Taking a walk along Mare Street in Hackney, east London today it would be hard to imagine this urban street was once home to one of the most celebrated plant nurseries in England. Loddiges’ Paradise Field Nursery was founded in the mid-1770s by German born Joachim Conrad Loddiges (1738 -1826), and continued by his son George Loddiges (1786 – 1846) as The Hackney Botanic Nursery Garden. With its range of heated glasshouses the nursery was famous for growing newly discovered plants from around the globe including the Americas, the Caribbean, Australia and the far East.
Loddiges published annual catalogues listing the vast range of plants they stocked, but these were not illustrated. However, as a nursery specialising in plants that were new to cultivation in England, it was desirable to show customers what they looked like, particularly for those too far away to visit the gardens easily. So from 1817 Loddiges started to produce The Botanical Cabinet, a magazine with to showcase their plants.
The Botanical Cabinet was very similar in format to William Curtis’s hugely successful Botanical Magazine (established in 1787 and still published by Kew Gardens), celebrated for its colourful botanical illustrations.
The engraver George Cooke (1781 – 1834) provided the coloured engravings for Loddiges’ magazine from its inception until 1833 when it ceased publication. Alongside his illustrations, the magazine provided cultivation instructions and information about which part of the world each plant came from. It also recorded stories about the extensive network of plant collectors who would send seeds to the nursery, or supply plants for the nursery to propagate – an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history of early 19th century plant hunters.
Cooke’s illustrations of the Loddiges’ hot houses from the 1818 magazine give some idea of the scale and ambition of the nursery. The Hackney Society publication Loddiges of Hackney (1995) by David Solman provides an in depth study of the nursery’s establishment and eventual decline in the 1850s, as rising land prices in the area made it uneconomic to continue. Various members of the Loddiges family are buried in the nearby St John-at-Hackney church and Abney Park Cemetery.
Below are some of Cooke’s beautiful engravings showing the variety of plants that found their way to The Botanical Cabinet – from forest trees to tiny alpines. Links to the 1818 and 1819 magazines are at the end of the post.
This very singular plant is a native of North America, in bogs and swamps. It has long been known in this country, having been cultivated before the year 1640, by Tradescant, who was Gardener to King Charles the First.
This is a native of the Cape, and was introduced about the year 1787. It is a pretty greenhouse plant. Its delicate white flowers, though small, are very neat and pleasing, and it continues in bloom a long time during the autumnal months.
We raised this elegant plant many years since from Caucasian seeds, but very soon lost it. Lately, however, we have obtained a fresh supply, which has produced us two or three plants, from one of which our figure was taken.
We received this elegant little plant from our friend Mr Schleicher, of Bex. It flowered several times in the course of the summer. Our drawing was taken in the month of July: it represents the whole plant of its natural size, being scarcely one inch in height, and surmounted by a single flower, which was larger than the whole plant, and of great beauty.
This is a native of the Alps of Switzerland. We raised it from seeds received in 1817 from our friend Mr Schleicher, of Bex. It is a hardy perennial, and we consider it a very ornamental plant.
A native of Van Dieman’s Island (Tasmania). From its robust habit and rapid growth, it will soon become a tall tree. The whiteness of its leaves and branches gives it a most interesting appearance, but the flowers are not showy.
This was one of the first varieties of the Double Camellias seen in this country. It was brought over from China sometime about the year 1792. We remember to have seen the first plant, soon after this period, at Sir Charles Raymond’s, Valentine House, Essex.
The curious plant which is now before us flowers in the latter part of the summer. The blossoms are extremely interesting: their interior surface is wholly rough, with wrinkled protuberances, which together with its livid colour, have occasioned it to be named, as resembling a toad. It is a native of the arid deserts of South Africa, and was introduced about the year 1800.
Seeds of this plant were received among some of the first arrivals from Botany Bay. It is a free grower, and attains the height of four or five feet, forming a handsome greenhouse shrub, and producing plenty of flowers.
We received this beautiful plant from our friend Mr Busch, at St Petersburgh, who sent it us, as being a different plant from the pomponium, which it unquestionably is. Being a native of Russia, it is perfectly hardy, and may either be kept in a pot (which we prefer) or planted in a border.
A native of New South Wales, whence it was introduced, according to the Kew catalogue, in 1805.
Loddiges of Hackney published by The Hackney Society