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England's first gardenia bloomed at Harts House, Woodford Green

PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 June 2019

Harts House as it was when Richard Warner lived there.

Harts House as it was when Richard Warner lived there.

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Local historian Georgina Green explains how Woodford Green and one of its 18th century residents has a botanical claim to fame

Richard Warner (1713-1775) of Harts House at Woodford was passionately interested in botany and studied the various plants growing in the locality. He also cultivated rare plants in his garden at Harts where he had a hothouse.

Among many learned friends, he was on good terms with Philip Miller (1691-1771) who for nearly fifty years was the head gardener of what is now called the Chelsea Physic Garden where he cultivated many new plants from abroad.

Richard Warner's claim to botanical fame is that it was at Harts that the first gardenia bloomed in this country.

The middle of the 18th century was a time of mounting interest in plants brought back from all corners of the world and in 1759 Princess Augusta and Lord Bute established the original botanic garden at Kew.

In February 1752 Captain William Hutchinson, Commander of the East Indiaman Godolphin, set off to visit India, Sumatra and Batavia.

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On the return journey, in November 1753, they called in at the Cape of Good Hope where he found this "new" plant growing, before arriving back home in April 1754.

According to papers from the Royal Society of London in 1760, once it had flowered, the Cape Jasmine was "the most rare and beautiful shrub that has yet been introduced into European gardens".

We do not know why the plant was given to Warner but this was the first voyage William Hutchinson had undertaken as a captain.

He was employed by Charles Raymond of Upton in Essex, who managed the voyages as one of the group of owners. Hutchinson would have wanted to please the man who had given him this opportunity and Raymond was interested in botany.

However, in the summer of 1754 Raymond was negotiating the move to Valentines at Ilford, so maybe he instructed Hutchinson to present the plant to Richard Warner, knowing he would appreciate and nurture it at Harts.

Warner tended it in his hothouse and after four years it produced some flowers. Philip Miller came from Chelsea to see it and after examining it, decided it was a jasmine.

Three more of the leading botanists disagreed with Miller so Warner wrote to Carl Linnaeus, enclosing a dried specimen. The Swedish expert declared it to be a new species but Richard Warner refused the honour of having it named a warneria.

It was eventually to become known as a gardenia, after Dr Alexander Garden of South Carolina who had been in correspondence about the flower with the experts.

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