Desmond Mansel and Meadow Cottage Nurseries, Haywards Heath: diaries and papers

Scope and Content

The archive consists of gardening diaries of Desmond Mansel and records relating to Meadow Cottage Nurseries, Haywards Heath.

Administrative / Biographical History

Desmond Mansel (1915-2008) was born in County Kildare, Ireland, on 23 June 1915. His parents were in India throughout his childhood, and he was educated at boarding school and looked after by relatives. He was interested in plants and gardening from an early age and had a plot of his own while at junior school. His father died when he was 15, soon after returning from India. Mansel attended Wellington College, and followed his father and grandfather into the regular army in 1933, serving in the Royal Signals, after training at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He married Ann Hodge in 1943, and his daughter Joanna was born in in 1944 and his son David in 1949.

On leaving the army in 1949 he took a job at Pye Television in Cambridge. The family lived at Wakefield House, Sawston, Cambridgeshire (later demolished and most of the garden built over), where the couple cultivated the garden mainly for fruit and vegetables to support their family. Mansel had learned many practical skills in the army and on his grandparents' farm in Ireland, and carried out the building, plumbing and electrical work himself. He kept detailed gardening diaries from 1950, with a break of three years 1954-1957 while living in a flat in London without a garden. The diaries include notes of work to be done, plants growing or in flower, weight of vegetables produced each week, yearly crop totals, future plans for the garden, and daily weather summaries. In 1957 they moved to 47 Thetford Road, New Malden, Surrey (house still standing as at April 2014, with part of the plot given over to a new build).

In 1966 Mansel left television and the family moved to Homeland, Pine Grove, Woodlands Lane, Windlesham, Surrey. He worked as assistant propagator for two and a half years at Russell's Nursery in Surrey in order to learn the trade. In March 1969 he left and he and Ann set up their own nursery at Chelwood Gate, in the Ashdown Forest. They started selling plants in 1971, specialising in acid-loving varieties, particularly camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias, and succeeded in building up a thriving business. They ran the nursery without help for many years, Ann carrying out the administration side of the business including bookkeeping and deliveries to plant nurseries and garden centres, and together working at the practical tasks, such as weeding and potting. In 1989, when Mansel was 74, they decided to begin to wind down the nursery, sending remaining plants to auction and dismantling the greenhouse in stages. Mansel continued writing a daily diary, recording the gradual dispersal of the stock after the closure of the nursery, and his continuing work in the garden.

During the years that Meadow Cottage Nursery was trading, the diary entries are devoted mainly to topics such as irrigation, propagation, numbers planted, pruning, pest control, mowing and plant orders fulfilled, as well as construction of a greenhouse, sheds, misting benches and so on. In the years following his retirement the diaries reflect his increasing ill-health, with relatively few horticultural details in the entries. Desmond Mansel died in 2008, and Ann Mansel in 2010.

Source: Notes from Desmond Mansel's daughter Joanna Mansel-Bentley


Summary of contents:

MAN/1 Diaries of Desmond Mansel

MAN/2 'Tree fruit growing: apples, pears, plums and peaches' by Desmond Mansel

MAN/3 Records of Meadow Cottage Nurseries, Haywards Heath

MAN/4 Press cutting

MAN/P Photographs

Access Information


Open for consultation at the Lindley Library London. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment. Readers are required to wear protective gloves when consulting objects, art or photographic material.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Jo Mansel Bentley in Apr and Oct 2014.

Other Finding Aids

The catalogue is available online via the Lindley Library archive catalogue and the Archives Hub and as a paper copy in the reading room.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Liz Taylor, RHS archivist, in June 2021, with documentation assistance given by Jennian Geddes, RHS Lindley Library volunteer, and packaging assistance given by Annie Johns, RHS Lindley Library volunteer.

Appraisal Information

All papers were retained

Custodial History

The papers have been in the possession of the family since their creation