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Mr Reginald John Farrer

Who was Reginald John Farrer?

Reginald John Farrer (1880-1920) was a renowned English botanist, plant collector, and writer whose significant contributions to alpine plant cultivation and exploration left an indelible mark on the field of botany. Born on February 17, 1880, in London, Farrer exhibited an early fascination with plants and nature, which eventually led to his remarkable career in botany.

He underwent several operations as a child and was educated at home. Farrer's father inherited the estate at Ingleborough in 1889, and at the age of 14 Reginald re-designed the alpine garden at the site. He attended Balliol College Oxford from 1898 to 1902, during which time he also helped construct the rock garden at St. John's College.

Life and Work:

Farrer's passion for botany blossomed during his formative years, and he became captivated by alpine plants. His expeditions took him across various continents, including Asia, where he explored remote regions of China, Tibet, and Burma. During these arduous journeys, he collected numerous plant specimens previously unknown to the Western world. His observations and collections significantly enriched the understanding of alpine flora and expanded botanical knowledge.

He travelled to Japan and Korea in 1903, publishing an account of his visit as The Gardens of Asia (1904). He was engaged in writing novels and poetry at this time, but also wrote the very successful My Rock Garden in 1907 and Alpines and Bog Plants in 1908. In the same year he travelled to Ceylon. His Craven Nursery Company won a first prize for alpines at Chelsea in May 1912.

One of Farrer's most notable accomplishments was his extensive documentation of his travels and botanical discoveries. His writings, including books like "The Garden of Asia" and "The English Rock-Garden," provided valuable insights into alpine plant cultivation and inspired many enthusiasts and botanists alike.

Farrer was also known for his pioneering work in rock gardening, advocating for the cultivation of alpine plants in artificial rockeries. His expertise and meticulous documentation of plant habitats and growing conditions contributed immensely to the development of alpine gardening techniques.

In 1919 he went to Upper Burma, discovering many new stunning plants, few of which were able to be raised in Britain. Unfortunately, Farrer's life was cut short at the age of 40 during an expedition in the mountains of Upper Burma in 1920, probably of diphtheria. His legacy, however, lived on through his written works, plant collections, and the impact he made in the world of botany. His contributions continue to influence botanical studies, particularly in the cultivation and understanding of alpine plants.


  1. Cox, E. H. M. (Ed.). (1983). The plant introductions of Reginald Farrer. Timber Press.
  2. Farrer, R. J. (1917). The English Rock-Garden (Vols. 1-2). T. C. & E. C. Jack.
  3. Hillier, H. (1972). Farrer's Last Journey: Upper Burma, 1919-20. In Plant Hunters (pp. 163-172). The University of Chicago Press.
  4. Spencer, R. (1980). Reginald Farrer. Michael Joseph.

Morgan, Basil, 'Farrer, Reginald John (1880-1920)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006) [accessed 23 June 2009]

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