Why France?

Screenshot 2016-02-03 15.56.33 Angers, France

I have so far recorded the experiences of Thomas Ruddy as a traveller and a horticulture student when he went to France in 1865-66 at the age of 23.  [Read the full diary extract here and an abbreviated version concentrating on the horticultural aspects here .]

The question remains: why France?  Obviously it was a popular venue for students, Thomas recounts that as well as two English men, studying at the same Angers nursery there were a Swede, Nicholas Peter Jensen, son of a nurseryman, André Rovelli, another son of a nurseryman near Lake Maggiore, and Hesterman, from Potsdam, where his father was Mayor.  French horticultural education was obviously popular and widely well-regarded.  Thomas chose to study in the town of Angers. He records the nursery where he studied, owned by M. Leroy was 375 acres, 8 acres being for roses, and 10,000,000 trees were sold annually.

Was Angers a particularly renowned area for horticulture?  Did other potential Head Gardeners go to France to study?  So far I have not been able to find much detailed evidence.  I should be glad of any assistance that a reader might be able to contribute.

I have gathered some thoughts and research that might give a commentary on Thomas’ decision to study in France, which you can read here.

To Study Horticulture in France

Pale glasshouses 1961

Above: glasshouses erected at Palé Hall by Thomas Ruddy about 1870, in decline in the early 1960’s.  The foundations can still be seen in the car park at Palé.

Thomas Ruddy, aged 23 in 1865, and already qualified to call himself a Head Gardener, rejected the offer of a position at Titley Court in Herefordshire, and after a short stay in London, working at the nursery of Downie, Laird and Laing, opted to go to France to study horticulture in the nursery of M. Leroy in Angers.  It would seem that Thomas had already earned and saved enough money to fund this venture – he had no other source of income.

I am researching this decision – why France, did other young ambitious gardeners study there?  was Angers a particularly noted venue for such study?  I would be glad of any information relating to these questions.

Here is a brief collection of thoughts so far…


Lessons from the French


London Bridge Station. Image by Jean Marchant, 1845. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections
London Bridge Station. Image by Jean Marchant, 1845. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections

Thomas Ruddy, now 23, set out from London Bridge Station in October 1865 to study French methods of horticulture.  He does not describe in his journal how the arrangements were made with the Nursery of M. André Leroy in Angers, France.  The plans were obviously well organised, as Thomas appears to have been assured in his travel arrangements, stopping in Paris for two nights before continuing by train to Angers.  He even had the address of a Nursery in Paris which he visited on his way to Angers.

He soon found that his French lessons from a book at Minto House garden bothy were not sufficient to get by when it came to practical conversation.  Help came from an unlikely source:

On getting into the harbour of Dieppe we for the first time found ourselves in a strange land; the language seemed to change so suddenly that we felt quite helpless. The little knowledge I had of it was from books, so that I did not understand the strange sounds.  We were standing near an aged lady before stepping onto French soil, talking about our helplessness; this lady turned to us and offered to help us in any way. The lady was a native of Peru, spoke French and English well; she was a governess on her way to join an English family in Paris. This lady was of great assistance to us all the way to Paris.

By the time he left France 8 months later, Thomas had acquired enough French to be the assistant himself:

I was sea sick on the voyage, but all right and active when I got to Newhaven. I had the company of a French man to London, who was going to see a little daughter of his, who was at an English school. At Lewes, while waiting for another train I had to be his interpreter in getting coffee, and at London I sent him off all right. He was thankful to me.

For Thomas’ full account of his time in France, see here.  An edited account of his horticultural studies is here.