There was little need for market gardening in medieval society since towns were small, and monasteries and large estates supplied most of their own needs. But in London gardeners petitioned in 1345 for permission to sell their own produce in public. The growth of the new industry dates from Tudor
and Stuart times. Henry VIII's gardener, Richard Harris, had an orchard in Teynham (Kent) producing cherries, pears, and pippins (eating apples), said to have been ‘the chief mother for all the other orchards of those kind of fruits’. A rash of market gardens developed in the small villages of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Hertfordshire, sending their produce in by carts, which brought back the night soil and manure on which productivity depended. Samuel Hartlib, writing in the 1650s, suggested that market gardening began to ‘creep into England
’ from Holland and Flanders about 1600 and that old men could remember the first gardeners in Fulham, growing cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, carrots, and parsnips ‘all of which at that time were great rarities’. The Gardeners' Company, still in existence, was founded in 1605 and Fulham parsnips, Hackney turnips, and Sandwich carrots were already sought after. Stocks Market, on the site of the Mansion House, had been in existence for some centuries but was increasingly challenged by Covent Garden
, started as a few sheds and stalls. Celia Fiennes, in her travels in the 1690s, noted at Gravesend (Kent) many gardens ‘convenient for to convey the cherries to London’ by water. As the larger provincial towns like Bristol and Norwich grew in size, they acquired their own market garden hinterland. The development of the railway network in the 19th cent., providing quick and cheap transport, changed market gardening from a strictly local to a national business. The Great Western railway brought the Thames valley as far as Wiltshire into the London orbit. The Great Northern opened up parts of Bedfordshire, most villages seding produce down to London, but Sandy supplying Yorkshire, Tyneside, and even Scotland
. Evesham, too distant at first from London, exploited rail links to Birmingham and then Manchester. Diversification into market gardening enabled farmers to face increasing competition in corn and meat from overseas in the 1870s, and with improved rail and road communications, specialist areas began to appear. The Channel Islands went over increasingly to early potatoes, while the Scilly Isles sent their first early spring flowers to London in 1865. A short-lived but intensive development was in the Lea valley in Hertfordshire just north of London, where glasshouses and greenhouses proliferated, producing tomatoes and cucumbers, from the 1880s, dominated the area, and had vanished by 1960. Tomatoes were a rare and unusual delicacy when Rochfords of Turnford opened one greenhouse in 1883 and were followed by a number of Danish entrepreneurs—Larsens, Jensens, Hansens, Rasmussens. Cheshunt was said in 1898 to have more acres under glass than the rest of England outside Middlesex and Kent. By 1960 the nurseries had moved out to the south coast around Worthing or had sold up for Greater London overspill housing. In the 1970s the spread of supermarkets offered tempting contracts to some gardens operating on a large scale, but also brought increasing foreign competition. A number of market gardens turned themselves into garden centres, selling garden furniture, grass seed, tropical fish, and gnomes—one of the redoubtable growth areas of the late 20th-cent. economy.
J. A. Cannon