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28 October 2014
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  Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday June 16, 2003


Geranium plant
Flowers are named after the revolutionary gardener

The peaceful Yorkshire Dales are not the likeliest scene for a revolution.

But Inside Out’s Lucy Hester reveals that the Dales were the location of a gardening revolution which shaped the way we garden today.

The revolution was triggered by Reginald Farrer from Clapham in North Yorkshire.

He was one of the most eccentric and bravest plant hunters this country has ever seen.

In one infamous incident, Farrer loaded a shotgun with seeds collected on his foreign travels, and fired them into a rock cliff and gorge in his native North Yorkshire.

The lasting legacy is a spectacular display of plants from the Himalayas which are today growing in a wild display around Ingleborough.

Pioneering botanist

Farrer helped change the face of gardening for good.

Reginald Farrer
Farrer made rock gardening accessible

In the early nineteenth century, only very rich Victorians could garden for pleasure. They often had huge teams of gardeners and passion for hothouses - little furnaces that forced bedding plants to grow under vast acres of glass.

But Farrer ventured into the remotest parts of the Far East including China, Japan and the Himalayas. He searched for new plants and brought back precious seed that shaped and formed the British garden today.

Farrer brought back plants that could be grown in a naturalistic style - not just by the rich who could afford expensive hothouses and personal gardeners.

Nicola Shulman, Farrer's biographer says, "He brought rock-gardening into the hearts of the British people."


Reginald Farrer on a mountain in China
Farrer collecting seeds on a Chinese mountainside

Farrer's trips became the stuff of legend. They were very successful - he found, documented and painted many plants.

He nurtured them in a makeshift nursery on the mountain slopes, bringing them safely back to Britain on his return.

Shulman says, "He was considered to be a maniac by most people. He really was going to places where no westerners had been seen before."

"It was very dangerous. There were warlords and bandits. Not to mention disease."

Lengthily process

The trips were not simply exciting holidays for Farrer.

Shulman says, "He said himself that people have no idea what goes into that little packet of seeds."


Born 1880.

Died 1920 on a remote Burma mountainside on a plant hunting trip.

Himalayan rhododendron, bamboo and other unusual plants can be seen in Farrer’s Ingleborough display.

The plant Geranium Farreri is named after him.

He also wrote and painted about plants and gardening.

"You're on an uncharted mountainside and you have to first of all find the Plant in the summer on the way up the mountain."

"Then in the autumn, you have to find the same plant - if it hasn't been eaten or trodden on - hope it's set seed and that the seeds haven't fallen yet - and this is just the start."


Sadly Farrer's name is largely forgotten today, despite his achievements.

But Inside Out travelled to the Chelsea Flower Show 2003, and found Farrer's plants displayed among the best in show - meaning his memory does live on in the most suitable way possible.

The Folly Museum in Settle, close to Clapham, is running an exhibition about the life and achievements of Reginald Farrer. To find out more, visit their website: The Folly Museum

See also ...

BBC: Gardening

On the rest of the web
The Gardening History Society
Clapham, Ingleborough cave and nature trail
The Folly Museum

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