to the sixth Duke of Devonshire, Paxton reached his highest fame in 1851 with the creation of the Crystal Palace, writes Tudor Edwards.

Queen Victoria once briefly described Joseph Paxton as “a common gardener’s boy.” though later she could do no other than to bestow the accolade upon him. A century afterwards it is possible not only to see the inevitability of Paxton’s Progress, but also to recognise him as an imaginative artist whose work uniquely mirrored the mid-Victorian years.

He was indeed of humble origin, the son of a small farmer. Born in 1801 near Woburn in Bedfordshire, he was educated at the local Grammar School until the age of fifteen, when he was placed under his elder brother, a gardener at the nearby Battlesden Park. There he learned the rudiments of landscape gardening, and his first responsible task seems to have been the construction of the lake in 1821.

Three years later he was engaged on the arboretum at Chiswick Gardens. Prince Puckler-Muskau, visiting Chiswick in 1827, regretfully observed that William Kent’s layout was disappearing before the new English fashion of planting “pleasure grounds” with trees and shrubs in rows.

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