Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild - botanist and gardener
Ferdinand's mother was also a Rothschild, the daughter of Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), whose family home was Gunnersbury in England. Early visits to his mother's childhood home also left their impact on the young Ferdinand. In his ‘Reminiscences' (1897) Ferdinand recalled how, as a child, he was much impressed by the vast number of market gardens near London.
He also remembered once being taken to see the ‘famous glasshouses of Mrs Lawrence, the mother of Sir Trevor' [the then president of the Royal Horticultural Society], and he continued, ‘they much impressed me for at Frankfurt ‘glass' was then unknown' .
The gardens and glasshouses at Gunnersbury likewise were highly valued by Ferdinand - as was their produce! ‘How greatly I appreciated the contents of the Gunnersbury "glass" can hardly be understood now, when South African, Australian and American peaches, and Brazilian pines [pineapples] are as common as gooseberries,' he wrote .
Other early horticultural experiences included, in 1851, a visit to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, which had as its centrepiece Joseph Paxton's huge glasshouse, the Crystal Palace. Ferdinand later recalled especially the two stately elms that had to be accommodated inside the glasshouse complex.
In 1845, when Ferdinand was about six years old, the first stone was laid for Grüneburg. This was to be the family's summer house, outside Frankfurt. Ferdinand recounted how his mother enjoyed laying out the grounds. Twenty acres were made into flower gardens and orchards, complete with aviary and pond, the latter stocked with fish and ‘ornamented' with ducks .
Charlotte also planted an avenue of chestnut trees. ‘There was a mound which we called ‘the mountain' in a remote corner containing the ice-house, and close by were enclosures for a wild antelope and a tame deer that my Father had brought from Egypt,' Baron Ferdinand recalled . Garden features such as these were later to be found at Waddesdon Manor, for example an aviary, a duckpond and enclosures for animals.
At Grüneburg it was not just the garden but the model farm too that held attractions for Ferdinand. Many a happy hour was spent playing in the farmyard, which no doubt fired his enthusiasm for animals like cattle .
Another property that held many happy memories for Ferdinand was Schillersdorf at Moravie, near D'Opava in Silesia. Baron Ferdinand's grandfather Salomon de Rothschild (1803-1874) bought the property in 1842, which his father Anselm inherited in 1855. Anselm made many alterations to the site, turning it into a model agricultural estate .
Every autumn Ferdinand would spend up to three months at Schillersdorf, hunting and shooting. ‘The house...was in the centre of a small park, which was at once much enlarged by my father, and my mother assisted in laying it out and planting it,' he wrote .
Schillersdorf was the place where Ferdinand took his new bride and cousin Evelina (1839-1866) for a long honeymoon after their wedding in the summer of 1865. Contemporary letters from Evelina to her parents Lionel (1808-1879) and Charlotte (1819-1884) back in England reveal the extensive operations going on at that time, instigated by Ferdinand's father Anselm.
Large trees were being transplanted and a huge lake created by means of gunpowder and much manual labour. Evelina described how her father-in-law ‘has ... surrounded his cottage with rocks, cataracts and bridges but they are all too juvenile to be romantic' .
She continued: ‘like other Rothschilds, his greatest hobby is a fountain, 80 feet high, which was arranged in one of the lakes when the pipes were laid down for watering the grass'. A pretty redbrick castle, near the river Oder, contained the machinery for the water works.
Evelina also described how wild vine, planted by Anselm to climb through the large oaks and elm, was colouring the park bright red that autumn. Accounts of the gardeners struggling to contain the wildlife that was digging up the lawn, have a familiar ring to them!
At Schillersdorf the work was carried out under the guiding eye of a Mr Exner, who was described by Evelina as ‘a second Joseph Paxton'. Mr Exner was also entrusted with organizing the ‘Volksfest', a party for all the estate people. This event can be compared with Ferdinand's later ‘Baron's Treat', the annual festivity when everyone from Waddesdon and the surrounding villages were invited to a picnic and fair held in the Manor grounds.