Free Gardeners Similarities to Masonry
Free Gardeners Similarities to Masonry

Free Gardeners Similarities to Masonry

Scottish Rite Masonic Education for December 2022

By Paul R. Swanson, 32°

Have you heard of the Oddfellows? They still exist in the USA. How about the Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes? How about the Foresters, the Shepherds, or the Order of Good Templars? These groups used to rival Freemasonry in England for members and status.

More obscure groups listed in the book, Cracking the Freemasons Code, by Robert L.D. Cooper included the Horsemen, the Free Potters, the Free Fishermen, the Free Carpenters, the Free Colliers, and Free Carters.

He goes on further to say, “The similarities principally lay in the existence of esoteric and ritual elements within the organizations (to a greater or lesser extent), while some of the many differences were, for example, of a religious nature.”

The Order of the Free Gardeners started with a demand from the lesser nobility to copy designs and Renaissance architecture of the formal gardens of the crown and higher nobility, according to Cooper. The formation of the group parallels the sharp demand for garden labor. Indications of their organized group efforts show up as early as 1602 but official records surviving today only go back to 1676 with a formal constitution.

Unlike the other trades of the time, such as baxters (bakers), wrights and hammermen the Order of the Free Gardeners added one element which the Freemasons were well known for, a lodge. This was unique and served them well for a while.

The Free Gardeners formed a Grand Lodge in 1849 after gathering and discovering that many more groups were working than were thought to exist. Sixty-nine new Gardeners’ Lodges were formed, including three in the United States of America and one in the Edinburgh militia.

The Free Gardeners eventually allowed for the addition of gentlemen for an additional fee above that of the laboring gardener. Rules followed and morals were listed. Regulation 13 listed paying out money to “Distressed widows, orphans and the poor of the Fraternity.”

The initial purpose of the fraternity seems to be the exchange of ideas and techniques for plants, including vegetables which were either less known or newly brought over from the Americas such as corn, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Colliflower seeds from the Continent and Leek seeds were being exchanged.

We know that the Free Gardner’s were known to impart esoteric knowledge to their members from surviving minutes recorded on January 28, 1726. Another minute recording references “Signs, Secrets and Grips” in 1848.

It is not entirely clear when the 3 degrees were created or conveyed. But in the end the three, apprentice, the journeyman’s degree, and the third or master’s degree are known to be conveyed. They follow the pattern of lettering and dividing the code words too.

The many parallels between Freemasonry in Scotland and the Order of Free Gardeners are striking, with an entire chapter devoted to the subject including jewels, ritual, and organization similarities in Coopers book.

In the end the Free Gardeners declined, with an age requirement of between 16 and 40 years seen as one reason. The other possible reason is that in 1929 a printing reflects that they had been subjected to only including members of the Protestant faith for membership, with ample proof of such faith required.

Lastly, the Free Gardeners thought of themselves as completing King Solomon’s Temple in their ritual. They also were known to believe, “The olive leaves are selected above all others to contain the whole secrets of Free Gardenery.”