Edward Leeds and his daffodils
Leeds' skill with plants can be found in the contributions he made to a number of gardening magazines. Volume 4 of The British Flower Garden contained a drawing of 'three very distinct varieties' of Primula farinosa of which he wrote: 'The white-flowered variety is a very local plant, and rare in its native habitats. I collected it in very damp situations and loamy soil... The high-coloured variety is mostly found in bog or peat earth ... the specimens sent are not near so strong as I have grown them, by planting them in bog and loam, and placing the pots in which they were grown in pans of water in Summer...'
The Floricultural Cabinet of 1 December 1833, contains an article by Leeds 'On the Cultivation of Cypripediums'. Leeds had a considerable collection of the hardier forms - C. calceolus; C. pubescens; C. parviflorum; C. spectabile; C. humile and C. arietinum - and they required different treatment. He described the compost mixtures he used for each and noted that he 'planted grass round the edges of the pans ... because I find the roots of Cypripediums delight in running amongst the roots of grass'. He concluded his article: 'I had this season one root of C. pubescens, which produced fifteen flowering stems, and another root of C. Calceolus, with thirteen blossoms, - both of which have been grown from very small plants. I have also been most successful with C. spectabile.'
In the same year, Leeds raised Helianthus speciosus (the Mexican Sunflower, also known as Tithonia rotundifolia) from a packet of seeds from the Botanic Garden, Mexico, sent to him by his friend William Higson. Thomas Glover made a botanical drawing of the plant which he sent on to William Hooker and which was published in Curtis' Botanical Magazine in November 1834. In his covering letter, Glover referred to Leeds as having 'lately commenced business as a florist, etc' and this became in print, 'Nurseryman and Florist'. There is no real evidence that Leeds ever made his living from his plants, although in September 1832, the Manchester Guardian carried an advertisement for Dahlias which stated: 'The admirers of these flowers are respectfully informed that a select and splendid collection of them is now in bloom in the garden of Mr Edward Leeds, Longford Bridge, near Stretford, and parties desirous of ordering for the ensuing season have now the opportunity of making their own selection. Also a very choice collection of ornamental Herbaceous Plants on moderate terms. Orders may be left with Mr G Vaughn & Son, seedsman, 13 Market Place.' It is unclear whether Vaughn & Son were selling Leeds' plants or whether Leeds was providing Vaughn & Son with a showcase.
Other plants raised by Edward Leeds that were featured in Curtis' Botanical Magazine were Tagetes corymbosa (1840); Stevia trachelioides (1841); Lithospermum canescens (1848); and Echinacea angustifolia (1861).
In 1851, the Gardeners' Magazine of Botany featured two plates of Leeds' seedling narcissi and also Crocus vernus var. Leedsii. This was the best of the many thousands of crocuses that he had raised and was described as 'a very striking improvement on any varieties we possess. The colouring is rich and dense, a deep violet-purple, which is set off in admirable contrast by a distinct pure white margin'. Although much admired, and despite Leeds holding a large stock, it does not appear that it was ever made available commercially.
Edward Leeds grew a huge variety of herbaceous plants. Reports of Manchester flower shows between 1829 and 1838 record that he won prizes for, amongst others, Trillium grandiflorum; Anemone thalictroides var. pleno; Streptopus roscus; a Campanula of unknown variety; Diphylla cymosa; Viola lanceolata; Lilium superbum var; Dracocephalum argunense;Cypripedium Pubescens. In 1838 he won the premier prize for Peonies.
One of Leeds' favourite plants was Echinacea angustifolia. In 1870 he wrote that he had 'never yet parted with any'. He had provided a specimen for Hooker, and it had been featured in Curtis' Botanical Magazine on 1 November, 1861. Leeds had shared his seeds around, and the plant had been grown by Mr Ross, of Smedley.