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Veitch Nurseries

Who were the James Veitch Nurseries?

The Veitch family probably influenced horticulture in Britain and around the world more than any single family had done before them or is likely to be able to do again.

The Nurseries of James Veitch (later James Veitch & Sons), were responsible for many horticultural firsts. They were the first commercial nursery in Britain to sponsor their own plant collectors to explore foreign lands in search of new and exotic plants for British gardens. These arduous and often dangerous journeys brought the raw materials for the Veitch Nurseries to exclusively market their own introductions which laid the foundations of what was to become an institution of immense importance. An influence which has left its mark on the gardening world today.

William Lobb was the first collector to be sent out, travelling to South America (and later North America), returning well-known plants to Britain such as the Monkey Puzzle, fuchsias, escallonias, Ceanothus, Embothrium, Lapageria, Crinodendron and later, many conifers, most famously the Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

Other famous names followed including Thomas Lobb who was sent to the Far East and discovered many new orchids and the then new breed of Rhododendrons which came to be referred to as 'Vireyas', about 500 of which came to be bred by the Veitch Nurseries. Only a handful of these varieties survive today.

John Dominy, the nurseries' chief hybridizer is credited with raising (1854) and flowering (1856) the world's first orchid hybrid (Calanthe Dominii), which lead to the breeding of hundreds of new orchids as well as the establishment of a new branch of horticulture. This was a highly controversial achievement in Victorian Britain as it was regarded as 'tampering with nature'. This was later followed by the world's first Nepenthes hybrid (pitcher plants) which the Victorians held such as fascination for.

Richard Pearce was next to be commissioned and spent many years collecting in South America. We have him to thank for many plants including the lovely Azara microphylla, Eucryphia glutinosa, Hippeastrums and the gorgeous Masdevallia veitchiana. Most importantly, was his discovery of the tuberous begonia (Begonia bolivienesis). Five of the seven wild species used for the early hybridisation work were introduced by Veitchian plant collectors. Using Begonia boliviensis, John Seden (probably the most famous hybridist of the nurseries of James Veitch & Sons), produced the first begonia hybrid in England (Begonia Sedenii). The firm's hybridists followed this by producing the first winter-flowering, the first white flowered and the first double-flowered begonias. This too lead to the creation of another specialised branch of horticulture.

Begonia boliviensis. Copyright © Caradoc Doy.
Begonia bolivienesis

In all, the Veitch Nurseries sent 23 collectors to many countries over about a 72 year span. Famous names included John Gould Veitch, Peter C. M. Veitch, Frederick Burbidge, Charles Maries, Charles Curtis, James H. Veitch and Ernest H. Wilson. Hortus Veitchii tells the story of their endeavours as well as the firm's pioneering hybridization work and describes 1,500 or more of 'the most remarkable of their introductions'.

We have the Veitch Nurseries to thank for so many of our garden and indoor plants that you would be hard-pressed to find a garden in Britain that either does not contain a 'Veitch' plant or one derived from the nurseries. Many others of their introduction are now rare or endangered in the wild. Ironically, in 'taking' these plants, the plant collectors have enabled them to grow safely in Britain, in some cases saving them from complete loss.


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Veitch Nurseries



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