Today, such is the veneration for all things Darwin, it might seem surprising that at its first offering in 1866 Charles Darwin’s childhood home, The Mount in Shrewsbury, didn’t sell and had to be auctioned the following year. By 1866 On the Origin of Species (1859) was in its fourth edition and further books on orchids (1862) and climbing plants (1865) had recently been added to the extensive catalogue of Darwin’s writings. The Mount overlooks the River Severn. Here Darwin was born and lived until he left for university. Although he boarded at Shrewsbury School, it was close enough for him to nip back for a quick visit before the school gates were locked at night. The Mount was the home to which he returned after voyaging on the Beagle. The house had been built at the close of the 18th century by his father, Robert Waring Darwin, for his expanding family. It offered both space – there were six children – and status, providing land to stroll through and plant up, in which could be built the fashionable and expensive garden accoutrements of conservatory, plant stove (Robert was very taken with his pineapples), walled kitchen garden, fernery, and glass, summer and ice houses.
In writing about The Mount, Jude Piesse is keen to avoid falling into the trap of the modern heritage industry. After all, this was a family home and garden, in which Darwin’s unmarried sister Susan would happily spend her whole life, actively tending the plants, accompanied for much of the