Robinson, William 1838-1935
William Robinson was born in Ireland either in the Queen's County or in County Dublin. He was a Protestant with a very "humble" background and nothing known of his earliest years. He is thought to have had an elementary education at the parish school.
Robinson became a "garden-boy" to Sir Hunt Johnson-Walsh, a graduate of Dublin University and an outstanding vicar. Robinson became the foreman of the garden at the ate of 21 years and thereby had control over large conservatories and hothouses. At the age of 23 he went to London and shortly became foreman of the herbaceous section of the Royal Botanic Society's Garden in Regents Park. At 29 he became a representative of the great nursery garden firm of Veitch. He also became special horticulture correspondent of the London Times to the Paris Exhibition in 1867. His articles in the Times made him the outstanding gardening authority in Great Britain.
Gleanings from French Gardens, Parks, Promanades and Gardens of Paris (1869)
Alpine Flowers for English Gardens (1870)
The Wild Garden or Our Own Groves and Shrubbery's Made Beautiful (1870)
He founded a weekly paper called The Garden which went through more than 50 half-yearly volumes. In 1879 Robinson founded a second weekly paper called Gardening. It was an immediate and overwhelming success.
He published in 1911 a folio volume provided by the Oxford University on hand made paper bound in white vellum called Gravetye Manor or Twenty Year's Work Round on Old Manor House. This book is comprised of extracts from his diary. In 1883 he published the first edition of The English Flower Garden. The preparation of new editions kept him continuously busy for the remaining years of his life. In 1899 he gave up the editorship of The Garden and established a periodical entitled Flora and Silva. This was discontinued in 1905. The last edition of The English Flower Garden was edited and revised by Roy Hay, Editor of Gardener's Chronicle in 1956.
Robinson's work was a guide to real gardeners from the time of its publication in 1883 for more than 30 years. Actually the 16th and last edition revised and edited by Hay contains an excellent discussion of gardens and various species and cultivars of plants grown in English gardens.
Roy Hay in the 16th edition states that "William Robinson initiated a revolution in gardening. In his own inimitable way he poured scorn on the formal bedding out of plants of the Victorians; and directed the thoughts of gardeners towards the more informal and natural trends of garden making. Robinson's teachings are more appropriate today than they ever have been. There is less money available for garden maintenance than ever. Laborers are more difficult to get. Thoroughly trained gardeners are becoming scarcer as that the elaborate bedding schemes of the Victorians are even further out of our reach than they were when Robinson began to present his famous doctrines."
I have found Robinson's 16th edition (1956) very valuable in presenting the adaptability of many species of plants and cultivars to soil and climate. No student of British or American horticulture is well-informed unless he knows something of the life and times of William Robinson and his influences of changing English horticulture. Robinson's translation of a vegetable gardening book entitled The Vegetable Garden is also a very interesting textbook.