A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards from the early 20th century.


‘Secret Garden’ Update: The Gardener

I’m afraid I haven’t had much time the last couple of years to dig deeper into “the secrets of the past” hidden in the inherited old family photos and postcards. This blog is still “out there” though - and every now and then, I still receive an unexpected email from someone who happened to come across it in their own research, found something of interest to themselves, and decided to share some of their own findings with me in return. Much appreciated!

Last week, I received an email from Lois in England, who was excited to have come across my post ‘The Secret Garden’ in Pleasantville N.Y. In short, that post compares some old photos from the album of my great-aunt Gerda (born 1881), who used to be lady’s maid/housekeeper to Estelle Manville-Bernadotte (married to the Swedish count Folke Bernadotte in 1928) + photos from 2013 sent to me from someone living in Pleasantville, confirming my guess that some old photos from 1933 must be from the garden of the Manville estate Hi-Esmaro in Pleasantville. While the house itself is no longer there, some of the old garden walls still are.

The recent email from Lois in England (written 27 August 2017) says:

Like you I am very interested in history and tracing my relatives from the past. My great Uncle Walter [Everett] emigrated to the US and worked as a gardener at the Hi Esmaro in the late twenties up until 1932.  He then returned to England where he attended Kew Gardens as a student/worker working in their very famous Orchid House.  In 1936 he qualified as an accomplished gardener and went to work for Sanders Orchids in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England.  Sanders had a Royal Warrant to grow orchids for  the Royal Family since Queen Victoria.  I am still investigating his interesting life and was so surprised to come across your photos of the Manville estate in Pleasantville. The Secret Garden photos and article on the blog  particularly amazed me, as I am a retired horticultural lecturer and have a passion for Walled Gardens --- I hope you and your blogger from Foxwood will find this interesting and it is nice to be connected in the Ether. I wonder if any photos of the garden or the gardeners in 1928-1933 still exist?  ---

There are very few notes of dates and locations in Gerda’s photo album, and the photos obviously don’t come in strict chronological order either. I’m not even sure if Gerda visited Pleasantville before 1933 – but she might have. A relative sent me (a few years ago) some dates he found in documents in his possession. From those can be concluded that Gerda was definitely with the Bernadotte family in Paris in the spring of 1932. There is also evidence that a previous employment of hers ended in August 1928; while the years between 1928 and 1932 are unaccounted for. So I conclude that it is possible that she did start working for Estelle Bernadotte even before the wedding, which took place in Pleasantville on December 1, 1928. And in that case, it now strikes me that the (undated) winter photo of Gerda (standing on snowy ground close to a low wall looking very much like Hi Esmaro), might actually be from December 1928. To support the idea that Gerda may have been there for the wedding, there is also the newspaper cutting from the wedding (winter photo and newspaper cutting also included in my ‘Secret Garden’ post).

Anyone out there who can tell me if it was snowing in Pleasantville in December 1928?? Winking smile (well, it doesn’t hurt to ask…)

If Gerda was employed by the Bernadottes “right from the start”, it is also not unlikely that she may have visited Hi-Esmaro more than once between 1928 and 1933. And if so – well, then I suppose she might even have met the gardener Walter Everett!

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One more photo of Gerda sitting on a terrace overlooking a garden does spring to mind for me, and I managed to find it in her album.  In my mind, I recall an enlarged version of the same photo, with some pale colouring added, on display with other family portraits in my grandmother’s house.  I also have a vague memory of having been told (a very long time ago) that it was from Gerda’s 50th birthday. But that would have been 25th October 1931 – and this doesn’t look like October to  me. (Definitely not in Sweden, and I would think not in Pleasantville, N.Y. either.) The year could still be right, though, I suppose.



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