Xmera / Garden History / Gardeners: Algernon Freeman-Mitford

Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, baron Redesdale (1837-1916)

Algernon Mitford travelled widely as a young man working as a diplomat, serving in Russia, China and Japan. In 1868 he spent some time in Osaka, living in a Japanese house.

My verandah opened onto a slip of garden not much larger than a good-sized dining table - a little gem in its way, with a miniature Mount Fuji, a shrine to Inari sama, a forest, a waterfall plashing into a lake, in which were several fan-tailed gold-fish'.

He also spent time at Hama-go-ten, 'a beautiful garden by the sea' and a 'masterpiece of Japanese horticulture', where Prince Alfred stayed during his visit to Japan in 1869. When part of Hama-go-ten was sold many years later, Mitford was able to buy two great bronze lanterns for his own garden.

Mitford returned to London in 1870, but after resigning from the Foreign Office set off once more to visit the Middle East and the United States. In 1874 he married Lady Clementina Gertrude Helen Ogilvy (18541932), the daughter of the Earl of Airlie. In the same year he was appointed secretary to the Board of Works by Disraeli and served in that role for twelve years. Among his responsibilities there was the care of the Royal Parks. In Hyde Park he introduced a rhodendron garden along Rotten Row and the Dell at the east end of the Serpentine, laid out as a sub-tropical garden with palms, tree ferns, dracaemas, waterlilies and ferns. In this work he co-operated closely with Joseph Hooker, director of Kew Gardens.

In 1886 on the death of the Earl of Redesdale, a childless cousin, Mitford inherited Batsford Park and a considerable fortune on condition that he added Freeman to his name.He sold his house in Chelsea and moved to Batsford to become a country squire with his growing family - he and his wife had 5 sons and 4 daughters between 1875 and 1895. He sat as the Tory member for Stratford on Avon between 1892 and 1895, but found the social duties of an MP among his constituents 'odious' and stood down.

He demolished the existing house at Batsford and replaced it with a neo-Tudor mansion. He also undertook a major redesign of the garden (see Batsford Park).

Freeman-Mitford began a collection of bamboos at Batsford and in 1896 published The Bamboo Garden. The following year Joseph Hooker dedicated the Botanical Magazine 123 to him in recognition of his work on the Royal Parks and his work in introducing, cultivating and propagating bamboos. The dedication described Batsford as unrivalled amongst the private collections of hardy plants in Europe forextent, scientific interest, and beauty.

In 1898 Freeman-Mitford visited Sri Lanka, where one of his sons had gone to become a tea planter. In 1902 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Redesdale. In 1906 he visited Japan again with Prince Arthur. Lord Redesdale published his autobiography in 1915 and died at Batsford in August 1916. His wealth at his death was less than a fifth of that left by his cousin thirty years before, no doubt reflecting both the cost of his large family and his enormous expenditure on Batsford.