Perhaps you have seen them too, ever so subtly the background character that is in many British films and shows set in the country. The plot finds its way to a garden, and the person is holding a wooden basket perhaps full of flowers freshly cut or vegetables they have just picked. This is the trug.
Let’s go back into history. Trugs, as we know them, evolved out of what was used in Anglo-Saxon times as a trog: “a wooden vessel carved out of solid wood in a round form, which archaeologists believe probably had handles carved underneath”. The trogs would be used for carrying any number of farm commodities including liquids such as milk as they were solid baskets.
Enter Thomas Smith who in the mid-19th century created a much lighter version of the trog and called it a trug. It was when Queen Victoria came across the trug at the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in London in 1851 where the trug was awarded the Gold Medal and Certificate of Merit First Class that changed its future and those gardening in England and how they garden forever. Queen Victoria, upon visiting the show on the first day ordered several gifts for members of the Royal Household and the legend is that Smith himself made all of the trugs she ordered. With his brother, they walked the 60 miles to Buckinham Palace to deliver them in person.
Thomas Smith’s trugs continued to gain attention throughout Great Britain and across the European Continent.
The classic, Thomas Smith’s trug (aka as the Royal Sussex Trug) is made of sweet chestnut wood (handle) and willow wood (body). Simply wash the trugs with soapy water to clean (if you want to) and use them in the garden for everything from dead-heading blooms to picking berries, fruit and vegetables. In other words, let them get dirty as they are made to be used.
Originally the trug sizes were known from ‘pint’ to ‘bushel’; however, Smith changed the sizes to numerical ordering, as you will see below. They are given a number ranging between 1-8, and that number indicates the length and width. This is standard, and it will be what you see when you are trying to determine which size you are buying.
- No. 1 — 10″ x 5″; 25cm x 13cm
- No. 2 —12″ x 6″; 30cm x 15cm (for eggs, small fruit)
- No. 3 — 13.5″ x 7″; 34cm x 18cm
- No. 4 — 15″ x 8″; 38cm x 20cm (seen in TSLL’s 2nd annual British Week)
- No. 5 —18″ x 10″; 46cm x 26cm
- No. 6 —20″ x 11″; 51cm x 28cm (most common for gardeners)
- No. 7 —22″ x 12″; 56cm x 30cm
- No. 8 — 26″ x 14″; 66cm x 36cm
There are many things I am loving most about the garden trug I have (No. 4, and I look forward to welcoming one more in a larger size for larger produce and pruning):
- The “feet” on the bottom enable the basket to sit just about anywhere sturdily (see the image below, the trug placed on the rockery).
- The basket is light, but not flimsy.
- The small details such as the copper nails add a touch of thoughtful luxury and quality to a functional product that will last for decades (not all trugs are made with copper, but many are, and all Sussex trugs are).
- The handle is soft in the palm to hold.
With the overwhelming positive response to the giveaway of two trugs last month during TSLL’s 2nd Annual British Week, I received many questions from readers about where to purchase their own. I wanted to share with you exactly where you can purchase what you want – size, shipping cost, style – whenever you’d like to welcome one into your garden and home or give as a gift. Below are seven different online destinations where trugs can be found.
The classic as shared in this year’s annual British Week is the Royal Sussex Trug (see just below). Cuckmere Trug Company purchased Thomas Smith’s historical company and continues to make the original trug in all of its sizes and styles by-hand – there are 70 different options, one at a time in Herstmonceux, Sussex. All of the wood used for making the Royal Sussex trugs comes from sustainable resources in English woodlands and forests.
During the pandemic, they stopped shipping outside of Britain due to shipping costs, but as of June 9th, they have resumed shipping as normal. However, do not that some sizes are backordered and a four week wait on what you do order is to be expected as they are handmade and quite busy being in high-demand.
The Flower Trug (lower sides) comes in three sizes.
The Sussex bowl with handle, three sizes
2. Garden Talk – sells Royal Sussex trugs from England (shipped from America)
Garden Talk is an online American business based in Massachusetts which sells sizes Royal Sussex Trug sizes No. 1 – 7. They have been selling them for decades, as I had the opportunity to talk on the phone with their customer service this spring in preparation for TSLL’s annual British Week. Currently, due to the pandemic, they are out of stock on most of them, waiting for Thomas Smith to catch up on their ordering, but the good news is Garden Talk will be restocking and is expected to have all of them available at the end of summer/beginning of fall.
I purchased a No. 4 trug (see the picture above in #1 with Norman) from them to save on shipping, and as you can see from my pictures, they are the real Royal Sussex trugs – sturdy, made of chestnut and willow with copper nails. I absolutely love mine, and highly recommend this company for purchasing the Royal Sussex trug if you are doing so in the states to save on shipping. They don’t have all of the sizes that Thomas Smith offers, but they have the most popular.
Also included in this year’s 2nd annual British Week was a large Myrtlewood Trug from a small family-run company based just outside of Coos Bay, Oregon – Barber’s Baskets. A retired shipbuilder, Don and Polly Barber handmake each one of their trugs and baskets complete with copper nails and staples, and I will share, I absolutely loved their baskets. Certainly, the difference is the wood from the classic, but myrtlewood itself, being indigenous to the Pacific Northwest and hard to find, is a rare treat to have in a garden trug.
Having had the chance to speak with Polly on the phone when I placed my order this spring, she shared that they were keeping quite busy as this particular year people are in their gardens more than expected and are seeking out their trugs to help them enjoy the time spent.
Large size – 19″L x 11″W x 10″H (handle) – see above
Small size – 14″L x 7″W x 8″H (handle)
Buy directly from Barber’s Baskets either a small or large (the large was given away in this year’s British Week on the blog), or buy from other online businesses who source Barber’s baskets in their shop.
Eastfork sells them as well (currently only the small sizes are available)
Both the large and small basket are available from Myrtlewood Gallery
Selling one size, the No. 7, their website doesn’t confirm who has handmade it, but it certainly is a classic design. One more source in the UK to find a garden trug.
5. The New Craftsman – sells the Royal Sussex Trugs
Many companies in the UK source their trugs from Thomas Smith’s factory in Sussex, and The New Craftsman is one of them. Often they hand-pick a couple of sizes and sell those. Keep in mind if you are looking for the classic, you what to look for the Royal Sussex description, not just the name “trug”.
Available in small, large and child size, based in the UK, Burgon & Ball’s trugs are more affordable, made from strips of shaped FSC populus wood and held in place by solid brass pins and screws. So, not the classic, not made of the quality products, but still a functional item for stepping outside into yoru garden.
Made in Sussex, Charlie Groves makes Sussex Trugs that have been purchased by Monty Don (see a well-used one below in his IG pic) and other well-known British gardeners. Groves was trained at Thomas Smith’s Royal Sussex trug factory beginning in 1991 immediately after he left college and he worked there for three years. He then worked for a while at the Truggery before it shut down, and then began his family owned business The Trug Store.
All of Charlie’s trugs are made with the same chestnut and willow gardeners have become accustomed to with the original Royal Sussex trug. He ships around the world, and his prices are a bit less than the original. Lead time for orders is currently a month out, so place your orders early.
Making the traditional oval, as well as round, square, cucumber, log and even one with a walking stick attached, you are certain to find one that is perfect for your work in the garden.
The most popular, No.6, Garden Trug (20″ x 10″)
Whether you want a large or small, classic garden or flower or made in the Sussex or made in Oregon, once you have a trug, you will find yourself using it often and for many years to come. As well, you no doubt will be able to quickly spot them in your favorite British programs. Wishing you many happy and fruitful years of gardening.
Read more about the history of the Royal Sussex Trug here which includes an interview with the Robin Tuppen, the owner of Cuckmere Trug Company, makers of Thomas Smith Trugs.