"At last! A book detailing the travels and achievements of two of Britain’s most successful yet least known plant hunters." Roy Lancaster
Blue Orchid and Big Tree: Plant Hunters William and Thomas Lobb and the Victorian mania for the exotic
By Sue Shephard and Toby Musgrave
‘when the condition of Thomas’s injured leg became worse causing him much pain, it became necessary to amputate. The operation was carried out on the kitchen table in the Mitchell’s house (…in those days before general anaesthesia)’.
Travel almost anywhere in Britain and at some point you will see the Big Tree, Wellingtonia, towering against the skyline. In towns the gaunt, spiky branches of the Monkey-puzzle stand sentinel in parks and gardens. Both were once aliens, brought as seeds from inaccessible and remote corners of the world by two Cornish brothers, William and Thomas Lobb.
This is their story, a story of bravery, hardship and adventure, and the Victorian love of exotica. From obscure origins William and Thomas became prize assets of James Veitch, the visionary owner of an Exeter and later Chelsea nursery, horticulturalist and nurseryman, who built an empire on the fashionable and seemingly insatiable demand for fabulous and alien flora. Born in rural obscurity, the brothers found work in Cornish gardens and then – and who could have imagined such a future? – as plant hunters: exploring remote landscapes in distant and often dangerous countries, risking life and limb in pursuit of the rare and the beautiful, praying for survival and fretting over the safe return of their precious cargo.
Veitch’s instructions were curt, giving little hint of hardship:
Immediately on [your] arrival at Rio proceed at once some distance into the Interior, perhaps 5 or 6 days journey, to take with [you] a guide and mules and to return to Rio with [your] collections in time to ship them by the Packet which will leave for England in about six weeks.
Some men died in the pursuit and yet the Lobb brothers survived, carrying seeds from isolated mountains in the Americas and Asia to the conservatories of England – and leaving a legacy of exotic beauty and adventure. Now, in Big Tree and Blue Orchid two best-selling authors give life to the brothers’ adventures and the obsessive world of Victorian plant hunting.
For gardeners, plants and trees are described in detail and illustrated, and there is a chapter devoted to Lobb Plants to grow in gardens and conservatories today.
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