History, Horticulture, General Interest
£75 - £150
Short Notice, 1 Month Minimum
Michael Brown has been interested in history and gardening for as long as he can remember.
As a child he was allowed to have a patch of ground to grow whatever he liked. His mother called the plants, ‘Weeds’, he called them wildflowers.
He was fascinated by the strange names and the folk tales that such common plants had.
Michael was lucky to attend a village school that had books about King Arthur, Greek myths and the Vikings. His imagination went into overdrive.
He spent his childhood building camps, cooking (well, actually burning food) over open fires, making bows and arrows and using cricket stumps for swords - he still finds cricket very boring.
He eventually became a qualified gardener and worked his way up to become a Head Gardener at the Menagerie at Horton and later Cosgrove Hall.
Later he researched medieval gardens and the uses of the plants, which was very useful when he created the medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor at Nassington, Northamptonshire.
Michael studied for his MA in Garden History at Birkbeck, London whilst he was a full-time college lecturer in Horticulture at Moulton college, Northamptonshire.
Unfortunately, due to government guidelines, college courses do not give you much time to teach real gardening anymore.
He decided to become self-employed and transformed himself into the Historic Gardener.
His first book, Death in the Garden, was published in 2018. It was based on his most popular talk of the same title, being about poisonous plants with lots of interesting stories. In 2022, A Guide to Medieval Gardens, Gardens in the Age of Chivalry, was published in hardback. The book was based on the many years of research when he created the authentic medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor, Nassington. A companion book, Medieval Plants and their Uses, was published in 2023.
He is currently writing a book about Medieval Pilgrimage.
Death in the Garden
Poisonous plants. Magic, Myths, Passion and Murder.
Over the centuries poisonous plants have been used to remove an unwanted partner or rival, for medicine, as aphrodisiacs, for pest control and the means to foretell the future or to commune with the gods.
Learn about the truth about the mysterious mandrake, a real plant although many do not realise it; and how a pot of Basil helped to conceal a savage murder, until…
Jane Austen wrote a conundrum to entertain her family; the answer is one of the plants in the book. Will you be able to solve the answer?
Be warned, many of these plants may well be growing in your garden and should you wish to design your own Poisons Garden, most of the plants are quite easy, and legal, to grow.
‘Many a Sundry Flower’ - The early uses of plants: The practical uses of plants from the medieval period, some of the plants are still in use today. It includes medical, culinary, and cosmetic but also some of the more unexpected uses such as lighting.
‘Gardens in the Age of Chivalry’ - Medieval Gardens- This talk has been completely revised to tie in with the book about medieval gardens that is now available as, ‘A Guide to Medieval Gardens. Gardens in the Age of Chivalry.’
Medieval gardens still rate very few pages in the garden history books. The general perception is still of small gardens in the corner of a castle. The number of plants was limited, but was still no less than many modern gardeners use. Yet medieval gardens were imbued with meaning, whether secular or religious, the additional dimension of symbolism, gave a greater depth to medieval gardens. The idea of the garden as an outdoor living area was already well practiced in medieval times; as gardens were the setting for eating and drinking, singing, dancing and general relaxation, and maybe some furtive courtship.
‘Easter and Springtime Customs’ - How the return of the warmth of spring has been celebrated in the past with Easter and Spring traditions. The talk includes flowers, some music.
‘To Drive the Cold Winter Away’ - How our ancestors passed away the cold, dark nights of winter, whether Pagan or Christian. The talk includes some music.
‘A Rose by Any Other Name’ - Roses have had an interesting story, from being symbols of Aphrodite and Venus, Christ, Romantic Love and the practical uses of medicine, food flavouring and cosmetics. Learn about the nations favourite flower.
‘Gardens in the time of Jane Austen’ – Jane Austen uses gardens to set the scene as her characters go about their daily lives. We will look at the gardens of taste, where size did matter. What did the gardens look like? How were they looked after by the invisible gardeners? All will be revealed.
‘Shakespeare’s Flowers’ – Shakespeare made many references to plants and gardens. He also made use of classical mythology about plants and the current medical theory to emphasise what his actors were saying. Plants, poetry and social history. This talk can be given in period costume.
‘A Bouquet of Weeds’ – We curse them and try to kill them, but in the past most of our common weeds were grown on purpose because they were useful; yes, even Ground Elder! Learn how to love your weeds and get your own back at the same time.
‘The Language of Flowers’ – A Victorian Gentleman’s amorous adventures described through the now mostly forgotten language of flowers. Flowers, social history and romance; what more could you ask for?
‘Capability Brown. Hero or Hooligan?’ Lancelot Brown was probably England’s most famous garden designer. Was he the vandal some say? After listening to my talk, you can decide for yourself.
‘Heritage Lost. The Menagerie and the Lost Grotto.’ - I was Head Gardener when Gervase Jackson Stops created the quirky and memorable garden at the Menagerie, Horton, Northants. This is a personal memory of the gardens being built and of the grotto that has since been removed.
‘The Georgian Gardener’ – The life and work of a Georgian Gardener. This is based around a talk that I prepared for Stamford Georgian Festival from contemporary gardening books.
This talk discusses the practical work and the life of the gardener as he met not only the challenges of new technology and plant introductions, but also changing fashions in garden design.
The talk can be given in Georgian costume and includes a display of period gardening equipment.
‘A History of Gardening in 100 Objects’- Well less than 100, or we would be there for hours, but the idea is the same as the radio series. I will bring a display of gardening items and explain the gardening and social significance of the object. Gardening and History, and some mysterious items too.
‘Eat Your Greens!’ – The story of Vegetables in England. New exotics, such as the now humble potato, and how vegetables were grown.
‘Flora and Pomona’ - A roman slave gardener will help you to understand the practical and luxurious gardens of ancient Rome. What did the Romans do for us? They gave us Ground Elder for a start!
‘In a Monastery Garden’ – Monastic Gardens will be explained by Brother Michael, including their uses, symbolism, features and some of the plants. Parts of this talk are included in my book, ‘An Introduction to Medieval Gardens. Gardens in the Age of Chivalry.’
‘Knots and Bowers. The Tudor Garden’ – Pleasure Gardens showed your status and were for entertainment, privacy and to show off your wealth. Elsewhere, plants were grown for practical purposes.
‘Gods in the Garden’ – Statues were placed in gardens throughout history for decoration and perhaps to suggest that the owner resembled the figure in the statue, bravely heroic in the case of Hercules. Learn the stories behind the statues. Who needs TV, when visiting gardens will become much more interesting after hearing this talk?
‘The Glory of the Garden’ – The Victorian and Edwardian Garden, and the gardeners who did the real work. Based around Kipling’s poem, Mr. Brown, Head Gardener to the Right Honourable de Basing, will describe the gardener’s life from apprentice to Head Gardener and the work that it entailed, including glasshouses, planting, different garden areas and the work involved.
‘All in a Garden Green’ – Take a pleasant stroll up the garden path to learn about the different areas or buildings that you may find in an historic garden. Temples, bridges, hermitages and some more unusual features that you may want to investigate during your next garden visit.
‘Ghastly Gardening - Horticulture’s Horrible History’ – It wasn’t all sweetness and delight; horticulture has its own Horrible History too! Evicted peasants, hermits, murder and ‘widow makers’- all in the name of Gardening!
‘The Sorcerer’s Herbs’ - This is a talk with a Harry Potter - type theme. There were many plants used for magical purposes. Mandrake was not the only dangerous plant to harvest. Beware of woodpeckers waiting to peck your eyes out! You will have to hear the talk to find out why! Plants were used for magic and in potions. Sadly, there is no guarantee that any of the spells will work.
‘Plants among the Ruins’ – Many people visit historic sites to look at ruined castles, monasteries etc. This talk looks at the plants you may find growing there, why they may be there and how they were used in the past.
‘We Made a Medieval Garden’ – How I made the medieval garden, problems and all, at The Prebendal Manor, Nassington, Northants.
‘William Cowper and his Gardens’ – The poet William Cowper discovered for himself the therapeutic benefits of gardening. Using his poems and letters we discover his trials and successes and the gardens that he loved.
‘A Medieval Christmas’ – A talk presented in 14 century clothing about the Christmas traditions, myths and plants of the medieval period, with music played on early instruments.
‘Pilgrimage – In search of Saints and Relics’ – Pilgrimage could be carried out for devout reasons or as an excuse for a holiday. Join me on a journey to distant shrines and witness the miracles and frauds of pilgrimage. The talk includes music played on replica period instruments.
‘The Road to Santiago’ – A personal look at one of the most popular pilgrimages today. I follow the route from France to northwest Spain, not only as it would have been experienced by medieval pilgrims, but also by modern ones. This talk also includes music.
‘Food and Feast - Medieval Food and Banquets’ – Forget Hollywood’s version of bone throwing and dogs all over the place. Discover how the wealthy really ate, and what the peasants had too.