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Plant Breeding: Once Considered Challenge to God’s Will

Thomas Fairchild (1667-1729) managed his own garden center in Hoxton, a section in east London, in the eighteenth century.

People would come to him for the newest flowers to plant in their garden.

He wrote a book about what plants could be included in a city garden, called simplty The City Gardener [below]

The City Gardener by Thomas Fairchild, 1722

But it was his work as an early hybridizer for which he is remembered.

Flowers in the garden were not important until after 1600. Before that time plants served as a source of food and medicine.

It was variety in flowers that gardeners wanted.

Michael Leapman in his wonderful book The Ingenious Mr. Fairchild writes about Fairchild’s work as an early hybridizer so he could give more plants to his customers.

He says, “By the late eighteenth century Fairchild’s nursery has been built over, and in Victorian times a workhouse was constructed here. No trace of the nursery remains, and no plaque marks the spot.

“Yet were it not for the work he carried out here, the best-loved flowers in our gardens might be less handsome, their scent less beguiling.

“Those hybrid tea roses near the park entrance would not be as showy.

“The range of varieties available would be severely restricted, and gardening might never have become the national obsession, nor the multi-million pound industry, that it is today.”

You see, Fairchild became a hybridizer.

As a religous man, at times he wondered if he was violating God’s laws by crossing one flower with another.

That was a sentiment that entered florists’ circles over the decades leading to Charles Darwin, who also expressed a similar sentiment.

Fairchild enlisted Mark Catesby, the plant hunter to America, to bring some speciments from his travels to the Hoxton nursery. Of course, he did just that.

Leapman writes, “Fairchild concentracted on fruit, shrubs, smaller trees, and flowers, especially. exotics.”

But he is rememberd as an early hybridizer. He lived to experience the tension of a religious person who had serious concern about his role in the world of flowers.

The Gardener’s Chronicle said in 1881, “Hybridizing was formerly regarded as a sacrilegious subversion of nature.”

By that time, Fairchild was gone, and so was the sentiment of religious disobedience that had cast a shadow over a gardener’s experimenting with hybrids.

This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. David, this week I have used your material on Fairchild from the Gardens Trust blog. Thank you for alerting me to it.

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