Picture yourself strolling through the garden with a traditional English trug. Cut a few flowers here and there and place them into the trug. Or pick the ripest red tomatoes, glossiest green peppers, and a few carrots and carry your bounty in your trug. There, you’ve become a real English gardener!
Trugs are basically an oblong-shaped basket with a handle that you can gracefully carry you’re your arm. They have little feet so when you put the trug down it remains stable.
Farmers originally used trugs as measuring devices for grains and feed. The word “trug” comes from an old English word "trog", which means boat-like, referring to the shape of most trugs.
Trugs are not only a staple garden accessory, but have been admired by royalty. Queen Victoria was so impressed with them that she ordered several from the Great Exposition of 1851. She gave them as gifts to members of the royal family. Later she awarded the maker of those trugs a Royal Warrant, thereby creating the Royal Sussex Trug.
The handles and rims of trugs are traditionally handmade from Sweet Chestnut, a tree brought to England by the Romans. The climate of the southern England counties of Sussex and Kent were ideal for growing the Chestnut. Chestnut is rot-resistant, making it ideal for trugs. The basket part of the trug is made from cricket bat Willow (Salix Coerulea). Yes, this is the wood used for making cricket bats, which gives you an idea of its strength.
Because the Sweet Chestnut is mainly grown in Sussex, trug craftsmen tend to be located in Sussex. This is why you’ll frequently see these items advertised as “Sussex trugs”.
Anything handmade is going to be relatively expensive, but keep in mind that a good quality trug can last for generations. They don’t need much care, other than an occasional wiping with a damp cloth. I have one that I bought in an antique store in Rye. It’s from the 1930’s, in beautiful condition, and every time I use it I remember my trip to Rye.
Trugs come in a variety of sizes, and each size is ranked by number, with the larger numbers representing the larger trugs. Size 6 is the one I recommend. It has a nice depth as well as length.
The trug can also be used inside the house. Fill it with dried flowers and prop your old straw hat next to it, and you have a charming still life. Or place it near the door with your gloves and gardening tools inside and you’re all ready for a session in the garden.
Looking for a gift for an English garden enthusiast? Trugs all by themselves would be greatly appreciated, but fill it with a few gardening tools, hand cream, and a small potted plant, and you’ll have a thoughtful, practical gift that any gardener would love to receive.