(Saved article from vanished website of the Llanelli & District Fuchsia Group of the British Fuchsia Society, formerly found at "http://www.sospan.demon.co.uk/")


The Oldest Fuchsia Nursery

by Rev. Dr.H.A.Brown, O.B.E., M.A., Ph.d.


It is singularly appropriate that I should be speaking here in the Netherlands of my early years as a nurseryman, for this is the Country to which I came after leaving school in order to learn horticulture. I was in Boskoop during the year 1921, and I not only learnt how to grow plants, but also to speak Dutch with some fluency, even if it was with a Cockney accent. I am sorry to say that after 60 years my knowledge of your language has faded from my memory. What has not faded is the memory of how wonderfully exhilarating it was living here, learning, and making friends. It is indeed a privilege to have this opportunity of briefly renewing acquaintance with a land and people that I came to know so many years ago.

On returning to England I worked for the Castle Nurseries, a business that had been started by my father on land attached to our family home in South Chingford. Then in 1928 the nursery land was sold for building and I found myself out of work. This gave me an opportunity to take a fresh look to see what I was doing with my life. I felt a call to do pioneer missionary work in Papua New Guinea. Accordingly I made application to the London Missionary Society, but was told that I could only be accepted if I had appropriate university qualifications. At the time I had not even matriculated. I had to realise that I would be involved in years of Study, and that the cost would run into hundreds of pounds. I had no money and had to think how I could get it.

The idea came to me, "Why not start a small nursery, and so pay my way through the years of study." If I specialized and became known for a particular flower, orders would come by post, and I could attend to the packing and despatch at such times as I was free to do so. For a nursery I needed land and glasshouses. At the rear of our family garden stood three glasshouses, the propagating area of the Castle Nurseries, these glasshouses were amongst items to be sold at auction in September. They would doubtless go at a very low price, since anyone else who made a bid would have to reckon with the cost of dismantling, transporting and re--erecting the glasshouses. However low the price, money would still be needed, and September was barely three months away.

First of all I had to get the land on which the glasshouses stood. I went to see the builder. He had opened a road and houses were already going up on the Castle Nursery land. Just what induced him to listen to me, I cannot say. His name was Mr. Honey and as sweet as honey was his response for he offered me more than I asked. "You must have," he said, "a frontage on my new road." I could have a plot on the new road together with the area at the rear for which I had asked, all for the absurdly low price of 75, yet stipulated however, that I must settle the matter within a day or so because the foundations for a house had already been dug on the site, and he could not hold up his building programme. With money borrowed from a friend I closed the deal the next day.

For some years I had been contributing gardening articles to our local newspaper. Without any word from me, the editor, who knew I was looking for work, put in a free advertisement describing me as a landscape gardener. Numbers of new houses were being erected in various parts of Chingford at the time. So much work came my way that when the auction sale was held I had sufficient money to buy not only the glasshouses, but also everything else I needed to get my nursery going. I was also able to repay the money I had borrowed in order to buy the land.

I had decided on my speciality it was to be Water Lilies. They would never need watering, and so would easily survive the times when my absence at college would make it impossible for me to attend to them. They had however one big disadvantage - they were slow to propagate. So I planned that for the first year or two, until I got into college I would make Fuchsias my line. Both Water Lilies and Fuchsias had been grown in a limited range of varieties at the Castle Nurseries and I had purchased stock plants of both at the auction sale.

In order to increase my range of stock in Fuchsias, I scouted around to see what I could find. There was an old nursery a few miles away owned by a couple named Riding. They had a reputation for Dahlias. However in former years Fuchsias had also been a speciality of theirs, but they had gradually neglected them in favour of Dahlias. From them I managed to get stocks of quite a number of old cultivars, so that by the spring of 1929 I was able to issue a modest catalogue of Fuchsias which listed 67 names. These included: Achievement, Ballet Girl, Charming, Duchess of Albany, Display, Mrs. Rundle, Mauve Beauty, Rose of Castile Improved, The Doctor, together with the F.triphylla hybrids: Andenken an Heinrich Henkel, Coralle, Gartenmeister Bonstedt, Thalia and Traudchen Bonstedt. Fuchsias with ornamental foliage were also included, Wave of Life and Sunray; and also some hardy varieties. F. excorticata and F. procumbens were the only true species to be listed. The catalogue made no mention of Water Lilies for I wanted to build up my stock of them. That same year, 1929, my small exhibit of Fuchsias at Chelsea Show aroused an interest that was out of proportion to its size, for it was the one stand that displayed only Fuchsias. So many orders came in that I was compelled to accept that my speciality had to be Fuchsias. In subsequent years there have been times when paddling by dugout canoe through the swamps of the Gulf of Papua, areas of Nymphaea gigantic alba would come into view. As I looked into the lovely flowers of these Water Lilies, I would feel a pang such as one might experience on suddenly encountering someone deeply loved again after many years, but from whom one had been compelled to part. However, I was a young man in a hurry. I could not wait from the Water Lilies to increase. It had to be Fuchsias, which would give me offspring even from their leaves.

The decision to specialize in Fuchsias was made the more easily because of the unstinted help that was being given by my father and eldest sister Edith in the running of the nursery. None of my family viewed with any pleasure the prospect of my eventual departure for missionary service to the other side of the world. Perhaps they were hoping that by getting the nursery well established I would become so engrossed with Fuchsias that Papua New Guinea would recede from view. However, the means never became the end, but it was with their help that I could go off to college and leave the Fuchsias in safety.

I studied as I worked. Visitors to the nursery would see the strange sight of cards nailed up here, there and everywhere with extracts from Greek and Latin grammar, and later Hebrew also, clearly written in Indian ink so that an occasional wetting from the hose pipe would not wash out what was written before I had got it into my head. I left England towards the end of 1938, by which time I had acquired an Honours B.A. in Anthropology from the London University, completed a course in Theology at New College, London, had a brief tuition in teaching at Birmingham, and a course in Tropical Medicine at Livingston College, Leytonstone.

Meanwhile the fuchsia nursery continued to flourish and became more and more widely known. Every year I staged an exhibit at Chelsea and at other shows. Never was there ever a rival exhibit of Fuchsias, with the result that anyone interested in them gravitated my way. One mode of advertising was to write an article from time to time on some aspect of Fuchsia cultivation for various gardening publications, these articles I would illustrate with line drawings. In return I would get a display advertisement. The reader, his interest kindled in Fuchsias from the article, would then see my advertisement, and only mine, telling him where to obtain these highly desirable plants.

With hindsight it is clear how opportune a time it was for me to be growing Fuchsias. They had been very popular during the Victorian era, for they were one of the Queen's favourite flowers. During the early part of the present century they regained their popularity, thousands of plants were sold each day throughout the season in Covent Garden Market, London. All this ended when war broke out in 1914. The stock plants of Fuchsias were thrown out onto the rubbish heaps and tomatoes planted in their place. Yet many old and worthy cultivars were still growing in gardens, particularly in the milder parts of England

I spent many an hour in the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society looking through old garden periodicals to glean information about my speciality. The then librarian, Mr. Hutchingson, seeing my interest in Fuchsias would draw my attention to items of particular interest that he had come across since my previous visit.

Various gardening journals would advise readers seeking names for their Fuchsias to send specimens to me. Some would be old cultivars no longer in commerce but which I would be able to identify from early descriptions and illustrations seen in the library. I may perhaps elaborate on one such re-introduction. A specimen was sent to me from the Isle of Wight I could not identify it at the time, so I rooted the specimen, eventually it proved to be "General Tom Thumb" introduced by Bass in 1847. As there is already a well - established cultivar "Tom Thumb", it was thought better to name this one after the village from which it had come. There had been a bed of this Fuchsia at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. Prince Albert had the plants transferred later to Osborne House, the royal residence in the Isle of Wight.

Thus in various ways my collection of Fuchsias increased until by 1938 it numbered some 300 cultivars and species. Despite restricted space I was able to raise upwards of l0,000 young plants each season, thanks to the readiness with which Fuchsia cuttings can be rooted. Orders were coming to me from various parts of the world - Canada, West Indies, Australia, Sudan, and East Africa. My contacts with the United States proved to be particularly significant for the further development of the Fuchsia, throughout Southern California Fuchsias thrive, and growers there in 1929 started the American Fuchsia Society The following year two of their members, Professor Sydney B. Mitchell and his wife, when visiting England met me at Chelsea Show. They had been commissioned to seek out Fuchsias that were not in cultivation in California. My collection delighted them, and they placed an order for fifty different varieties. Amongst those sent was "Rolla" which made an important contribution to the production of new varieties by growers there.

Early in 1938, Mr.W.W.Whiteman of Gloucester, Lady Boothby and I had a meeting in Lady Boothby's flat in the West End of London. The purpose of the meeting was to form the Fuchsia Society later named the British Fuchsia Society. Invitations to join were circulated to all the names on my list of customers. Other interested people were also approached. The response was excellent. Owing to my pre-occupation at the time with medical studies, and later in the year with preparations for my departure overseas, I could not devote much time to the initial work of the Society. The successful launching was due to the hard work of Mr. Whiteman who for the first seven years served as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. He was ably supported by Lady Boothby who became the first President. It is a deep satisfaction to me that the Society has continued to grow and flourish.

The autumn of 1938 approached and it was time for me to set off for Papua New Guinea to face new tasks and challenges there. My youngest sister Margaret had by then also become involved with the Fuchsias together with my father and eldest sister Edith. As a small return for all their help I left them the Fuchsia Nursery which had been my support and stay for ten strenuous years. From that time on, it is Margaret who must tell you more of the oldest Fuchsia Nursery.




(Saved article from vanished website of the Llanelli & District Fuchsia Group of the British Fuchsia Society, formerly found at "http://www.sospan.demon.co.uk/")


The Oldest Fuchsia Nursery - Part 2

by Margaret Slater.


After my brother left for Papua, in 1938, my father took up the work of the Fuchsia Nursery. A year later, the war came and, with it, a host of problems and restrictions. One of the main concerns of Nurseryman was the rationing of fuel. However, my father discovered that nurseries, who could claim 'Specialist' collections, could be granted a fuel permit, enabling them to obtain all they might need. This he applied for and, eventually got - much to his great relief.

Our plants were thus made secure from the winter frosts; but everyday dangers of war remained, and on several occasions the falling of nearby bombs shattered much of the glass- though none of the greenhouses ever suffered more serious damage

Naturally, because of this damage and the impossibility of doing speedy and adequate repairs, we suffered some losses. There being practically no other specialist growers in the country, at that time, many of the cultivars proved impossible to replace.

Amongst those we lost were Starlight a variety raised by Bull in 1868 this was one of those lovely varieties having white tube and sepals and rosy- cerise corolla, a small dainty flower just like a star. Perle Mauve raised by Rozain Boucharlat in 1913 a double violet purple corolla and cerise sepals - a really good flower. Masterpiece raised by Henderson in 1891 I remember this one for its vigorous upright habit of growth, a single flower having scarlet cerise tube and sepals and a magenta corolla. Marcellin Berthelot raised by Lemoine 1905, a really striking flower, a large bluish-violet corolla with reflexed cerise sepals.These are ones that I particularly regret losing. Despite my best efforts since that time, I have been unable to trace them. However, maybe someone somewhere grows them still.

Although we took no part in the shows, during the war, there was still a large demand for plants during the Spring and Summer months. The annual free distribution of cuttings that had proved so popular when the Fuchsia Society was introduced it in 1938 continued throughout these years. Each member of the Society was allowed, on application 3 free rooted cuttings of the varieties of their choice. So far as I can remember, we received on average, about 300 of these applications. Those of you, who are members of the British Fuchsia Society, will know that this distribution continues to this day, and this year more than 3,000 people requested plants. The task is made much simpler nowadays, for it is we, the Nurseryman who make the choice of cultivars sent. I usually select three as distinct as possible

Looking through an old catalogue of the time, I see that in 1940, we listed some 300 cultivars and species. Many of these we still stock, and, indeed have become firm favourites; Queen Mary raised in Britain by C.J.Howlett a plant of this was presented by the raiser to Queen Mary at Windsor Castle in 1910. This is a large single flower with a beautiful rose coloured corolla and pale pink tube and sepals. Phyllis, of course as this was introduced by my brother in 1938 a semi double cerise self coloured. Blands New Striped raised in Britain by Bland in 1872 a single flower with curling red sepals; corolla rich purple with streaks of pink down the centre of each petal, with all the new varieties that have appeared through the years there have been very few that could compete with this one. Amy Lye raised by Lye in 1885, such a lovely flower having waxy creamy white tube and sepals and a single orange corolla, Ballet Girl raised by Vetch in Britain in 1894; this is of course a double white with scarlet tube and sepals -another double white you will think, ah, but there is something really special about Ballet Girl. Favourite, there are two Favourites one raised by Lye and one by Bland; we still grow them both. I am particularly fond of Bland's s Favourite a really striking flower with long pale pink tube and sepals and a rosy red corolla. Beauty of Exeter raised in France in 1890; a large semi-double having light rosy-salmon tube and sepals and a deeper shade in the corolla, a good strong growing cultivar with attractive foliage. Rose Phenomenal, the raiser of this cannot be traced but I feel sure that it must be Lemoine; a double flower having scarlet tube and sepals and a mauve-lavender corolla. These are just a few that I am sure many of you will recognise, if not they are really worth getting to know.

After the war, my father looked to increase our stock with new varieties, unfortunate there were very few being raised in Britain. But it was around this time that Mr W.P.Wood, a past President of the British Fuchsia Society raised a lot of really good hardy sorts including David, Dorothy Glow, Margaret and I was greatly honoured when he called one Margaret Brown. Some very striking large flowered varieties were imported from America around this time including Patty Evans this has pale pink tube and sepals and double white corolla. It is interesting to recall that one of the parents of this was Rolla a variety sent to America by my brother in 1932.

In 1946 we began to show again, and the name of H.A. Brown was frequently to be seen at the R.H.S. Hall and, of course, at Chelsea.

On the death of my father, in 1949, my eldest sister and I took over the running of the Nursery. Much of the business was done by post - in fact personal callers were something of a rare occurrence. Over the past few years however, interest in the Fuchsia has increased so much that people will travel many miles to visit the Nursery. In fact, we have had visits from keen growers from Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, and from as far afield as Australia, Canada and the U.S.A.

I am happy to say that we have kept our reputation of having one of the largest collections in the country. In particular we take pride in the many old cultivars that we are still able to list, and we maintain a good selection of' species triphylla hybrids. In fact the species are much in demand today.

However, we remain constantly on the lookout for the really good new varieties and we were particularly delighted a few years ago when Mr John Wright introduced his Whiteknights series; Whiteknights Pearl, Blush, Amethyst, Ruby and Cheeky and allowed us to put them on the market.

Having then, been growing Fuchsias nearly all my life, I help the British Fuchsia Society with the identification of cultivars. Members are entitled to send me up to ten plants at a time, and I am happy to give the correct names to their plants when I am able. This is a task that takes up a great deal of my time during the summer months, but I am glad to be of assistance in this way. And perhaps one day, one of those long-lost cultivars will appear in the post and I will be able to welcome it back.

This article was written by Mrs.Margaret Slater around about 1986. Unfortunately she passed away in 1993, a great loss to the fuchsia world - such a lovely FUCHSIA LADY



(Saved article from vanished website of the Llanelli & District Fuchsia Group of the British Fuchsia Society, formerly found at "http://www.sospan.demon.co.uk/")


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