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The Boston Globe



Garden hermit needed. Apply within.

British historian Gordon Campbell on perhaps the strangest landscaping trend of all time

If you’re a gardener, this time of year likely has you thinking about the backyard. Your plans might include moving the flower beds or restocking the fish pond. They do not, most likely, involve hiring a live hermit.

Had you been a wealthy landowner in 18th-century England, however, things might have been different. For several decades beginning at the middle of the century, live hermits were the height of fashion for the British gentry. New trends in garden design—away from formal, geometric grounds and towards artificial Edens—created a new kind of cultural habitat, which some people filled with an actual occupant. Provided with a hut or grotto to call his own and a few simple meals a day, a garden hermit might live for years on a picturesque corner of the property. Wandering guests would marvel at this living, breathing symbol of rural withdrawal.

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