Edward Leeds and his daffodils
Receiving and sharing
Edward Leeds received seeds and plants from many different sources and was always on the look-out for plants new to cultivation in Britain. Giles Duxberry sent seeds from Missouri and Leeds' friend, William Higson, sent him seeds from Mexico. Higson was not himself a gardener or botanist and only obtained the seeds to oblige Leeds. Yet Leeds always sought to give Higson, rather than himself, the credit for any new introduction.
In 1870 Leeds wrote about some new plants that he had raised, from seeds sent by Mr. Bourne of Iowa. It provides us with an insight into his passion and his methods. 'The seeds were collected by a gentleman who knows nothing about plants: at my suggestion during his rambles he picked pods of anything he met with wild and put all mixed together in a Bag and sent them to me. He appears to have stumbled upon some fine things. I raised many others mostly now lost. It is clear I think that much may be done by parties not acquainted with plants if requested to get wild seeds promiscuously and not ask for names to, which deters such parties from trying.' This approach meant that he was often seeking identification of the resultant plants.
However he also received seeds and plants from more knowledgeable sources. John Goldie, the Scottish botanist, sent him plants from Canada, including a white dwarf Asclepias, the Orchis dilatata (Habenaria dilatata), an unidentified Phlox, Golden Rods, and Asters.
A few of Leeds' letters survive in the archives at Kew: eight to Sir William Hooker; seven to Sir Joseph Hooker and one to William Thiselton-Dyer, plus three to Thomas Glover which were passed on to Hooker.
As a correspondent, Edward Leeds says nothing about himself or his family (unlike Thomas Glover who counted himself a friend of both William and Joseph Hooker). His letters are all about plants, often seeking identification, hoping that he had grown something new and unknown. They are always short on detail. He had 'an Alstroemeria from Bolivian seed', lupins from Texas and California, and melon seeds 'from the borders of the Sahara', brought to Manchester by a 'Turkish gentleman'.
The plant-hunter Thomas Nuttall botanised throughout America, but returned to Lancashire when he inherited his uncle's estate. He visited Leeds and admired some asters which had come from Missouri, saying 'they were new to him'. Leeds promised to send them to Kew in the autumn, once they had finished flowering and reported that he had visited Mr. Nuttall's house, but found him 'in very poor health'.
It was Leeds' friend Thomas Glover who introduced him to William Hooker and Glover acted as a go-between for several years. In November 1842, the year after Hooker became Director of Kew Gardens, Glover wrote: 'Through the kindness of my friend Mr Edward Leeds I have been enabled to send you a few out of the list of plants you furnished me with as desiderata in your British Garden. Some I know I have sent you before but he has added them unasked for. He has also added a few other things not British which he would be delighted to hear were any of them new to your collection...'
Glover knew that Edward Leeds was prepared to share his plants, and in return, wanted to do something for him. He gave Hooker a list of the plants Leeds particularly wanted at that time: 'allium caeruleum, Primula denticulata, Aquilegia skinneri and Polemonium caeruleum var. grandiflorum... Also any description of Ixia and its kindred tribes'. It was the beginning of thirty years of plant-exchanges between Manchester and Kew. In 1870, Leeds reported that the pisum umbellatum he had received from Kew was flowering well, and in 1871 he sent to Kew a basket of plants, including several Sempervivums, Silene catholica, Polemonium grandiflorum, Potentilla pulchra, Chrysanthemum arcticum and an Inula.
Less than a year before his death, and in failing health, he offered his herbarium to Kew. It was accepted and a letter of thanks was sent to him on May 23, 1876.