About the Exotic Origins of Your Garden
are ablaze with texture and colour, thanks to the range
of bulbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees available.
But have you ever wondered where this huge selection
Our garden plants bring the seasons to life: brilliant
yellow narcissi, scented lilac, shapely hostas, evergreen
rhododendrons. Many have become so familiar that it’s
easy to assume they’ve always been here. Some
imports can’t deceive us as to their origins,
the dramatic outlines of the American agave, for example,
or the Brazilian giant-leaved Gunnera manicata will
never look native to these shores. But what about the
sweet pea, sunflowers, hydrangeas? These garden standbys
hail, respectively, from Italy, the Americas and Asia.
How did they get here? The answer is, in a number of
Colonialization. As the Romans came, saw and conquered
northern Europe, they brought with them a huge range
of trees and plants, many of which became acclimatized
to their new surroundings. These included roses, plums,
almonds, figs, the periwinkle, Christmas rose, dill,
beet, the Madonna lily and, believe it or not, ground
elder, which they put in salads.
Politics. Diplomatic relations were restored between
the Holy Roman Emperor and the Ottoman Sultans in 1549.
Travelling to Constantinople in the depths of the winter,
the emperor’s ambassador, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq,
was astonished to see a great range of flowers in bloom.
Amongst the bulbs and seeds Busbecq sent back to the
emperor’s court in Vienna were tulips, as well
as the horse chestnut and lilac. Further treats to arrive
in Europe were irises, ranunculi and anemones.
Royal Marriage. Traditionally, royal marriages were
important unions formed to cement a political alliance
or to accumulate territory. The marriages of England’s
Edward I (r.1272-1307) to Eleanor of Castile, and Edward
III (r.1327-77) to Philippa Countess Of Hainault and
Holland benefited the country in other ways: the queens
introduced, respectively, hollyhocks and rosemary.
Busbecq’s tulip bulbs were grown by botanist Carolus
Clusius and travelled with him to Leiden in the Netherlands,
when he was made director of the botanic garden there
in 1592. Such was the Dutchmen’s love of the flower
that the first winter saw the pilfering of a large number
of tulips, no doubt ending up in gardens across the
Netherlands and, perhaps, beyond.
New Found Lands. With the discovery of uncharted lands
has come the discovery of hitherto unknown flora. Many
have proved to be unsuited to the climate of northern
Europe, but consider where we’d be without the
following: petunias, zinnias, dahlias, verbena and cosmos
(Central and Southern America); Pelargonium inquinans
(the parent of the modern bedding plant, Cape of Good
Hope); callistemoms (Australia); nasturtiums, maidenhair
fern, evergreen honeysuckle and Magnolia grandiflora
Exploration. For many centuries plants had been collected
by amateur enthusiasts but towards the end of the 1700s
this vocation became more professional. Armed with specific
instructions from their sponsors, plant collectors travelled
great distances and endured terrible hardships in order
to return with a new species. To such men we owe the
blue poppy Meconopsis betonicifolia (brought back from
the Himalayan foothills by Frank Kingdon Ward in 1926);
the Douglas fir, California poppy, Clarkia elegans and
a parent of the lupins now found in our gardens, Lupinus
polyphyllus (brought back from the American West between
1824 and 1833 by David Douglas); the regal lily and
the Handkerchief or Dove tree (brought back from China
at the turn of the 20th century by E H Wilson).
These examples just scratch the surface – can
you imagine gardening without this choice?
reprinted with permission from Greenfingers.com