Having enjoyed several visits in recent years to Kew, I recently bought a book called “The Plant Hunters”, by Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave. (There are several books with that title). It is the story of several of the most legendary botanical explorers, who brought back exotic plants previously unknown in Europe and England, including many that I saw this summer in The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Fascinating!
Hundreds of thousands of us enjoy gardening and visiting famous parks and gardens. Yet few of us, as we admire the beautiful and diverse range of plants around us, stop to wonder where they come from, and fewer still think about how these plants came to be here in the first place.
How many of us, for example, know that the explorer who found over 300 rhododendron species was one of two survivors of a party attacked in a rebellious uprising and had an escape worthy of a member of the Special Forces; that the man responsible for establishing the tea industry in India single-handedly fought a gun battle with pirates while running a high fever; that the plant hunter who introduced many conifers to our landscape was gored to death by a bull; or that the discovery of the Himalayan rhododendrons resulted in a kingdom being annexed into the British Empire?