This section is from the book "A History Of Gardening In England", by Alicia Amherst. Also available from Amazon: A History Of Gardening In England.
Most of these men were nursery-gardeners, and all lived in London or the suburbs :—Furber at Kensington ; Alston, Miller, and Thompson at Chelsea; Lowe and Cole in Battersea ; Fairchild, Whitmill, and Bacon at Hoxton ; Francis and Samuel Hunt at Putney ; Gray at Fulham,* James in Lambeth, George Singleton at the Neat Houses; and Wm. Hood at the Wheatsheaf near Hyde Park Corner. Every month, for five or six years, this Society met at Newhlls Coffee-house in Chelsea, or some other convenient place. Each member brought some plants of his own growing, which were discussed by the assembled gardeners. The names and descriptions were then carefully registered. At the end of five or six years, they decided to have all the plants they had catalogued, " drawn and painted by an able hand." For this purpose they engaged the services of Jacob van Huysun ; a good artist, and brother of the famous Dutch flower painter. They got together a large collection of drawings, and finally agreed to publish them. The first part only, containing hardy shrubs, appeared. It was to have been followed by other volumes, for more tender exotics, then " flowers for the pleasure-gardens," and also a part devoted to fruits. The great value of the part we have, is that it mentions all the synonyms and refers to many previous writers to identify each plant, and gives the history of the introduction of some of the new varieties ; their monograph on the honeysuckle, which occupies several pages, is of great worth. They also refer to good specimens of trees in some well-known London gardens. The following is an instance, the service tree (= Pyrus Sorbus) : " In the garden which was formerly in the possession of John Tradescant at South Lambeth, as also at Mr. Marsh's at Hammersmith, a curious collector of rare and uncommon trees, in both which places, these Trees annually produce large quantities of Fruits which ripen perfectly well." Again, there is a note added to the description of the " Three Thorned Acacia or Locust Tree" (= Gleditschia tricanthos), "that it hath produced pods in the gardens of the Bishop of London at Fulham this year 1729." The Naturalist Catesby is often referred to in these pages, as the introducer of several plants. The following are among the number:—"Bignoriia Americana," the Catalpa, which had not flowered in England in 1730; the yellow-berried hawthorn (= Crataegus flava), sent from Carolina in 1724: the Carolina ash (= Fraxinus caroliniana) " raised from seeds sent over from South Carolina by Mr. Catesby, anno 1724; Tilia Caroliniana (= T. americana) in 1726; the Carolina kidney bean tree (= Wistaria fructescens), 1724, which had only flowered (in 1730) in Robert Furber's garden at Kensington ; the scarlet flowering acacia, and the " Water Acacia" (= Gleditschia tricanthos inermis), both sent home in 1723.
* The magnolia grandiflora was first planted in Gray's garden. See Johnson's Hist. Eng. Gar., p. 202.
Mark Catesby was an eminent naturalist. He first collected in Virginia, and being induced by Sir Hans Sloane and others to return to America to work still further in the cause of science, he went out again for some six or seven years, and during his stay sent home seeds from time to time. On his return in 1726, he began his great work, Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, the first part of which was published 1731. The genus Catesbaea or lily-thorn, was named after him by his contemporary, Gronovius, the Dutch naturalist.
The most celebrated member of this Society of Gardeners was Philip Miller, keeper of the Chelsea Physic-garden, and author of a well-known Gardener's Dictionary. This work first appeared in 1731, and was so popular, that a seventh edition was brought out in 1759, and it was translated into Dutch, German, and French. Each successive edition shows some progress in the science of botany, and an immense increase in the number of foreign plants. In the seventh edition, Miller adopted the Linnaean system of classification. Miller had become acquainted with the great Swede during his visit to England in 1736. It was the year following that Linnaeus' first great work, which revolutionized classification. Genera Plantarum, appeared. Miller was a man well suited to the work he undertook: he was both practical and scientific : he first followed the system of Tournefort, then that of Ray, but was sufficiently learned and clear-sighted to go with the times, and adopt the improved nomenclature of Linnaeus. The quantities of new plants coming in not only required skilful growing, but careful arrangement and classification, and Philip Miller did much good work in both ways.
Not only were plants coming in from America, but new treasures found their way to England from other parts of the Old World also. William Sherard, a learned botanist and friend of Ray and Sloane, and patron of Catesby, was, in 1702, appointed Consul at Smyrna, and during his stay there, until 1718, employed much of his time in making a collection of the plants of Greece and Asia Minor. His younger brother, James, at Eltham in Kent, had a famous garden, and cultivated many of the new exotics sent home by William. Besides foreign importations, gardeners at home added to the number of cultivated plants by trying experiments of hybridising, producing double varieties, and more especially variegation. Such things as variegated "silver-striped," or "gold-blotched," lilacs, syringa, privet, phillyrea or maple, were great favourites.