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See also Georgian gardens, Tudor gardens, British horticultural literature, Josephine Bonaparte, Philip Miller, Joseph Banks, botanophilia, and articles on the Enlightenment.

Nurseries and plant networks played a major role in the redistribution of plants across the planet. This is discussed further in The Age of Plants and cultivated plant globalization while a brief summary of plant exchange between Australia and the world is given in plant imports and exports.

Nurseries & networks

One major aspect in the coevolution of plants and people has been the process of cultivated plant globalization that took place during an Age of Plants, setting in train the process of increasing world-wide vegetation homogenization. In the 400 years between 1550 and 1950 merchants, explorers, adventurers, and other plant hunters, mostly from Western European empires, began a process of plant exchange that is only now beginning to subside.

This was a sharing of the Earth’s plant bounty on a global scale. It began with the European forging of connections to India and the New World, then the Far East and a spice race to the East Indies. With fortunes to be made it was explorers, merchants, and adventurers that led the way, soon followed by emissaries from horticultural societies, botanic gardens and such. With the population growing and wealth passing from the aristocracy and landed gentry to merchants and a newly upwardly mobile middle class eager to emulate its superiors, the relatively few commercial nurseries that existed in the 17th century began to proliferate in the 18th as more and more people embraced the gentlemanly pursuit of gardening as the population exploded in the 19th century.

Though by the 18th century nursery industries were well established in France, Germany, and the Lowlands (Netherlands and Belgium), The pace of Eighteenth century European horticulture was set by England at a time when the plant nursery industry was beginning to thrive along with the British Empire that would leave an indelible horticultural imprint on its colonies across the world, which took on the character of Neo-Europes.[47] Garden chronicler Loudon claimed that, in the 18th century, the number of plants cultivated in Western Europe increased by 5000, most of them coming from S Europe, the Cape, the Eastern North America and, eventually, Australia. By the 19th century America and Australia had established their own nursery networks.

From the early 18th century botany had continued to break loose from its roots in medicine as voyages of scientific discovery uncovered a new exotic flora throwing botany into a frenzied period of encyclopaedic description and commercial exploration heralded an unprecedented period of economic botany. Britain was beginning to assert its economic and political power in Europe and plants were a major factor in its colonial enterprise (see botanophilia). This was a period that, mainly through the ramifications of the British empire, would later have a profound influence on the composition, character, and pattern of plant distribution across the world.

Billingsgate Market, London – 1808

Pyne, William Henry; Combe, William (1904)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

First nurseries

Before the Roman occupation of Britain early civilizations and people on the continent had grown a wide range of crops, almost certainly much more than in the British Isles, a situation that was changed by the Norman Conquest in 1066 (see Medieval gardens 450-1100 CE and Medieval gardens 1100-1500 CE). Simple commercial nurseries existed in England from at least the twelfth century when they were known as ‘impyards’ (named after the grafts which were known as ‘imps’). This was a limited trade in utilitarian plants – agricultural seed, vegetables and fruit trees – and then later, in the 13th century trade based on the surplus produce of great estates and monastic gardens.[17] By the end of the 14th century fruit and some vegetables were being grown in Edinburgh which, by 1771 could boast 32 market gardens, rising to about 65 by 1812.[33]

The first commercial nurseries in a modern sense began trading in the 16th century at about the time of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541) which was probably no coincidence since it was in monasteries that most of the vegetable, fruit and herb gardening was done.[16]

In 1605 a horticultural guild-like system was established when a royal Charter was granted to both the Company of Gardeners (with scrapbooks dating back to 1345)[21] and the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers (whose records go back to 1292)[21] and although this marked a significant turning point in Britain’s nursery industry the number of nurseries were slow to pick up. Harrison’s Description of England (1577) declares:

Such herbes, fruits & roots also, as grow yeerelie out of the ground, of seed, haue been verie plentifull in this land in the time of the first Edward, and after his daies: but in processe of time they grew also to be neglected, so that from Henrie the fourth till the latter end of Henrie the seuenth, & beginning of Henrie the eight, there was little or no vse of them in England, but they remained either vnknown, or supposed as food more meet for hogs & sauage beasts to feed vpon, than mankind[31]

By the time of Henry VIII the range of fruit and vegetables had increased with imports from the continent.

However, the few known businesses of the 17th century ‘became after 1700 a widening flood, and after 1800 a torrent’.[18]

Towards the end of the 16th century the number of small cottages increased and many had small plots for vegetables which were previously mainly grown in the gardens of the wealthy landowners. Harrison’s Description of England (1577) describes the use of vegetables as follows:

Whereas in my time their vse is not onlie resumed among the poore commons, – I meane of melons, pompions [pumpkins], gourds, cucumbers, radishes, skirets, parsneps, carrets, cabbages, naeuewes [rape], turneps, and all kinds of salad herbes, – but also fed vpon as deintie dishes at tables of delicate merchants, gentlemen, and the nobilitie, who make for their prouision yearelie for new feeds out of strange countries, from whence they haue them aboundantlie[22]

Vegetables were now being imported from the continent and these included onions from Flanders and salad vegetables from Holland while home-grown fruit was apparently plentiful in spite of the only recent introduction of new fruit varieties, Kent acting a the country’s orchard having suitable climate and soils while being within striking distance of London‘s markets. Apples were always the most widely grown fruit being used for eating, cooking and cider although pears and perry were also popular.[23]

By the 1620s plant collections and gardens were well established among the major religious orders, merchants, royalty, apothecaries and physicians, aristocrats. We now see the emergence of large-scale nursery businesses, often family-owned, notably Pierre Morin and the Morin family nurseries (c. 1575-1650) in Paris whose first printed catalogue appeared in 1651 (although his brother Rene had published one earlier in 1621), the Tradescants, younger and older, in London (c. 1600-1670), Tranquillo Ramauli in Rome, and the Dutch painter and nurseryman Emanuel Sweert (1552–1612) renowned for his Florilegium Amplissimum et Selectissimum (1612).

Plant selection took hold as gardeners sought out larger and more colourful forms and ‘doubles’ (a foretaste of florists societies to come) along with new fruit cultivars were avidly collected and distributed. Gathering demand for new plants and fruit varieties resulted in family-run nurseries, the new nurserymen often Protestant refugees from Catholic Europe like the Huguenots, skilled in fruit cultivation and propagation, who set up market gardens in London, Oxford and York, sometimes in the kitchen gardens of the monasteries that had been ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII , their merchandise including specialist tools, plants, herbs, fruit trees.[2][3] The transformation of English estates by the introduction of autumn-foliage deciduous American trees was about to arrive.

Early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I there was a gathering demand for new plants and fruit varieties. Protestant refugees from Catholic Europe like the Huguenots, skilled in market gardening, and especially fruit cultivation and propagation, arrived to set up businesses in London, Oxford and York, sometimes in the kitchen gardens of the monasteries that had been ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII.[24] These were family-run nurseries that sold not only food produce but a wide range of specialist tools, herbs, fruit trees and vegetables. The Dutch, French and Walloons (French-speaking people who live in Belgium, principally in Wallonia) had long been respected for their market gardening skills bringing their experience to the coastal towns of Kent, Essex and Suffolk. A large group from West Flanders landed in Deal in 1561, moving to Sandwich (once one of the cinque ports) and making up a large proportion of the population also to Norwich, others landed at Harwich, Yarmouth and Dover.[25][26]

As population increased street markets were where produce was bought but, in London at least, there was hawking from door to door. In the 17th century some market gardeners crept into the new Covent Garden becoming official in 1670 and Spitalfields chartered in 1681. There was now a branch of this marketing known as the ‘nursery trade’ which specialised in choice plants and trees, the nurserymen making selections and also importing them from the continent. Enterprising orchardists and nurserymen like Stephen Spitzer were also offering their services for garden design.[27][28]

Enlightenment nurseries of the 18th century

During the Enlightenment, Georgian era (1713-1830), the numbers of nurseries really began to escalate. American ornamental plants were now coming into the country in quantity and nurseries in the Netherlands, especially those providing bulbs, were being sourced from across Europe. Fruit trade was centred on the Banks of the Thames with Billingsgate the port for the City’s vegetable markets although better known for its fish, fruit also arriving here from Kent to be auctioned before going to Covent Garden and elsewhere.[28]

As with other trades nursery businesses were often retained within family dynasties.

British colonial expansion was feeding the plant lust (botanophilia) that had gripped both scientists and the fashionable gardening elite and with international commerce thriving a new affluent middle class of merchants and professionals joined the upper echelons of British society in the socially prestigious activity of gardening.

With increasing population and affluence in the 18th century came more market gardening. The population of London in 1801 was about 1 million, in 1820 about 1.5 million and in 1900 more than 6 million. Initially plantsmen and seedsmen were based in London, their stock consisting mainly of vegetables and fruit trees but gradually incorporating increasing numbers of flowers, ornamental trees and shrubs. Fruiterers like Switzer and Fairchild branched out into garden design.

Over this period trade was largely confined to London where, in 1691, there were about 5 nurseries and seed suppliers, the total rising to about 15 in 1690-1700, and 35 in 1700-1730 at a time when nurseries were beginning to open up in the provinces. By 1730-1760 there were around 42 in London and 40 in the provinces including distant places like like Edinburgh and Yorkshire.[19]

A survey in 1760 by the London Gardeners Company (the old Company of Gardeners) produced the following estimated numbers for professional and commercial gardeners in England and Wales: 10 garden designers, 150 nobleman’s gardeners, 400 gentleman’s gardeners, 100 nurserymen, 100 florists, 20 botanists and 200 market gardeners.[20] By 1780 printed directories were being produced and had become available outside London which, by 1825, allowed more precise estimation of numbers.

Commercial strawberry hybrids arrived as a cross of species from China and Carolina via Holland. There were more varieties of apples, gooseberries and cherries. Carrots became more popular and potatoes were grown in larger numbers along with more salsify and celery.[32]

Botanic gardens & estates

Botanic Gardens played a major role in the early introduction and circulation of ornamental plants. In Britain the earliest was Oxford (1621), followed by Edinburgh (1670), then the Chelsea Physic Garden (1673). Later, gardens like Kew and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris would send out botanists and gardeners to collect new botanical treasures on voyages of scientific exploration and discovery. Plants flowed to either nurserymen, botanic gardens, private collectors or directly to the estates of the aristocracy who had connections, often with the collectors themselves.

Increasingly the wealthy estates purchased their plants from nurserymen in London. Among the most prominent early nurseries was that of Jack London and Co. founded in 1681 and known as ‘Brompton Park’, situated in South Kensington on the site of today’s Victoria and Albert Museum: it soon became ‘London and Wise, Royal Gardeners’ and it was where famous garden designer Charles Bridgeman (d. 1738) had worked for a while. Later nurseries of renown included Thomas Fairchild of Hoxton, Robert Furber of Kensington Gore; Christopher Gray in King’s Road, Fulham, James Gordon at Mile End, James Lee and Lewis Kennedy (est. 1745) in Kensington and John Busch of Hackney.[30]

With so many new plants flowing into the country London nurserymen attempted to keep track of all the new introductions and their names in the Catalogus Plantarum of the Society of Gardeners in 1730. This would shortly reappear, much modified, published by its major author, the curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden and clerk to the society, Philip Miller, whose massive Gardener’s Dictionary (1731) would pass into several editions to become the serious gardener’s ‘bible’ and serve as the starting point for all future English garden plant encyclopaedias.(see Philip Miller).

Like many businesses of the day nurseries tended to be family concerns passed down the generations, the different families often being related through marriage. After the Union of 1707 many Scots had moved into England and, showing a capacity for diligence and hard work and a talent for horticulture, many were employed by the nobility and country gentry. Others like prominent nurserymen James Lee and James Gordon went into business. We also see in the horticultural community numbers of European Huguenots who had arrived in England escaping religious persecution on the continent. To these can be added Quakers like Peter Collinson and his plant supplier in North America, John Bartram

Britain & New Holland – 1768-1788

The major 18th century nurseries were substantial enterprises, those dealing with the upper end of the market publishing catalogues of their stock. At first such catalogues used the pre-Linnaean botanical classification system. However, Enlightenment science, especially botany, was adding an air of respectability and class to horticulture, the use of Latin names especially giving a ring of authenticity and cachet to businesses that appealed to the wealthy.

London’s nursery network

Leading nurserymen were often both well-educated and well-heeled and Scotsman James Lee, proprietor of the nursery Lee and Kennedy in Hammersmith, produced not only an extensive catalogue of his plant stock, but also published in 1760 a popular introduction to the Linnaean System of plant classification called An Introduction to Botany which ran to five editions. Plant business was always taken very seriously to attract the right clientelle, the nursery catalogue of 1774 running to 74 pages.[29] James Lee ‘s professional approach attracted visitors from all over the world and plant requests from all corners of the globe. Visitors included Joseph Banks (Lee was a dinner party guest at Banks table on the night before he set off in the Endeavour), one of the world’s greatest ever botanical artists Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840). Lee could also boast his position of advisor to Josephine Bonaparte in relation to her garden at Malmaison.

Among his esteemed clientele were Joseph Banks and France’s Josephine Bonaparte: he was even able to provide some sponsorship for an antipodean plant collector David Burton.

First New Holland plants

Plants from Australia were like treasures obtained from the moon today, only they were far more beautiful. The excitement these plants generated was manifested by meticulous records, descriptions, illustrations and the greed of acquisition trumpeted their arrival. This jubilation drowned any public interest in the trade that would increase in the other direction as vastly more plants from Britain poured into the new Australia settlements.

Cook’s three voyages

The only British source of seed and plants prior to settlement of the colony of New South Wales in 1788 were from James Cook’s three circumnavigations of the world. Accounts of his travels and adventures in the Pacific attracted the attention of European society as never before. His first voyage in HMS Endeavour (1769-71) included the naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who returned to England laden with their botanical treasures and stories of exotic foreign lands. The second (1772-74/5), and third (1776-1779) voyages put in to Adventure Bay in Van Diemen’s Land, and then on the third and fateful voyage for Cook, only as the second vessel commanded by Captain Tobias Furneaux with collectors William Anderson (also surgeon) and third midshipman gardener David Nelson. The botany of these voyages is discussed here.

Australian plants in Europe

It was the well-recorded seed collections of Banks and Solander that were first propagated in European gardens. Between 1771 and 1788 seed did find its way from New Zealand and New Holland to British gardens but only nine Australian plants are definitely recorded for this period. [1] From this first voyage the first six Australian plants grown in Europe were cultivated at Kew in 1771 from seed collected by Banks, they included Eucalyptus gummifera, Dianella caerulea. Eucalyptus obliqua collected on the second voyage by Furneaux was the first plant that became commercially available in 1774.

Of course, it was not long before their popularity increased, seed and cuttings of existing plants being distributed as soon as possible. In addition to the traditional botanic gardens at Kew, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge plants from the Colony of New South Wales were also soon appearing in the new provincial gardens at Glasgow and Liverpool.

Lust for plants from ‘New Holland’ was not confined to Britain, the strange novelties were also cultivated in public gardens in Berlin, Bonn, Vienna, Naples, and southern France’s Montpelier’s Jardin des Plants (Frances warm-climate garden which complemented the Jardin des Plantes in Paris). They also grew well when grown outside in Spain, Portugal and elsewhere.[2]

Plants of Port Jackson

Scottish nurseryman Lee had put down on paper his thoughts about collection before the First Fleet set off from England. As a friend of Joseph Banks he visited Banks’s Herbarium and would have met Solander, then Dryander. He corresponded with Linnaeus and it was he who recommended gardener David Nelson to Banks for the Third Voyage, Nelson becoming midshipman gardener and joined in collecting by surgeon William Anderson. Lee also published a translation of Linnaeus’s major ideas. John Kennedy was Andrews father in law and did the descriptions in vols 1-5 of the British repository.[38]

Joseph Knight was gardener to George Hibbert, a parliamentarian who had assembled a fine collection of Proteaceae. This collection was given to Knight and formed the basis of Knight’s nursery business which would later became better known as the famous Veitch & Sons which was established in Chelsea in 1809. Many of the plants featured in Salisbury’s Paradisus Londinensis had been obtained from Hibbert.[39]

By 1793 Kew was growing plants from the south-western and eastern coast of New Holland and Norfolk Island.[7] Kew gardens had established a Cape House in 1788 and this was followed in 1792 and 1802 by New Holland Houses.[37]

A thriving relationship developed between wealthy private collectors and their well-heeled nurserymen suppliers who Loudon dubbed ‘opulent commercial men’.[35] Lust for plant treasures extended from Parliamentarian Robert Thornton, Director of the British East India Company, for his estate in Clapham, a suburb where George Hibbert, whose brother had made a fortune in Jamaica, also maintained his collection of exotics – through to Empress Josephine who maintained an avid, though expensive, connection with her English supplier ?Lewis Kennedy. All competed for the best collections and the thrill of being the first to coax one of the antipodean gems into flower,[36] and the new booty being eagerly exchanged or traded among one-another.

First Fleet ships brought home another 30 species in 1789.

James Lee & Lewis Kennedy

The proprietors of the Vineyard nursey were two Scotsmen, James Lee (1715-1795) and Lewis Kennedy (1721-1733) (followed by the more renowned son John Kennedy (1759-1842)).[46] At about the time of Australian settlement it was clear that the Vineyard nursery of Lee and Kennedy in Hammersmith was the leading London supplier of exotics. Founded in 1745, by 1822 it had grown to be described by famous garden chronicler John Loudon as ‘unquestionably the first [most outstanding] nursery in Britain, or, the world’. Both Lee and Kennedy had worked on the gardens of the aristocracy, Lee serving an apprenticeship under Philip Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden which led to his correspondence with and stimulated his 1760 publication An Introduction to Botany (essentially a translation of Linnaeus’s Philosophia Botanica) as a ‘popular’ introduction to the in English that went to 5 editions. By 1795 the pair had introduced 24 new plants from Australia, the first received in 1789 from either Banks or Governor Phillip.[3]

From seed collected on Cooks first voyage such spectacular plants as Banksia serrata had been grown and seed along with the fascinating and curious iconic genera that included Acacia, Callistemon, Darwinia, Eucalyptus, Grevillea, Isopogon and more. The genus Kennedia commemorated Lewis Kennedy being first described by French botanist Etienne-Pierre Ventenat in 1805 from a plant grown at Josephine Bonaparte’s palace at Malmaison. Callistemon citrinus (as Metrosideros citrinus) was first described and illustrated by Curtis in his magazine in 1794. Plants from the nursery were exchanged with influential people and institutions including the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and the Strasbourg Botanic gardens. The nursery was something of a mecca for British botanists of the time.[4] Plants were also being imported from the Americas and the Cape of Good Hope, especially those suitable for the new hothouses. Lee was riding the wave of horticultural fashion and in 1787 he produced a pamphlet ‘Rules for the collecting and preserving of seed from Botany Bay’.

Banks was a friend of Lee and that led to plant acquisitions for the nursery of Lee and Kennedy which grew Australian plants in many genera including the well-known Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Angophora, Crowea, Grevillea, Hakea. Also leading at this time was the nursery of John Busch, taken over by German Conrad Loddiges. The clients were not only the wealthy owners of glasshouses but they were also exported to the continent to clients such as the Empress Josephine, Kennedy working for a period in 1812 at her two famous gardens of Malmaison and Navarre.[5]

John Cushing, Foreman to the Lee and Kennedy Nursery in Hammersmith London, in 1811 produced a publication called The Exotic Gardener outlining the hot-house care of the new warm climate plants coming into the country.[40] As Australian plants are included this book probably ranks as the first book on the cultivation of Australian native plants.[41]

Australia was not the only interest as new plant introductions from this enterprise included the China Rose, Rosa chinensis, in 1787, Fuchsia magellanica (sold for 1 guinea) in 1788, the dahlia in 1807. In France Josephine had accumulated one of the world’s best collections of roses and in 1818 the two men introduced to Britain the French idea of the standard rose.

After such auspicious botanical beginnings it is surprising that no official gardener or botanist was sent with the First Fleet: the first professional collector being David Burton, sent by Banks, who arrived at Port Jackson in 1791 to be soon followed by other professional collectors and visiting botanists. The earliest botanical objects of interest were sent by amateurs (mostly surgeons and officers of the First Fleet) to various contacts in England. Surgeon-General with the First Fleet John White supplied seed to, among others, Thomas Wilson, A Lambert, J Smith. (See Cavanagh) for early specimens and seed and people involved along with botanical paintings to J.E. Smith.

Dr Denis Considen sent seeds and other material to Banks; others sent seed to James Lee at Hammersmith. Living plants were sent to Kew. The hazards of shipping seed and especially live plants in all likelihood resulted in huge losses and damage during transport until the invention and use of the sealed glass Wardian Case from 1836. For botanists this period is of special interest as a number of New Holland species were first described from plants raised in cultivation in Europe.

Aiton’s Hortus Kewensis (1810-1813) lists 135 plants introduced to cultivation by the nursery between 1753 and 1795.

In the 1790s a nursery was established at Port Jackson to hold indigenous plants prior to shipment to England.[6]

Nurseries specializing in Australian plants included the following supplying the strange and novel plants to a gardening elite that owned some of the finest conservatories and glasshouses in the country:[8]



Thomas Barr Islington
William Malcolm Kennington & Stockwell
James Collvill, James Colvill & Sons Kings Road, Chelsea
John Mackay, Clapton Nursery Kings Road, Chelsea
William Curtis Brampton
Daniel Grimwood, Grimwood & Wykes Kensington
James Lee & Edward Kennedy, The Vineyard Hammersmith
Joseph Knight, The Exotic Nursery Chelsea
Loddiges & Sons Hackney
Napier & Chandler Wandsworth Rd
Wm Salisbury Brampton
Whitley & Brame Old Brompton


Early London nurseries supplying Australian plants[32]


Clapton Nursery (Mackays Nursery) in London was established in the early 19th century by John Mackay, introducing plants from Australia, the Cape and South America. Mackay, an acquaintance of many leading botanists of the day, had a showroom in King’s Road, and he became a Fellow of the .[9][10] His foreman, Hugh Low, was appointed in 1823 and took over the nursery in 1831.

Scotsman William Baxter (who had cultivated in the Bayswater garden of the Comtesse de Vandes some of the First Australian plants brought to Britain) was employed as a private collector by a Francis Henchman, while also sending consignments to Mackay and Knight. Baxter arrived in Australia in 1821, his seed collections raised by Low in 1824. Some of his introductions appeared in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine and more than a third of the illustrations in Sweet’s Flora Australasica (1827-1828) were his introductions[Clough, R. OCAG]. The Clapton Nursery of John Mackay specialised in American and Australian plants, especially those sent by William Baxter.[42]

James Anderson sent plants from South America although he later, in 1838, succeeded Allan Cunningham as Colonial Botanist and Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens in New South Wales. Seed and cuttings were sent from the nursery to Sir William Hooker at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.[11]

(Governor ?Philip sent seed to Banks in 1791to be distributed amongst his influential friends and benefactors keen to display antipodean plants on their estates: the Marquess of Lansdowne, Viscount Sydney, the Marchioness of Rockingham.)[43]

By 1820-1830 England’s gardeners were looking away from Australia for newly fashionable plants that were easier to grow and the supply of ‘New Holland’ plants had now moved to the provinces as Pages of Southampton and Miller of Bristol.[43]

French Nurseries

Jaques Martin Cels (1740–1806)

In Paris the major nurseryman dealing in exotics and new plant introductions was Jaques Martin Cels who had opened a nursery-cum-botanic-garden in Montrouge just outside Paris after the French Revolution in 1787. His story illustrates the similar approach to plants in France that we see in Britain, a close if sometimes tense relationship between gardeners, botanists and the socially positioned. Cels was an academic and associate of Bernard de Jussieu and was involved in French agriculture, publishing papers on various topics of plant science and, after the Revolution indulging his interest by establishing his collection of botanical rarities. Among his many explorer contacts were Jean Guillaume Bruguière (1749–1798), Pierre Broussonet (1761-1807), André Michaux. Broussonet had worked in London from 1780 to 1782 being given fish specimens from the Cook expedition by Joseph Banks who gave him a Chinese maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba, given by Sir Joseph Banks and the first specimen of this tree imported into France. Broussonet presented the rare tree to Gouan, then Director of the Jardin des plantes de Montpellier, who planted it in the garden in 1788, where it can still be found. Broussonet also spent several months botanizing in the South of France and Catalonia with Englishman John Sibthorp (1758-1796) a welcome story of shared academic interest between men whose countries were often in conflict.

Many plants in the nursery were described by Etienne-Pierre Ventenat (1757-1808)[44] who published the beautifully illustrated Description des plantes nouvelles et peu connues, cultivées dans le jardin de J.-M. Cels, published in Paris in 1799 and later in 1803 another account illustrated by Redouté Choix de plantes: dont la plupart sont cultivées dans le jardin de Cels. both men influenced in their work by Charles L’Héritier (1746-1800) a self-taught aristocrat who escaped the guillotine but was eventually murdered in 1800. He left a herbarium of 8000 specimens and a botanical library said to be second only in Europe to that of Joseph Banks.[45]

Among his plants was stock sent back to Paris from Virginia where the Academie had established a Botanic garden under the watchful eye of André Michaux (1746-1802) with the intention that it should serve as a centre for economic botany. Stock also including a number of plants from Australia.

Other plants in the Cels nursery came from Louis Bosc (1759–1828) a student of botanist Jean-François Durande (1732-1794) a Professor of Botany at Dijon where he taught at the botanic garden. Bosc had luckily declined an offer to join the fateful La Pérouse expedition and In 1787 he had, with André Thouin, Pierre Broussonet and others, founded the Société Linnéenne de Paris the first of many Linnean societies in Europe, although it was short-lived, being dissolved in 1789. Bosc later took up diplomatic posts in America, first at Wilmington and then New York. Returning to France as one of several jobs he worked in the horticultural industry in Versailles. In 1806 he became a member of the Académie des sciences then, in 1825, he followed André Thouin to the chair of plant culture at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Another outstanding collector was Empress Joséphine (1763-1814) in her garden at Malmaison where many of her exotics were assembled in the orangery and Grande Serre Chaude (Great Hothouse). Ventenat described many of the plants which were illustrated by artist Redouté in the exquisite Jardin de la Malmaison (1803-1805). In three flower books Ventenat had described 343 plants, 208 taxa new to science, 67 still accepted today.[44]

Gardener Félix Delahaye was a former student of Thouin at the Jardin des Plantes. He had served as assistant to botanist Jean-Jaques de Labillardière on the Bruni d’Entrecasteaux voyage (1791–93) that was sent by the French National Assembly to search for the missing explorer Jean-François La Perouse. On his return he was employed by Joséphine to tend many of the plants that had been collected by himself in Australia. Despite a falling out with Bonpland, he worked at Versailles until after Joséphine’s death in 1814 before establishing his own nursery business in Montreuil, Versailles, including Australian plants in his nursery stock.[13]

Mueller’s Government Report of 1857 reports seed of plants growing in the Grampians and Pyrenees that had never been cultivated before being sent to Kew, Paris, Mauritius, Cape Town, Calcutta, Boston and Hamburg.


It was during the 18th century that horticulture in Britain took on a global character. Commercial nurseries became one link in a plant trading network that connected nurserymen with royalty, the aristocracy, botanists, botanic gardens, international botanical and horticultural exploration – all part of the economic botany so important, in this period as gardening began its march into the lower echelons of society. With the arrival of the nineteenth century came a further rapid increase in population, further democratization of horticulture, and a great acceleration in life as Britain’s canal system was built, railways constructed, roads improved and communication generally became much more efficient. Steamships reduced the time taken to reach Australia from England from ? days to ? days. This was all built on affirm foundation that had been laid in place in the18th century when the world in Britain seemed smaller and the outside world much larger.

It is as though at this time the scale of things was manageable and understandable in a way that was not possible before and which we have not seen since. It is possible today to represent the links in the chain of economic botany quite precisely in terms of the key people that were involved, people that were all aware of one-another, their role in the business of plant exchange, and who in perhaps most instances had actually met and talked to one-another. In the nursery industry it was the most influential nurserymen of London, the Company of Gardeners. and among these especially Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden, the Quaker draper Peter Collinson, the Vineyard nurserymen Kennedy and Lee. Among the aristocrats and well-to-do were the gardener collectors like the Duke of Argyle ……. The international flavour we see in the botanical figures associated with botanic gardens and it was people like , the indomitable figure of the Swede Carl Linnaeus, In France de Jussieu and the Head Gardener at the Jardin des Plantes Thouin. Among the royal collectors and gardening aficianados were the Dowager Princess of Wales, Catherine the Great of Russia, Josephine Bonaparte of France, Emperor Joseph II of Austria. Associated with nurseries, botanic gardens and royalty were the gardener-botanists and collectors and their botanical artists.

Following Linnaeus’s example of ‘apostles’ sent out into the world to collect plant treasures we see teams of gardener-botanists sent out from Kew, the Jardin des Plantes and to a lesser extent the botanic garden at Edinburgh the palace at Schonbrunn.

Schönbrunn Palace, located at Hietzing, Vienna, was the summer seat of the Habsburg dynasty and is now a UNESCO heritage site. The magnificent Rococo palace enjoyed an 18th century period of glory, being renovated to its current neoclassical style between 1740 and 1760 by the empress Maria Theresa at a time when Austria had allied with France against Britain and Prussia (part of the War of Austrian Succession) in the Seven Years War (1756 and 1763). Franz Joseph, born at Schönbrunn, was the longest serving Austro-Hungarian emperor from 1848 to 1886. Following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the palace passed to the Austrian Republic to be preserved as a museum, but was also famed for its zoo and gardens.

Among the garden attractions are: a Grand Parterre; a French garden and maze, completed in 1695 byJean Trehet, a devotee of André Le Nôtre; an 189 m long orangerie with hypocaust completed in 1756 where the 5-year-old boy prodigy Mozart performed in 1762 under the eye of his father Leopold; a botanic garden developed from an earlier arboretum was completed in 1828; a modern steel-structured Palm House was completed in 1882, 50 years after that at Kew.

Known personally to almost all these people was the towering figure of Joseph Banks, an unspoken but mutually accepted international administrative figurehead, orchestrating the world’s first major wave of plant exchange: ornamental and key economic plants into Britain, traditional temperate crops for the arable lands under British influence, the neo-Europes of Australia, New Zealand, parts of South Africa and South America, India and elsewhere which would become agricultural landscapes in the European tradition acting as a food source for the population back in England (and Europe) that was growing rapidly as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Just one part of his plant vision was the transport of tropical crops from East Indies to West Indies and his personal reputation enabled him to regard King George III as a personal friend, while command foreign governments at war with Britain to release prisoners(Matthew Flinders), and to give diplomatic immunity to French and English vessels engaged in scientific research. Banks was a link to royalty and, though professedly apolitical, had connections with parliamentarians. His position as President of the Royal Society allowed him to

The commercial nurseries of London and botanical collection at the Chelsea Physic Garden along with and links to the socially powerful and influential and the plans of Joseph Banks as de facto Director of Kew for a world of economic botany was a major factor in both the literal and metaphorical transformation of the world’s botanical and horticultural landscape that extended well beyond the geography of the British Isles.

Plant commentary & sustainability analysis

The significance for Australians looking back at the history of England’s nurseries is that we can see this as a key period in global plant history, a pivotal time for global horticulture through the ethos of British gardens and gardening, country estates, horticultural commerce, plant collection and distribution, economic botany and agriculture, and botanical curiosity. Plant commerce and nurseries played a major role in the historical acceleration of ever-increasing numbers and kinds of plants distributed more rapidly over greater distances across the globe. This ‘plant world’ that arrived in Australia with the First Fleet was totally different from that of the indigenous people and the consequences of its arrival for the continent would be momentous.

Today, perhaps for the first time, we are able to view this event with some objectivity and try to assess its implications for the future.

The small nursery concerns that began in the reign of Charles I (1600-1649) began a dramatic proliferation in the 18th century until by the early 19th century the canal system, railways and roads provided unprecedented communication systems as the Industrial Revolution took hold. By 1839 Loudon could list 18,000 species in cultivation in Britain.[Harvey,p. 128] Today British nurseries supply over 80,000 different kinds of plants to the world’s greatest gardening nation that is still hungry for new plants; the number native plants remaining in Britain is less than 3,000 and naturalized plants make up about ?60%, cultivation and Australia has of the order of 35,000 of which about ?10% are naturalised.

Key points

  • Commercial plant nurseries in England distributed their plants to local communities, the more enterprising and organisationally flexible businesses extending their trade countrywide and internationally
  • Part of the horticultural and botanical vibrancy of this period was the desire for new exotic plant met at this time by quantities of American plants, among which were quick-growing trees with brightly coloured autumn foliage that would transform the appearance of English landscape gardens and, much later, those of the Western world including Australia. However, plantswere also coming in from South America, the Cape, China and Japan
  • By the mid 19th century the old system of scientific patronage was also diminishing as government support increased, gardening for ornament and pleasure was embraced by a much broader sweep of society

First published on the internet – 1 March 2019
. . . 10 January 2021 – revised
. . . 28 December 2022 – revised the introduction


Palmenhaus, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna – Opened in 1882
Photographed August 2006
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Gryffendor – Accessed 10 January 2021

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B = Britain, E = England
W = Wales, S = Scotland

200 -   2.9     B
400 -   3.6     B
1100 – 2.0     B
1300 – 5-6     E
1550 –    3     EW
1600 –   4     EW
1700   -     6     EWS
1750 –  6.5     B
1800 - 10.5     B
1850 - 27.4     B
1900 - 38.2     B
1950 - 50.2     B
2000 - 59.1     B
2010 - 63.0    B









                 WILD PLANTS


                WILD SPACES



        medicine (+ culin'y/arom'ic)
        agriculture (cereals, staples)
        horticultural crops


        urban landscapes

almenhaus Schönbrunn - Opened in 1882
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