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They lived, too, at a time when


scientifi c interests were making their impact on gardening and botanic gardens cultivated and studied newly available seed and plant material. The botanic gardens at Edinburgh and Kew played an important role in training and supporting plant hunters on their dangerous expeditions. At the same time, horticultural interests and research were fostered by the RHS, founded in 1804, “To form a repository for all the knowledge which can be collected on the subject, and to give a stimulus to the exertions of individuals for its farther improvement.” The Sussex owners


were all members of the society, held offi cial positions on its committees, wrote articles for its journal and entered their prize plants in its competitions.


Ludwig and Leonard Messel developed the garden at Nymans, and Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke developed Borde Hill. Three members of the Loder family were responsible for the achievements at the other gardens; Sir Edmund Loder working at Leonardslee, Colonel Giles Loder at The High Beeches and Gerald Loder, 1st Baron Wakehurst, at Wakehurst Place. All benefi ted enormously from the treasures brought home by the intrepid plant hunters and all the owners contributed to the fi nancing of their expeditions. Without the owners the great gardens would not exist but without the plant hunters the gardens would be immeasurably less fascinating and impressive. They provided the raw material for the creation of the ‘Sussex style’. It took a special type of person to be a plant hunter. Reading of their exploits and the hardships they endured makes one question their sanity. Their obsessive enthusiasm for the task is never in question. They risked severe physical hardship, faced dangers from local inhabitants and terrain, fell prey to illnesses that often permanently weakened them and shortened their lives, not to mention being separated from their families for long periods. They faced additional diffi culties in bringing home their precious plants, seeds and photographs. Heavy photographic plates were often damaged in transit and plant material rotted or died


Photo: Wakehurst 56 SUSSEX LIVING October 2011 www.sussexliving.com


during long sea voyages. Their travels resulted in plants arriving in Britain from China, Australasia, South East Asia, North and South America, the Himalayas, and Russia and Alaska.


The world of gardening and horticulture owes a huge debt to these men, including David Douglas (1799-1834), George Forrest (1873- 1932), Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson (1876- 1930), and Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958). Douglas introduced the fi r that carries his name and became an important feature of British gardens, providing wind breaks and shelter for more tender plants. Forrest, described as “the greatest plant hunter of his generation,” is remembered by the range of plants, including primulas and rhododendrons, that bear his name. Wilson returned with the beautiful Magnolia sinensis, the impressive


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