In the Footsteps of Plant Hunters: Fuchsias

Fuchsias lined up in the windows of Sezincote's conservatory.
Helen has written a fab post with all the details of our recent visit there :)

Today I'm thinking about a different kind of plant hunter. Not those Victorian gentlemen we've familiar with like Wilson or Farrar, who explored the remotest of places to collect new plants, but the people of today who seek to collect and research a particular set of cultivars. Many of these register their collection(s) with Plant Heritage and this post is my contribution to their 35th birthday celebrations this year.

I was particularly interested in an earlier press release of theirs as it involves Wiltshire and a plant I enjoy in my own garden, fuchsias. Since then I've been waiting for a decent picture to place at the head of this post. The rest of the images are courtesy of the Collection holder, Kristopher Harper and Plant Heritage.

Background to the Collection

James Lye with his fuchsias at Clyffe Hall
c 1890. 
© Market Lavington Museum
Kristopher started his Collection in 2009, which comprises 28 cultivars. It's a new collection to Plant Heritage and is held in Norfolk. It comprises cultivars introduced by the Victorian plantsman, James Lye who came from Market Lavington in Wiltshire. Kristopher's grandfather's family - who gave Kristopher his love of fuchsias - also owned a fuchsia nursery in Wiltshire and tried to build a similar Collection there. But this was lost when the nursery closed.

Kristopher was keen to maintain a Wiltshire link and James Lye seemed the ideal man. James Lye was a renowned Victorian prize-winning fuchsia grower and shower. He exhibited many of his own fuchsia introductions and earned himself the title of ‘Champion Fuchsia Grower in the West of England.’

Lyes favourite – Floral Magazine 1880
James developed the now recognised typical Victorian sense of grandeur and became renowned for growing his fuchsias in the style of pyramids; the results were between 5ft and 9ft tall. He's thought to have bred over 100 cultivars between 1860 and 1901 and his cultivars are known for their similar characteristics which make them easy to identify; a single corolla, sepals that are thick and waxy and nearly always white.

The search for more cultivars to add to the Collection continues...

Intrigued, I contacted Kristopher about his search and received the following reply:

"The two cultivars I am currently searching out of the many of Lye’s introductions which are believed to be lost from cultivation [around 70 - Ed] are ‘Nellie’ and ‘James Welch’. There are no images of these cultivars that I have come across, but there are descriptions which I have listed below.

‘Nellie' Single, Tube and Sepals Creamy White, Corolla Pink suffused pinkish mauve, deepening to clear mauve.  Referenced to it in the gardeners chronicle in 1885.

‘James Welch’ Single, Tube and Sepals Bright Rosy Red, The sepals are reflexed, Corolla pale maroon shaded bright purple.  Referenced to it in the Gardeners Chronicle in 1885 as new for 1886.

James Welch was the secretary of the Wiltshire Agricultural Association for a number of years, and appears to have had a close association to James."

How YOU can help

Calling all Wiltshire gardeners and beyond! Kristopher says:

"I feel sure that a number of these plants may still be growing in private gardens, admired by their owners who are unaware of their true identity or importance. Have a closer look!"

Or perhaps you have a link with the Wiltshire Agricultural Association and have some information about James Lye to hand? Or perhaps you know something about Nellie or James Welch?

Note: Kristopher is also keen to widen his search to Europe and America, so I hope the power of this blog and its international readership can help him to do that. Kristopher is also looking for copies of old nursery catalogues from the 1840s to the early 1900s to add to his archive collection. Kristopher is happy for you to contact him directly via his Collection website.

You may also like

My first post "in the footsteps of plant hunters" earlier this year, when I visited Borde Hill  :)


  1. Fascinating, I love hearing about plant hunters and plant collections. Let us hope he finds what he is looking for, it would be wonderful for him.

  2. Hope that Kristopher is succesful. Had a long chat with a volunteer at the Plant Heritage stand at the Southport Flower Show last month. So glad that they changed their name :)

  3. Hi both - Fingers crossed :)

    Have you heard about the proposed EU legislation re registering ornamental plant varieties? Plant Heritage are also to the fore in the campaign to amend (or hopefully scotch) the legislation. It would have such an effect on Kristopher's work and many other national collection holders if it goes through.


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