Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden TractorfestThe Vintage Horticultural Garden Machinery Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and has a large and well-supported membership throughout the UK. It is a national organisation formed to promote an active interest in the preservation, exhibiting and operation of vintage equipment used in horticulture and home gardening.

The VHGMC is well placed to be the place for vintage horticultural machinery in the UK.Run by a talented group of country-wide volunteers and with several hundred paying members throughout the UK there is a keen and growing interest in horticultural equipment.

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden Tractorfest

The club encompasses far more than just this website which is only a small section of what it supports. The club promotes the hobby by producing a magazine, supporting shows and events, providing machinery insurance, also trophies for various shows and events, as well as a central online meeting point which is the website.

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden Tractorfest

Its members restore anything from vintage mini-tractors to ancient mechanical hoes. There are connoisseurs of scythes and rollers and experts on Atco mowers and Monro tillers. There are the collectors of the Heath Robinson-like Terrex Autospade, which looks like an ordinary garden spade but has a metal spring on the foot rest that enables soil to be flicked forward, while there is untrammelled enthusiasm for ”the jobber”. It’s an oscillating all-purpose gardening tool powered by a two-stroke engine that was made in the Fifties. It can work as a fork, rake or lawn edger depending on the attachment. And when laid flat on the ground it can power a sieve.

Members spends hours, days, months, years, collecting, restoring and showing what the rest of us have usually dumped behind the garden shed.

This year one such prominent member and restorer, Darren Portsmouth, will be exhibiting at ‘Tractorfest’ for the first time .He says “I am really looking forward to it, hoping the weather will be good and meeting all the fellow exhibitors and the interested public!”

Just don’t ask him how many restored machines he keeps in his spare bedroom.

In his own words:

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden Tractorfest“My name is Darren Portsmouth and I’m 47 years old. I have been collecting and restoring vintage horticultural machines for about 7 years, I have always held a fascination for the ‘old ways’, Steam traction engines, vintage cars etc….. It all started when I was about 6 years old and was taken by my grandfather to a ploughing match in Lambourn, Berkshire. He was a stockman in his younger days and was always telling tales of his farming life. Both grandfathers worked on farms during their lives and I loved listening to their stories. My father was a motor mechanic by trade and I grew up messing around with oily things and going to work with him on Saturdays at the garage where he worked. By the age of 10 Mum had remarried and I found myself living on a dairy farm. The opportunity to drive tractors and use various bits of machinery became a way of life until my late teens, early twenties and I needed to go to work. My first proper job was as a landscaper with a local garden centre, again using all sorts of machinery. So there has always been a mechanical understanding of how something works and how to repair things should they go wrong.

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden TractorfestThis brings me onto about 10 years ago when in a bid to quit smoking I needed a hobby…. My dad was giving up his allotment and I thought why not take it on, healthy new start, healthy food? I took the plot on and quickly met new friends around the site, most of who were at bit older than me and I was the ‘youngster’ or ‘boy’ to them. This boy soon became the man to speak to when a machine failed to start or wasn’t working correctly. I soon had a reputation as a ‘fixer’ and started looking after lots of mowers, strimmers and cultivators. It was one of these new friends who gave me the opportunity to restore an early 1948 series 2 Howard Gem. He had always wanted one and when he purchased it, it was quickly deposited in my garage for a full restoration. I was a little daunted at first, as I’d never worked on anything this old before. Old engines never had electronic ignitions and magnetos were a dark art as were dry sumps! Restoration complete and machine running, a very happy friend gave me an even older Howard as a ‘thank you’…… My 1st machine and the one I am bringing to ‘Tractorfest’.

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden Tractorfest

It’s a 1945 series 1 ‘Roteho Gem’ later known as the Howard Gem. It’s fitted with Howards own designed engine called a British Junior. It’s a 600cc single cylinder 4 stroke engine. I am only the 2nd owner of this machine and it spent its life working everyday on a market garden in Billericay, Essex. It is also a matching numbers machine so the frame, engine and magneto are what it left the factory with. I took almost 2 years to fully restore the machine, every bearing and seal has been replaced. The gearbox was so badly worn, gears had become so thin they were see through! These took a while to source as later machine had different numbers of teeth on them. The engine has also been fully restored with new piston rings, valve guides made and head gaskets reproduced. The entire machine has been shot blasted and either powder coated or painted using a high quality automotive 2K paints. I also have the British Junior head gaskets reproduced to help keep the few around running and help others restore theirs. These are available through either contacting me direct via email at d.portsmouth@sky.com or by a friend’s website http://howardgem.webs.com/ either way you will be directed to me.

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden TractorfestI have several other machines I have collected and restored over the last 6 years…. There’s a 1956 Howard Bantam rotavator, a 1944 14” Atco cylinder mower, a 1945 12” Atco cylinder mower, a 1968 Landmaster Saturn rotary push mower, 1979 Landmaster Saturn rotary self propelled mower, a 1960’s Landmaster Gardenmaster 34 cultivator. I also have 2 Farmer’s Boy Minor cultivators, one from 1959 and one a little earlier. I have a 1951 Farmer’s Boy Universal Light Tractor with various attachments. I also some smaller hand held machines which are from the USA, they are from the mid 1960’s. A Mustang Chainsaw and a Hedge trimmer, also an Ohlsson & Rice 1hp engine with reduction box.

What would I like if I had the room, a wish list of 5 machines?

Horticultural Machinery at Biddenden TractorfestObviously I’d love the room to have more machines…….. Always liked the idea of a little Grey Fergie…… A Wheel Horse ride on garden tractor? A Cub Cadet tractor too? A BMB Ploughmate?
Oh yes and my wife likes steam, and would like me to have a 4” scale traction engine!

Full size is out of the question!!!”