Botanists: the Gardeners and the Nurserymen
There were many Quaker gardeners and nurserymen. Such work fitted well with their concern for the natural world, and their desire for work that was constructive and of social value (the ‘innocent trades’).
Quaker gardeners had a reputation for diligence and reliability, and were sought after by the gentry, to care for their gardens and estates. Names we know include Hew Wood (died 1701) and George Miller, who were gardeners to the Duke of Hamilton. James Wood (born 1663) was gardener to the Duke of Queensbury. The gardens at Holyrood House in Scotland were cared for by three generations of the Miller family. James Reid (c 1660), who came from Ireland, became a collector of plants for the King’s garden at Hampton Court Palace.
There were some well-known Quaker nurserymen.
James Maddock (1718- 1786) started a nursery in Warrington Lancashire. He visited growers in the Netherlands to buy plants and bulbs. Later he established himself at Walworth in a nursery that covered over 18 acres. He published catalogues of the plants that he had for sale including one that contained 320 different types of gooseberry. He also became renowned as a florist. His son James helped him with the nursery business and was responsible for the publication of The Florist’s Directory, the first book devoted to florist’s flowers.
James Lee (1715-1795) came from Scotland. He walked to London and worked at the Chelsea Physic Garden before becoming a gardener at Syon House in Middlesex. Later he worked for the Duke of Argyle and made his garden famous for its exotic plants. About 1745 he started the Vineyard Nursery in Hammersmith with Lewis Kennedy. He corresponded with Linneaus (the originator of the modern system of plant classification) and translated his ‘Philosophia Botanica’ under the title of ‘Introduction to Botany’. This was the first work describing the sexual system of plants to appear in English.
He specialised in exotic plants (his nursery was the first commercial supplier of fuchsias) and he employed seed and plant collectors in America and the Cape of Good Hope. He supplied medicinal and other plants to the Chelsea Physic Garden. He was also responsible for raising the first seeds brought back from Botany Bay by Captain Cook. Lee went on to specialise in plants brought back from New Holland (Australia) and was responsible for introducing many new plants to England. After his death the nursery was taken over by his son Charles in partnership with Lewis Kennedy’s son. Lee’s daughter Ann was a talented botanical illustrator. Sydney Parkinson, the plant illustrator who sailed aboard the Endeavour with Captain Cook spent a great deal of time at the nursery sketching the plants.
The Backhouse family owned one of the most famous nurseries. The family wealth came from linen manufacture and banking in Darlington, County Durham. There were a number of botanists in the family. When James Backhouse (1794-1869) was 9 years old, he inherited his brother Nathan’s herbarium and later wrote ‘[his] herbarium falling into my hands first set me to study my botany’. He was apprenticed for two years to a nursery in Norwich. In 1815 he and his brother Thomas bought the nursery business of John and George Telford in York. It soon became a nursery to rival those in London.
In 1831 James Backhouse and his friend George Washington Walker went on a mission to Australia, to explore conditions in the colony. He sent many samples of Australian plants back to Kew.
On his return in 1841 he took up running the nursery again first with Thomas who died in 1845 and then with his son James. Both of them were passionately interested in alpine plants for which they became famous. With the coming of the railway the nursery moved to Fishergate York and in 1853 moved to a 100 acre site (larger than Kew) at Holgate, York. The Backhouse family continued to be associated with the nursery until its closure in 1955.
Thomas Hanbury ( 1832 – 1907) was keenly interested in gardens. He and his brother Daniel established the famous gardens at La Mortola. He also established the Hanbury institute which specialised in the study of medicinal plants. In 1903 he presented Wisley Gardens in Surrey, England to the Royal Horticultural Society. It was a garden full of exotic plants.