Mr. Lee of Hammersmith

England has always been a land of gardens and gardeners and so we thought it appropriate to begin a few posts which deal with the subject. Of course, if you’re going to garden you are going to need plants. One of the most respected and most successful nursery gardens was that of Messrs. Lee, of Hammersmith, one of the oldest in the neighbourhood of London, which survived until the early part of the 20th century.

Mr. James Lee, who established the nursery, was born at Selkirk in 1715. When he first came to London he was employed at Syon, and afterwards at Whitton (pictured above), by the Duke of Argyll. About the year 1760 he entered into partnership with Mr. Lewis Kennedy, gardener to Lord Bolton, at Chiswick, and commenced a nursery, in what was called The Vineyard, at Hammersmith. About the middle of the 18th century, the vineyard was producing a considerable quantity of Burgundy wine each year. A thatched house was built in the grounds; with wine cellars beneath. Mr. James Lee and his partner took it and established a most successful Horticultural Nursery, remarkable for obtaining from distant countries everything rare and  beautiful to be obtained. They maintained collector at the Cape of Good Hope, and another in America and enjoyed world-wide celebrity. Every known, rare, or new plant could be obtained there. They once received a letter addressed, “Lees Nursery, England” which reached them readily. They were the first to obtain a China rose (right) in 1787. These roses changed the cultivation of
roses in many ways, including the fact that they broadened the scents of rosesm new blends becoming apparent as they were hybridized with other roses, such as damasks.

James Lee had an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the greenhouses were quite extensive and almost as old as the nursery itself, offering a good stock of many species with a very full collection of Fuchsias, the best being F. ignea, a variety raised by Messrs. Veitch of Exeter. The flowers are very large, with the colours (crimson sepals and purple corolla) bright and strong, and the sepals reflexed. Other good varieties on offer were striata (Veitch); Don Giovanni, with a fine open corolla; Grand Master, similarly fine; and Prince of Orange, with pale and large flowers, shown at left.

In fact, so well known were Mr. Lee’s Fuchsia’s that there is a legend surrounding his acquisition of a certain variety. This tale has been told and appears in print numerous times, most floridly perhaps in the Ladies Repository of 1871. Here is the version that appeared in Sharpe’s London Magazine in 1846, entitled The Fuchsia Tree:

MR. SHEPHERD, the respectable and well-informed conservator of the Botanical Gardens at Liverpool, gives the following curious account of the introduction of that elegant little flowering shrub, the Fuchsia, into our English green-houses and parlour windows. Old Mr. Lee, a nurseryman and gardener, near London, well known fifty or sixty years ago, was one day showing his variegated treasures to a friend, who suddenly turned to him, and declared, “Well, you have not in your collection a prettier flower than I saw this morning at Wapping.”—”No! and ‘pray what was this phoenix like?”—”Why, the plant was elegant, and the flower hung in rows like tassels from the pendant branches; their colour the richest crimson; in the centre a fold of deep purple,” and so forth.

Particular directions being demanded and given, Mr. Lee posted off to Wapping, where he at once perceived that the plant was new in this part of the world. He saw and admired. Entering the house, he said, “My good woman, this is a nice plant, I should like to buy it.”—”I could not sell it for no money, for it was brought me from the West Indies by my husband, who has now left again, and I must keep it for his sake.”—”But I must have it.”—”No, Sir!”—” Here,” emptying his pocket, “here are gold, silver, copper;” (his stock was something more than eight guineas.)—”Well-a-day I but this is a power of money, sure and sure.”—”Tis yours, and the plant is mine; and, my good dame, you shall have one of the first young ones I rear, to keep for your husband’s sake.” —”Alack, alack!”—”You shall, I say, by Jove!” A coach was called, in which was safely deposited our florist and his seemingly dear purchase. His first work was to pull off and utterly destroy every vestige of blossom and blossom-bud; it was divided into cuttings, which were forced in bark-beds, and hot-beds; were re-divided, and sub-divided. Every effort was used to multiply the plant. By the commencement of the next flowering season, Mr. Lee was the delighted possessor of 300 Fuchsia plants, all giving promise of blossom. The two which opened first, were removed into his show-house, A lady came;—” Why, Mr. Lee, my dear Mr. Lee, where did you get this charming flower?”—” Hem! ’tis a new thing, my lady—pretty, is it not?”—” Pretty! ’tis lovely. Its price?— ” A guinea—thank your ladyship;” and one of the two plants stood proudly in her ladyship’s boudoir. “My dear Charlotte, where did you get it?” —” Oh! ’tis a new thing; I saw it at old Lee’s; pretty, is it not I”—” Pretty! ’tis beautiful! Its price?” —” A guinea; there was another left” The visitor’s horses smoked off to the suburb; a third flowering plant stood on the spot whence the first had been taken. The second guinea was paid, and the second chosen Fuchsia adorned the drawing-room of her second ladyship. The scene was repeated as new comers saw, and were attracted by the beauty of the plant. New chariots flew to the gates of old Lee’s nursery-ground. Two Fuchsias, young, graceful, and bursting into healthy flower, were constantly seen on the same spot in his repository.


He neglected not to gladden the faithful sailor’s wife by the promised gill; but ere the flower-season closed, 300 golden guineas chinked in his purse, the produce of the single shrub of the widow of Wapping; the reward of the taste, decision, skill, and perseverance of old Mr. Lee.

Along with Carl Von Linne, Mr. Lee wrote An Introduction to Botany, published in 1760, which went through five editions, and for many years was in the highest repute. James Lee died in the year 1795, at the age of eighty years, his partner,
Mr. Kennedy, having died previously.

The nursery was carried on by the sons of the two founders till 1817, when they dissolved partnership. It then became the sole property of James Lee, the second, who died in 1824, leaving it to his family. In 1827 John Lee was joined in the conduct of this important business by his brother Charles, who was born at the Royal Vineyard Nursery on February 8, 1808, and died on September 2, 1881. The firm was conducted under the title of John &; Charles Lee till 1877, when Mr. John Lee retired, and William Lee, the Son of Charles, joined his father in the management of the business. In 1881, however, upon the death of Charles Lee, the veteran John again, for a time, accepted harness, coming to the assistance of his nephew, who was very deeply affected by the loss of his father. The firm limped along until the early part of the 20th century and is, alas, no more.

Empress Josephine’s Connection to Mr. John Lee coming soon!

The Garden Museum, London

Victoria here.  On two occasions, I have had the privilege of visiting the Garden Museum in London. It is located in a small building, St. Mary’s Church before it was de-consecreated, and stands next to Lambeth Palace almost on the Thames.

The small knot garden was designed by the dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, a well known and expert gardener.  It occupies part of the graveyard of the former church and includes the graves of John Tradescant, one of history’s first and most important plant collector from distant shores.  Another large memorial is for Captain William Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

The interior of the church has been adapted with a prize-winning plan to offer more space for displays without compromising the old walls and windows of the 14th century building.

My first visit was for an exhibition on Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), one of the gardening world’s most distinguished practitioners. Of course, everyone immediately wants to know if she had anything to do with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The answer is maybe. Her brother was a friend of the author. But I have always heard Miss Jekyll’s  last name pronounced as GEE-kull.

Gertrude Jekyll is best known for the country gardens she designed, many in association with the distinguished architect Edward Lutyens (1869-1944).  They collaborated on the famous house Greywalls, 1901, in Gullane, Scotland, now known as the club-hotel at Muirfield Golf course on the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, sometimes home of the British Open Golf Tournament. Greywalls was often the vacation retreat of Georgette Heyer, one of my favorite authors.

I was visiting in Dirleton Scotland, a village just down the road, when a group of us decided to have tea in the Jekyll Gardens at Greywalls. Despite the emphasis on visitors interested in the golf course, they welcomed us and fed us a lovely tea.


Jekyll designed her gardens in “rooms” of various color combinations and design themes. I suppose we think of her herbaceous borders more than any other specific technique, but she never stopped experimenting with new and different arrangements of color, texture and scent.

The official site is here. You can learn even more about her here where there is information about her own garden at her house Munstead in Surrey.

As long as we are talking gardens here, I will drop in a picture of the Chelsea Physick Garden. This is one of the most interesting places in London if you love gardens. I can’t pretend to have visited here long enough to know it well, but someday, I’ll go back and spend more time.  Isn’t that always the way when visiting places we love?  Tempus fugit.

As Kristine and I are going to be in London for the Open Garden Squares Weekend (see right sidebar), we are hoping to pop our heads into a number of gardens that are usually closed to the public. Do click on the link at right to find out more about this event. Also, this post will serve to officially kick off a series of garden posts that will begin on July 5th was a post from Kristine on “Mr. Lee of Hammersmith.”

Beatrix Potter Rose Unveiled!

You may not know that actress Patricia Routledge, better known to us all as Hyacinth Bucket, is the Patroness of the Beatrix Potter Society and as such she was on hand at the Chelsea Flower Show to unveil the new Beatrix Potter™ rose, or Beatrix Potter a, seen below and grown by Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk. The rose was named in honour of the Society’s 30th anniversary.

The rose is a delicate creamy pink coloured shrub rose with a subtle fragrance, reflecting a rose which Beatrix Potter herself painted. “This highly perfumed rose is a truly beautiful tribute for such a merit worthy name” says the breeder, Amanda Beales. The flowers are of the softest pink shade, shapely, with many petals. The rose continues to flower well into the autumn. Growth is upright and tidy to approximately 1.2m and the shrub is well endowed with dark glossy foliage.

You can watch a video of opening day at the Show here.  
               And here’s a video of the Queen Mum at the 1952 Show. 
Victoria here, chiming in to talk about Beatrix Potter. Since I live on the 26th floor and the wind blows the petals off any flowers I try to grow on my balcony, I don’t know much about roses except that I love every single one of them!!  So my comments refer to the inspiration of this lovely new rose variety, the wonderful author of children’s stories, artist, and dedicated conservationist, Beatrix Potter herself. My grandchildren adore the DVDs of all her stories and they even let me read the books to them — sometimes.
Here is a link to a wonderful site with lots of material on Beatrix Potter and her work. And here is a link to the Beatrix Potter Society.
As an avid traveler in the Lake District of England, I especially appreciate Potter’s efforts to preserve forever as public land the beautiful region in which she lived. In her will, she left about 4,000 acres to the National Trust. Beatrix Potter lived from 1866 to 1943, bringing happiness to millions. A film, Miss Potter, was made in 2006, staring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, about her early life. Here’s the trailer.
I can’t say that it was the best film I’ve ever seen, but for fans of Potter, Zellweger, or Victorian England,

 what could be more perfect?
It is entirely fitting that a beautiful rose be named in 
 honor of Beatrix Potter.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire – Part One

Blenheim Palace is one of England’s most famous buildings, a sprawling edifice of honey-colored stone surrounded by spacious parks. Residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, the palace is located in the village of Woodstock, near Oxford. Despite its beauty and idyllic grounds, I found an air of melancholy permeated the property.

Blenheim Palace was a gift from the British nation and a grateful Queen Anne to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, after his 1704 victory over the forces of Louis XIV. When Anne died before the house was finished, the royal purse closed. The Duke and his descendants have been paying for the Palace ever since. Blenheim was a nightmare to build and is a monstrosity to maintain. Take a look at this statement from the Blenheim education page: “The 11th Duke has devoted his life to the preservation of the Palace. He has had a difficult task of balancing the needs of the modern day visitor with the necessity of maintaining a World Heritage site. He said that ‘Although the Battle of Blenheim was won in 1704 the Battle for Blenheim continues in the unceasing struggle to maintain the structure of the building and to obtain the finance for the future.’”

Sarah, the first duchess, fought with architects John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor from the very beginning. She wanted a comfortable residence. They, after creating the baroque magnificence of Castle Howard, wanted a splendid national monument on the order of Versailles. The subsequent story of Blenheim is an indiscriminate mix of the acquisition and dispersal of great art, the antics of peculiar family members, the real and imagined obligations of the aristocracy, and curiosity of the public.

Though Sarah bore the duke six children, both sons and one daughter did not live to adulthood. The eldest of the three remaining daughters, Henrietta, became the 2nd Duchess of Marlborough in her own right. Sadly, her son did not survive her and the 3rd Duke of Marlborough was the son of her sister, Anne, wife of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland. This is the connection to the Spencer family, ancestors of the late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.

above, tomb of the Duke and Duchess

and their sons

 


The fourth duke, who succeeded to the title in 1758 at age 19, was actually the first to make Blenheim his family’s principle residence. He found the place cold, forbidding and rundown, never properly completed. He assumed the great honor and burden of rejuvenating its grandeur and surrounding it with an appropriately sublime setting, a park designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. George III, on a visit in 1786, is reported to have said, “We have nothing to equal this!”

Family of the 4th Duke of Marlborough by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Never plump enough in the pocket, the fourth duke spent millions of pounds on the mansion and grounds. By the 1780’s, he was fading into reclusiveness, his obsession with the house nearing insanity. When Admiral Nelson visited in 1802, with Lord and Lady Hamilton, the duke refused to receive them. Upon the fourth duke’s death in 1817, his son succeeded.

George Charles Spencer-Churchill, formerly the Marquis of Blandford, lived an extravagant life as fifth duke, dissolute yet brilliant and eccentric, qualities that seem to run in the family. He revised Brown’s landscape and sold off non-entailed treasures to finance his high living, even charging visitors by the hour to shoot and fish on the property. The fifth duchess, Susan, daughter of the seventh Earl of Galloway, like her predecessors, sank into the same enslavement to the house. After years of near-bankruptcy, the fifth duke died in 1840, his duchess the next year. When the Duke of Wellington and his friend, diarist Harriet Arbuthnot, visited Blenheim in 1824, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote, “The family of the great General is, however, gone sadly to decay, and are but a disgrace to the illustrious name of Churchill, which they have chosen this moment to resume. The present Duke is overloaded with debt, is very little better than a common swindler and lets everything about Blenheim. People may shoot and fish at so much per hour and it has required all the authority of a Court of Chancery to prevent his cutting down all the trees in the park.”


Thus, the pattern was established, dukes and duchesses sacrificing themselves and their families to a symbolic vision of Blenheim Palace more important than mere humans. Another famous victim was Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the 9th duke in 1895, a social coup for her mother, but a lesser triumph for her father, who provided millions to restore and maintain Blenheim. Consuelo later divorced and eventually achieved happiness as Countess Balsan. Right, the 9th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough with their heir and spare, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1907.

The Red Drawing Room
In a future blog, I will take you on a tour of Blenheim and tell more of the story of how a family has had the lives of generations absolutely dominated by the care and maintenance of a home that is also almost a national monument.  Imagine needing a new roof!

Bowood and the Lansdowne Family

By Vicky Hinshaw

Bowood House, c. 1890

In May of 2009, my husband and I spent two weeks in England, another trip to feed my near-fanatical interest in all things historical and British. Our first stop after arriving was in Wiltshire, where we stayed at the lovely Stanton Manor Country Hotel.

As always, I had a long agenda for the trip, centering on visits to stately homes and the opportunity to learn about the families who lived in them. Number one on the list was Bowood, the country estate of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family, perhaps better known by the title of the head of the family, the Marquess of Lansdowne.

The area of the Bowood estate was part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the crown until the early 18th century when a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie (housing a leopard and an orangutan); Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house.

After WWII, when Bowood was used by the Royal Air Force, the main house was left empty and decaying. In 1955, the 8th Marquess had it pulled down. The orangery and adjacent buildings were remodeled to house the family and its collections.

Bowood Today

The Adam Dining Room from the demolished big house is now the board room of Lloyd’s of London in their City headquarters.

Beginning in the 1760’s, Lancelot “Capability” Brown (who else?) designed the gardens, which include a lake, a classical temple and rolling fields. Two decades later, picturesque elements were added: a grotto, waterfalls, and a wilderness. In the 2,000 acre parklands, magnificent Rhododendrons bloom every spring. This impressive display, begun in the 19th century, includes many rare species. Wandering through the colorful scene, over the carpet of bright bluebells and beside blossoms of every shade was a most delightful way to spend a May afternoon in 2009 for my husband and I. As we strolled, we came to the sober Adam-designed mausoleum which now houses the remains of generations of family members.

Today Bowood has built a popular children’s adventure playground, full of birthday parties and eager celebrants on the day we passed. The rooms on exhibition at house (formerly the Orangery and associated buildings) include a magnificent library with fireplace and furniture from the old house and the laboratory where Joseph Priestly studied gasses and discovered oxygen in 1774.
The Library
The Sculpture Gallery

The art collection has many paintings associated with family members such as Admiral Lord Keith, great-grandfather of the 5th Marquess. Keith officially accepted the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte on behalf of the British crown in 1815.

Admiral Lord Keith

Admiral Lord Keith’s daughter was Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Though her distinguished father disapproved, the Comte was well liked and friendly with many Whigs such as Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford, and the Admiral grew fond of him.

 General Comte de Flahalt

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone,
Baroness Keith, Comtesse de Flahault

Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in regency-era society. She was a good friend of the poet Lord Byron and received from him the Albanian costume in which he was painted about 1813. Meg also was portrayed in the outfit which is on display at Bowood. Meg succeeded her father as Baroness Keith. She was known in England by the latter title and as Comtesse de Flahault in France. She and her husband divided their time among homes in Scotland, London and Paris. Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and is the mother of the fifth Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, Artist: Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume

Bowood is not only a fascinating piece of history; it is part of the evolving fate of the English Country House. In today’s difficult economy, such a property must pay its own way. Supporting a family and employees, upkeep and renovations, cascading expenses and taxes – are almost crippling in their combined effects. While many institutions provide assistance (usually in exchange for public access), adequate funding usually means all sorts of services and events that bring in paying customers. The house and garden are just what I love, but the vast majority of the customers when we were there were at the children’s Adventure Playground. Bowood has also opened a golf resort and fine restaurant nearby. A quick perusal of the website will tell the story clearly.