Exotic Plant History Group

Falmouth and Plant Imports

Plants Imported via Falmouth
Plants Imported via Falmouth
Plant Importer
Plant Importer

Objectives

This was a new style of project for The Arts Society Falmouth. The concept and structure was approved by the National Organisation, and work started mid 2015.

The group aimed to research the important role of the ports of Falmouth and Penryn in the 18th and 19th centuries in the importation of exotic plants and their subsequent distribution. 

The Group
The Exotic Plant Group Members
Plant Hunter
Plant Hunter

The research aimed to uncover the people and places which played such a significant role in changing the design and feel of gardens and parkland throughout the country.

The information gathered included things such as: Plant Name, Importing Ship, Where From, Date of Arrival of Ship, Who was Importing, the Buyer, Plant Hunter, Nursery/Nurseryman and Cost.

The Project

The group had expected that Packet ships (mail ships delivering post to key trading and colonial centres) would be returning to Falmouth and Penryn with cargoes of plants from around the world destined for the great gardens of Cornwall. However, supporting material was extremely sparse, especially before 1800. The fashion for gardening had barely started: magazines, newspapers and learned societies were not publishing garden material.

Therefore, the group’s research was limited to 1800-1850, the peak years of the Falmouth Packet ships taking mail westwards, and returning with plant samples, not whole cargoes, for individuals. Trees from the western hemisphere came to England as seeds, mainly to Kew, and to commercial nurserymen such as Collinson or Veitch who imported through Exeter and London.

Rhododendron Arboreum, Bhutan (J Pearce)
Rhododendron Arboreum, Bhutan (J Pearce)
The Sir Charles Lemon List
The Sir Charles Lemon List

Gradually the Group became aware of the domination of Kew under the successive leadership of father and son botanists William and Joseph Hooker. They were the ones who gathered and disseminated plants. It was they who sent plants to the great gardens of Cornwall, mainly for propagation because of the mild climate. 

In all their researches the group failed to confirm evidence of the filling of Cornish gardens by shiploads of plants coming through Falmouth. The attractive myth that Cornish gardens were largely sourced from plants brought in by Packet ship, was just that – a myth.

Final Report

Their research document can be found here copies are available at the Cornwall Records Office, Cornwall Garden Trust, the Courtney Library at the Royal Cornwall Museum, the Morab Library in Penzance and Kew Gardens.