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Doctoral thesis2005Open access

Den osynliga handen : trädgårdsmästaren i 1700-talets Sverige

Ahrland, Åsa


Research into historic gardens has often emphasized the garden – the work of art – or else
its creator or owner and his interests. Insofar as he has been mentioned, the gardener has
often been viewed as an instrumental person giving effect to other people’s intentions. A
garden, however, is an ongoing process and its form and content are created and re-created
through the actions and decisions of various agents. The gardener’s knowledge, contacts
and managerial acumen have a supremely palpable impact on the outcome. Despite the
pivotal role of himself and his work in gardens throughout history, the gardener’s almost
complete absence in research is notable. Knowledge born of experience, the work of hand
and body, has somehow been taken for granted.

This study is based on sources of many different kinds, such as gardening accounts,
contracts of service, inventories, wage bills, estate inventories, correspondence, citizenship
rolls, gardening manuals, horticultural journals and travelogues. In the absence of complete
cradle-to-grave data for one individual, it has not been possible to make an individual case
study of a particular gardener. Instead particulars of travel, workplaces, forms of tenure,
tasks, name changes, godparents, succession, chattels etc. have been obtained from different
documents about different gardeners in different places. The main emphasis of the study is
on southern Sweden, without focusing on any particular geographic region.

The thesis shows that a skilled master gardener, with his experiential knowledge, or ‘tacit
knowledge’, was essential to the formal and substantial functioning of the garden during the
18th century. His role was that of caring for the garden and moving it forward, preserving
and developing a concept, giving it a raison d’être and transforming it completely when
called upon to do so. In addition, a gardener had to organize the work in the garden, teach
garden boys and journeymen, run a business and keep the accounts, present the garden to
visitors and sometimes develop new horticultural techniques. The study indirectly provides
knowledge concerning the nature of garden design and the manner of its creation.


gardening; biographies; gardens; plant production; cultivation equipment; documentation; professional associations; history; sweden

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2005, number: 2005:54ISBN: 91-576-6953-8
Publisher: Department of Landscape Planning, Horticulture and Agricultural Science, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences