English gardeners began collecting American plants as early as the fifteenth century, according to Eleanour Sinclair Rohde’s book The Old English Herbals.
Sometimes a native American plant would come back home and find a place in our gardens only after the English had cultivated it for decades.
The following story by F. Parkman from Boston about a tall plant with yellow flowers appeared in Philadelphia seedsman Thomas Meehan’s journal Gardener’s Monthly of 1875: “As I write, a mass of golden yellow, 6 to 8 feet in width, and as many feet above the ground, rises in the herbaceous garden against the green wall and trees beyond.
“Two years ago, I imported from England an insignificant looking plant in a four-inch pot, a native, I believe, of this
country, emigrating to the old world, where his merits found a recognition, which they had never found at home. Having thus reclaimed him, I planted him in a good soil at the back of a wide bed of perennials, where, this year, he made the display described above. Rudbeckia nitida is the name of the plant; and where a grand blaze of yellow is wanted on the lawn, or at the edge of the shrubbery, it would be hard to find its equal”.
The tall mass of yellow flowers turned out to be our popular Rudbeckia.
The argument for the use of native plants in the landscape has a long history in America, dating back to the period when English plant collectors came for our seeds and plants and sent them across the ocean for the English garden.
In the nineteenth century a native plant had value only after English gardeners sang its praise. Only then would the plant appear in American seed and nursery catalogs.
Today we treasure the Rudbeckia nitida, which has now returned home to our gardens.
Do you have it in your garden?