Charles Green was a prominent nineteenth century horticulturalist who was well known throughout both Surrey and the country as a whole through his membership of the Royal Horticultural Society. He was born in Lewes, Sussex, in 1826 and was appointed to his first post as gardener at the nearby village of Henfield, where he was employed by William Borrer (1782-1862), a keen botanist who travelled widely throughout Britain in an attempt to collect and propagate as many British and hardy exotic plants as he could obtain. Under Charles Green, Borrer’s garden became one of the finest collections of hardy perennials which then existed in Britain.
From Henfield, Green moved to Reigate, in Surrey, where he was employed as gardener by William Wilson Saunders (1809-1879), who was building up an extensive collection of plants at his home at Hillfield. Saunders had moved to Reigate from East Hill, Wandsworth, in 1857 and remained there until his retirement to Worthing, Sussex, in 1874. Although by profession an underwriter at Lloyd’s, Saunders is remembered as a prominent entomologist and botanist. He became a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1833, serving as Treasurer from 1861 to 1873. He was also an original member of the Entomological Society, of which he was president in 1841 to 1842 and 1856 to 1857.
He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1853 and of the Zoological Society in 1861. He was vice president of the Royal Horticultural Society, and between 1831 and 1877 wrote more than thirty five papers on botanical subjects.
Saunders was also active within Reigate. He served as a Justice of the Peace and in 1857 founded the Holmesdale Natural History Club, serving as president from its commencement until 1874. He was also responsible for landscaping the public garden at Reigate castle. Under the direction of Charles Green, Saunder’s garden at Hillfield became one of the most extensive botanical collections hitherto seen in a private garden.
Charles Green’s obituary in ‘The Garden’ (Vol.30, 1886, p530) suggests that he left Saunder’s employment in c. 1874 in order to take employment as gardener to Sir George Macleay at Pendell Court, Bletchingley; but a letter to ‘The Garden’ (Vol. 30, 1886, p554) which was written by Green’s friend ‘H.E’, states that for a short time after leaving Mr Wilson Saunders Green managed his own nursery in Reigate. This was, however, only to be a temporary venture, as Green found that he could not bear to part with the plants he had been so carefully tending. Disillusioned with the nursery business, he took employment at Pendell Court.
His new employer, Sir George Macleay (1809-1891) had achieved fame as an Australian explorer and statesman. He had been brought up in London, but in 1826 went to Australia to join his father, Alexander Macleay (1767-1848), who was colonial secretary for New South Wales.
Three years later he accompanied C Sturt on an expedition to South Australia. Between c.1843 and 1846 Macleay served as Speaker of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, and created a garden of native plants at his house at Brownlow Hill, near Sydney. He returned to England in 1859 and settled at Pendell Court, Bletchingley, where he built up one of the richest private collections of plants in Europe.
Charles Green served Sir George Macleay until a few years before his death in 1886. The Census Enumerator’s returns for Bletchingley show that he and his wife, Emily, were still in Macleay’s employment in 1881. Throughout his life he gained respect for his ability to popularise plants which had fallen out of fashion. He frequently attended the meetings of the Royal Horticultural Society, to which he would take examples of plants from the collections at Hillfield and Pendell Court. His obituary notices in ‘The Garden’ attribute his success and popularity to his personal attention to each plant in his care, and this is witnessed by his failure to manage his own nursery in Reigate because of his attachment to the plants. He preferred to tend the botanical collections of his employers than produce plants for commercial sale.
Pencil annotation on the back of a surviving photograph of Green identifies him as head gardener to ‘Mr. Willson-Saunders [sic] Reigate, Surrey’. It is undated, but the albumen print upon which the image is held suggests that it was printed during the 1860s. This date is also indicated by the choice of a fern as the plant which Charles Green is holding. Ferns were the object of much popular British interest between c.1855 and c.1865.