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M'Intosh, Charles (1794-1864), horticulturist

Peter D. A. Boyd

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BOYD, P.D.A. 2009. 'M'Intosh, Charles (1794-1864), horticulturist'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/96826]

Text © Oxford University Press 2004-9 All rights reserved


M'Intosh, Charles (1794-1864), horticulturist, was born at Abercairney in the parish of Fowlis Wester, near Crieff, Perthshire, on 8 August 1794, the son of John M'Intosh and his wife, Muntague, née Ladden. He was descended from a line of gardeners: his grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather had been gardeners to the dukes of Atholl, while his father was the gardener, forester, and manager of improvements on the Abercairney estate for nearly fifty years.

M'Intosh was educated at the parish school of Fowlis Wester, at Madderty Academy, and, finally, for some years in Perth. It was suggested that he should study for the Church of Scotland and he made some progress in preparation for theological studies. However, his 'gardening genes' were dominant and ideas of entering the church were abandoned, and for several years he worked as assistant to his father at Abercairney.

In 1814, aged about twenty, M'Intosh travelled to England under the patronage of the landscape gardener Lewis Kennedy (1789-1877). Kennedy introduced him to his father, the senior partner of the important nursery of Lee and Kennedy at Hammersmith, London. After working in their nursery for a period, he was recommended by them as gardener to the Hon. John Coventry, a younger son of the seventh earl of Coventry, at Bishopsgate, near Windsor. During this period M'Intosh became acquainted with William Aiton (1766-1849) and John Aiton (1777-1851), directors of the Royal Gardens including Windsor and Kew. The Aiton brothers became lifelong friends of M'Intosh. He was married to Elisabeth (Betsay) Pasmore, with whom he had at least three sons and three daughters.

Dissuaded by Sir John Erskine of Torrie (who had lived in India) and James Moray of Abercairney from taking up a position with the East India Company as superintendent of an experimental garden for the culture of Indian productions on Prince of Wales Island in the Straits of Malacca, M'Intosh instead returned to Abercairney as assistant to his father. James Moray subsequently recommended him to the earl of Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle, Perthshire, where he worked for four years as gardener and forester, taking the opportunity to explore the rich natural history of the area around Loch Tay, including the mountain of Ben Lawers with its alpine flora. He claimed to have climbed to the summit of Ben Lawers thirty times, in all seasons and once on Christmas day.

While at Taymouth Castle M'Intosh became acquainted with the architect William Atkinson, who was employed to draw up plans for an east wing at the castle. M'Intosh impressed Atkinson by being the only person at Taymouth who could provide him with adequate measured ground plans and levels, and their common interest in plants (Atkinson was a founder of the Horticultural Society of London) led to friendship. M'Intosh left Taymouth, went to London as a guest of Atkinson, and was immediately offered the choice of three good situations. He took up the position of gardener to Sir Thomas Baring of Stratton Park in Hampshire, where he stayed for six years in the mid-1820s. He left Stratton Park to work for Thomas Hornor, to assist him laying out and planting the grounds at the Colosseum at Regent's Park, London. At the same time he was writing The Practical Gardener, published in two volumes in 1828-9 (later described by James McNab of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, as a work of national importance).

In 1829 M'Intosh was offered and accepted the post of gardener to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg at Claremont, Esher, Surrey. He later accompanied Leopold when he became sovereign to Greece and subsequently to Brussels when Leopold became king of Belgium. M'Intosh spent seven years between Claremont and Brussels, spending three to nine months at each place at any one time. He built the range of hothouses at Lechan, altered much of the grounds, and laid out a new kitchen garden. He travelled over a large part of Belgium, reporting on the progress of horticulture and agriculture, having carte blanche to visit every establishment in the kingdom. Leopold was a good and kind employer who obviously respected M'Intosh, who was able to visit parts of Holland, Germany, and France, as well as Belgium, at his royal employer's expense.

M'Intosh became known to Princess Victoria while he was at Claremont. He also showed the grounds to Prince Albert on his first arrival in England, accompanied by his brother the reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg, as well as to the king consort of Portugal, and Louis Phillippe of France. On one occasion he had the very unusual honour of escorting three queens at the same time through the grounds (Queen Adelaide, Queen Victoria, and the queen of the Belgians).

While at Claremont, M'Intosh wrote Flora and Pomona (1829-31), with coloured illustrations of fruits and flowers) but his frequent visits to Belgium interfered so much with that work that he gave up the book when he had only completed one volume; in 1839 he used his knowledge of fruit growing to write The Orchard in one volume. The two-volume Practical Gardener had sold so well that the publisher employed M'Intosh to write a completely new edition of it in one volume. This was completed just before he was appointed to his next position. The Greenhouse, Hothouse and Stove was published in 1838. The Flower Garden (1837-8), for which he is credited, described national styles of gardening (Italian, French, Dutch, and English), and thus galvanized Victorian gardening controversies.

In 1838 M'Intosh left the service of the king of the Belgians and returned to Scotland as head gardener to the duke of Buccleuch at Dalkeith Palace near Edinburgh. He was responsible for planning and planting magnificent new gardens, hothouses, and conservatories that became famous. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Scotland for the first time in 1842 they asked to meet M'Intosh, who escorted them through the grounds.

In November 1851, when M'Intosh was fifty-seven, 600 subscribers contributed to a testimonial to him, 'considering the eminent services he has rendered to science and the country as a Horticulturist and Landscape Gardener, and as the author of many valuable works on these subjects' and his 'high moral worth' (Prospectus). He was presented with a tea service and a purse of £325. He continued to write and his Book of the Garden was published in 1853-5 in two volumes. In 1855 he left Dalkeith to become a freelance landscape gardener and garden architect. In this role he not only advised on the gardens and parks of the gentry and nobility but also the 'villa residences' of the middle classes. His The Larch Disease and the Present Condition of the Larch Plantations in Great Britain (1860) was a significant book for landowners and foresters since larch had become an increasingly important plantation tree over the previous century.

M'Intosh was a frequent contributor to the Gardener's Magazine, Paxton's Magazine of Botany, and the Gardeners' Chronicle, and also to horticultural and agricultural journals, 'conducting' the horticultural section of the Scottish Farmer from its commencement in about 1861 until his death three years later. He was a corresponding member of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, the Royal Horticultural Society, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and the Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society, a member of the Architectural Institute of Scotland, an associate of the Linnean Society of London, and a fellow of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.

M'Intosh had a remarkable career during which he worked for European royalty and the aristocracy on estates where finance for gardening projects was virtually unlimited. However, he always showed himself generous with his knowledge and had the ability to write practical books from which a wide range of landowners and gardeners, both professional and amateur, could benefit. The published reviews of his books showed the affection, respect, and esteem in which he was held, as did the wide support for his testimonial, which referred to the help he quietly gave to other members of his profession. He died at his home, Newcome Villa, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, on 9 January 1864.



Sources Gardeners' Chronicle (1864), 50 · Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1863-4), xlii-xliii · Prospectus of a testimonial to be presented to Charles M'Intosh, head gardener to the duke of Buccleuch, and author of the Practical Gardener, etc. 24th Nov. 1851 [copy in Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh] · B. Elliott, Victorian gardens (1986) · bap. reg. Scot., Fowlis Wester · census returns, 1851, 1861 · R. Desmond, Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists, rev. edn (1994).

Likenesses portrait, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Hunt Library.


Text © Oxford University Press 2004-9 All rights reserved

Peter D. A. Boyd, 'M'Intosh, Charles (1794-1864)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/96826]

Charles M'Intosh (1794-1864): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/96826


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