Friends of Glen Goyle

The Vetch Nurseries, Exeter.

By way of introduction to one of the country’s most important historic nurseries, here’s an extract from a piece by Jean Twibell of Sidmouth, who knows a thing or two about plants:
The Veitch Connection
“The Veitch Nurseries are well known in the horticultural world. John Veitch started work at Killerton before setting up the first nursery locally at Budlake (later became St Bridgets). In the 1850s the family started a second one in Chelsea, and the two ran in parallel for several years. They employed many famous plant hunters including William Lobb.”
Some History of Knowle : 2. The Veitch connection | Sidmouth Independent News


As for John Veitch, here’s an extract from the National Trust Killerton’s webpages:
Designing Killerton
John Veitch was influenced by Capability Brown and worked with Repton at Luscombe castle. His initial garden designs included an winding mix of paths, open views, and rustic buildings, such as the Bear’s Hut and Ice House. The picturesque art movement inspired his landscaping and planting, and is still a major influence of the parkland and gardens you will find today.
A family business
John Veitch retired in 1813, but still had a hand in the family nursery, but with his son James at the helm. Veitch’s family and nursery went from strength to strength over succeeding generations, becoming one of the biggest and most prestigious nurseries in Victorian England. They sent plant hunters across the globe to bring back specimens.
Veitch’s plant hunters
In 1813 John Veitch handed the nursery business on to his eldest son James, who had worked with him at Killerton and the nursery from a young age. Under James Veitch the nursery expanded, and began employing plant hunters to bring back exotic plants from abroad. In 1832 he gave apprenticeships to William and Thomas Lobb, which included sending them off around the world to look for plant and tree specimens to bring home to Killerton.
Creating a country house setting at Killerton | National Trust


The Veitch Nurseries were acquired by the Exeter St Bridget’s Nurseries in 1969 – and they clearly respect this legacy. Here’s a longer piece from their website:
Exeter’s Famous Nursery – By Caradoc Doy
In 1771, a 19-year-old Scottish gardener by the name of John Veitch arrived in Devon. Little was the world of horticulture to know what an impact this talented man and his family would have on gardening throughout the country and the world for generations to come.
Young John was sent for by Sir Thomas Acland to lay out the park at Killerton, near Exeter. He was a skilful gardener and his landscaping work took him all over the country. Sir Thomas encouraged John to start his own nursery, which he did in Budlake near Killerton sometime before 1808. In 1832 he and his son James bought land at Mount Radford in Exeter (where recently the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital stood) and in 1837, John handed over the running of the firm to James.
James was a man of foresight and with plant mania sweeping throughout wealthy society, spotted an opportunity to exploit the potential that foreign plants could have on the British garden market. He was one of the first men to systematically pioneer the exploration of far away places for new plants and sponsored plant hunters who themselves became horticultural heroes. Twenty-three different plant hunters were sent out by the firm at one time or another. Men such as the Cornish brothers Thomas and William Lobb, Charles Maries, Richard Pearce and Ernest Wilson all of whom
discovered plants in difficult to reach foreign lands, often risking their lives in search of seeds or plants. Members of the Veitch family too discovered important plants and many were named after them in recognition of their endeavours. In 1853, James and his son James Junior, seeing that expansion was justified, purchased a nursery in Chelsea, which the young James went to run whilst his father remained in Exeter. On the death of James Senior in 1863 the two nurseries which had been run together, separated. James Junior remained in London trading as James Veitch & Son whilst his younger brother Robert took over the Exeter firm. In Chelsea, James Junior was eventually joined by his sons John Gould and Harry James.
In 1899, Harry who was now operating the Chelsea branch of the business, sent Ernest Wilson to China to search for plants suitable for British gardens and in particular for seed of the Davidia, or Pocket-handkerchief Tree. In his search he discovered many plants and finally found a group of Davidia producing seed, which he duly sent back to Veitch’s nursery at Coombe Wood from which, he found on his return to England they had successfully raised thousands of seedlings.
The Veitch Legacy
The firm of Veitch had by the 1914/18 war been responsible for introducing an astonishing 1281 plants which were either previously unknown or newly bred varieties. These included 498 greenhouse plants, 232 orchids, 153 deciduous trees, shrubs and climbing plants, 122 herbaceous plants, 118 exotic ferns, 72 evergreen and climbing plants, 49 conifers and 37 bulbous plants. In the years to come, more plants followed.
St. Bridget’s buys Veitch Nurseries
Veitch’s Nurseries no longer functions as a separate business. The Chelsea firm ceased to trade in 1914 whilst the Exeter business continued under Peter C.M. Veitch (son of Robert) and later his daughter Mildred. Failing health obliged her to sell the firm in 1969, when it was bought by St. Bridget Nurseries, Exeter. For nearly twenty years it was run as a separate business, but is now a non-functioning subsidiary of St. Bridget’s.
The House of Veitch Book
St. Bridget Nurseries are pleased to be able offer reprints of Shirley Heriz-Smith’s book The House of Veitch, of which a small number were first published by the RHS in 2002…
Veitch Family History | About Us | St Bridget Nurseries Exeter


Finally, here’s an extract from the key source of information, published by James Veitch & Sons Limited of Chelsea in 1906, namely “Hortus Veitchii: Lives of the Travellers”.
It is an interesting book which includes some accounts of the plant hunters’ adventures – and in this section we hear about the collector Ernest Wilson:
E. H. Wilson. Collector in Central and Western China and on the Tibetan Frontier.
During the year 1901, the third of his mission, Wilson explored the high mountain-ranges on the Hupeh-Szechuan boundary, north-west and south of Ichang, and collected quantities of seed, though the season was exceptionally wet and cold. Davidia involucrata was again met with, growing in large quantities; a striking feature in the landscape.
The collection this year consisted of 305 varieties of seeds, of many herbs, trees and shrubs, and of herbarium specimens numbering 906 species, in addition to thirty-five cases of bulbs and living roots and rhizomes of herbaceous plants, all shipped to England.
Among the best finds collected on this, his first mission, and successfully introduced to our gardens, are : Davidia involucrata, Astilbe Davidii, Clematis montana rubens, Senecio , Buddleia variabilis Veitchiana, Brandisia racemosa, Actinidia chinensis, numerous Vines, Acers, Viburnums, Spiraeas, Roses, and Magnolias.
On the whole, Wilson succeeded remarkably well with the natives, and, though the country was disturbed by political risings and riots, met with no serious mishap, and lost no part of his collection.
Wilson returned to England in April 1902, spent the summer at Coombe Wood, and left for the second journey to the extreme west of China, to the border of Tibet, a thousand miles further west beyond the former field of exploration, in January 1903.
On arrival at Shanghai he followed the former route as far as Ichang, reaching Kiating, which was to be his base, on June 19th 1903. The mountainous country west of the Min river to the Yalung river, about 100 miles west of the border town ol Tatien-lu, was explored, as was Mount Omi, a sacred mountain of the Chinese. Specimens of the flora were obtained and some few seeds. In the neighbourhood of Tatien-lu was discovered the principal object of the search the magnificent
yellow Poppy, Meconopsis integrifolia, and Wilson was successful in securing seeds from which plants were raised and flowered at Langley in September 1904.
Full text of “Hortus Veitchii : a history of the rise and progress of the nurseries of Messrs. James Veitch and sons, together with an account of the botanical collectors and hybridists employed by them and a list of the most remarkable of their introductions”