In my possession at this moment, a pair of English cast iron horse troughs dating back to the late 19th century in England. When Rob sent me this picture-I fell head over heels-instantly. They are beautiful objects in their own right. Even more important, they have presence. A big and considerable presence. Rob’s photograph of the morning sun shining obliquely on a freshly plowed English field, and this 12 foot long trough set in rough grass makes one thing clear. Some objects come with an aura that just won’t quit. This picture with no horse trough-adrift.
See what I mean? Could you not have everything that this place, and these troughs imply? You may also be wondering about how Rob came to shop next to a field. This particular person buys and sells garden ornament as a side line to his primary business; he is a farmer by trade. The objects he he has available are not so many, but always of a certain caliber. Located close to the Cotswolds, I would guess these troughs were locally made. They were built with a specific function in mind-making fresh water available to horses. I would further guess draft horses. Horses who did the heavy lifting, the big work, on farms pre the industrial revolution. The cast iron is very thick and substantial, as are the legs. There is an inlet for water, and an outlet. The feet have holes which would have permitted bolting the troughs to a hard surface. A draft horse is a very heavy and powerful creature; no doubt they could upend these troughs, should they have a mind to. Our farmer/antiques dealer thought circa 1880-1890. I have no idea how much they weigh, but we were only able to move them with a loader. I can still smell the farm on them.
They are massive, simple, and handsome. I can easily imagine a lineup of draft horses getting a drink. The cast iron is of very fine workmanship; lichens and mosses have colonized the rusted steel on the outside. At the water line and below on the inside-lime deposits from the water. Should you not have a crew of draft horses, I could see an entire collection of meadowlike flowers growing in them, as in dwarf cleome, hyssop, angelonia, verbena bonariensis and annual queen anne’s lace. Oh yes, this list could be expanded; the troughs are big. What about nasturtiums, sweet william, basil, juncus-and what else? I could as easily see a giant rosemary hedge underplanted with curly liriope. Heartstopping. I could see it stuffed with lavender, or Tuscan kale. I could see something different planted in them every year, for years and years to come. I could see schemes for more years than I have left. This, I like.
It would be a fairly simple matter to outfit them with 3 or four fountain jets that would recirculate water. They would be great set on gravel, or in a garden bed. Do not be afraid of ornament of great scale, age, and presence. This kind of beautiful is a good think for a garden-it gets the old blood moving.
Would one not look great in a formal vegetable garden with raised planter boxes-planted with herbs? I think I could draw a scheme a number of different ways. The trough perpendicular to an arrangement of four boxes. Four parallel boxes, interrupted by a trough. These troughs are tall and solid enough to provide a wall, broad enough to house an entire community, beautiful enough to enchant. Can you tell they are my most favorite thing to come off this last container?
Each trough has a small section at the end-called a baffle. The hose in the early days, and the pump for the water much later was housed here. The baffle slowed the flow of water to the trough-so not one drop would be wasted from splashing. A means to slow the flow. I see a lot here. History, utility, agriculture, gardening, landscape-everything that means something to me. My advice? There are those things you can manage without. There are those things you cannot live without. Shop for your garden accordingly.