In 1851 William Blake employed a highly-regarded Head Gardener Anthony Parsons. His obituary published in The Gardeners Chronicle of 1881 1 confirmed his gardening expertise and sound judgement: he was “successful in originating some fine new varieties of British and other Ferns, one being named in his honour Gymnogramma chrysophylla Parsoni.
When Wiliam Blake (senior) died in 1852 his son William John Blake inherited the house. He asked Head Gardener Anthony Parsons to build a Fernery in an old chalk pit about 500 metres to the East of the House, incorporating Pulhamite artificial rock work.
No papers exist to describe how the Fernery was constructed and then planted, but Pulham’s promotional catalogue of the time confirmed the construction of a ‘cave, dropping well, pass for ferns and other rockplants in an old chalk pit but in artificial stone’.
After the death of Anthony Parsons on Christmas Day 1880, and although still receiving praise in The Gardeners Chronicle of 1881, it is doubted that the Fernery will have continued to be managed on anything like the same scale for the following reasons:
- The Fernery was not very close to the House,
- There was a succession of new owners after 1902,
- Constructed in a pit, it was hidden from casual sight,
- Maintenance of the Fernery will have been labour intensive,
- The Victorian ‘fad’ of ”Ferning’ declined with the loss of men in the Great War
- Suitable labour will have become scarce,
1 The Gardeners’ Chronicle 1881, January 1st, p.22