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.
George London, who was the principal founder of the Brompton Nurseries, was a pupil of John Rose, and at one time gardener to Bishop Compton. He travelled abroad, both before and after he established the nursery, and visited Versailles after the peace of Ryswick, when he went to France with the Earl of Portland. He died 1713. The nursery " was started by him in the reign of James II. in conjunction with Cook, gardener to the Earl of Essex at Cassiobury, Lucre, gardener to the Queen Dowager at Somerset House, and Field, gardener to the Earl of Bedford, at Bedford House, in the Strand." † These partners designed the gardens at Longleat, " The four took it in turns to go down to lay out " ‡ the grounds. Lucre and Field died, then Cook retired, and London took Henry Wise into partnership. Johnson § says this occurred in 1694, but Gibson in 1691, describes the nursery as " Brompton Park garden, belonging to Mr. London and Mr. Wise." So it does not seem as if the original four were many years together. These two gardeners became very famous, not only for their horticulture at Brompton, but for the gardens they designed all over the kingdom. London was made Superintendent of the Royal Gardens, and a Page of the Backstairs to Queen Mary. Besides the work they did for the King at Kensington, they carried out considerable alterations at Hampton Court. One rather strange piece of work undertaken there, was the transplanting of one of the rows of lime trees which formed the avenue by the semi-circular canal. The trees on the northern bank were taken up and replanted on the south of what had been the most southern row. " Four hundred and three large lime trees ye dimensions of them from 4ft 6in to 3ft, the charge of taking up these trees, bringing them to the place, digging holes of 10 or 12 feet diameter, carting 5 loades of earth to each tree one with another, with all charges 10s. per tree, £201. 10." This removal took place some thirty years after the trees had been planted. Other changes were made in the " Mount Garden " and the " Privy Garden," " Queen Mary's Bower," of pleached elms, was planted, the old orchard turned into a wilderness, the terrace along the river was made, and probably the maze was laid out about the same time. Wise also planned the " Broadwalk " which runs all along the front of the palace between it and the fountain garden.* Blenheim Garden was another of their great undertakings, and they were three years in finishing it. A fine specimen of their style is still to be seen at Melbourne in Derbyshire. The gardens of Sir Richard Child, at Wanstead in Essex, of Bushey Park, of Cranborne, and of Castle Howard, were some of their other works ; at the last-mentioned place Switzer says they reached " the highest pitch that Natural and Polite gardening can ever arrive to." On the accession of Queen Anne, Wise was given the care of the Royal Gardens, and London confined himself chiefly to work in the country. He passed his time going a round of great gardens, frequently, it is said, riding a distance of fifty to sixty miles a day, in the course of his business.
* Gibson, 1691.
‡ Switzer, Ichnographica Rustica, 1718.
§ History of English Gardening, 1829, p. 123.
Moses Cook, one of the original partners, published a work on fruit trees, but London and Wise were the popular writers, as well as designers, of the firm. They translated two works from the French, the Complete Gardener, from Jean de la Quintinye (first ed. 1699). and the Retired Gardener, from Louis Liger, with the Solitary Gardener, from Le Gentil. They added copious notes from their own experience; the information is all conveyed in the form of question and answer between a gentleman about to purchase a seat in the country, and "taste the Sweets of Country Life," and a gardener. The gentleman asks such questions as, " Suppose I have some cases sent me from abroad . . . when I receive them my ground is lock'd up by a frost . . . what must I do with them ? " Gardener:—"Upon Receipt of your trees, which I suppose sent in cases with moss laid round the roots .... you must keep 'em in a cellar till your ground is capable of receiving 'em. . . . Take your roots out of the cases, and trim their roots. . . . After steep the roots in water for a Day, and then set them. ... If you observe this rule you won't lose one of your Trees, tho' they have been out of the ground for three or four months together." London and Wise's experience follows, and is rather contradictory : " We had some peaches grafted on Almond's Stocks from France, in 1698 .... which were three months out of the ground, notwithstanding all requisite care . . . we could not save ten trees out of the whole hundred." In another chapter it is recommended in sending layers and slips from abroad, to rub them first with honey, and then cover in damp moss, or stick them into " a piece of Potter's Earth tempered with honey," and wrap round with moss. In this work the growing of mushrooms, artificially, is recommended. The process, a very lengthy one, of preparing the beds, is described, which took nearly a year to complete. Jean de la Quintinye's work is confined to fruit culture, and he is especially minute in describing the correct pruning of fruit trees, standards, and espaliers and wall-fruit. The " History and Origin of Flowers," which forms a large part of the Retired Gardener, is a disappointing title, as it is merely a collection of the most fantastical myths and legends, such as the origin of the foxglove. Juno, working one day, lost her thimble. Jove, to pacify her, said he had turned it into a flower, and accordingly up came a foxglove. Ornithogalum was a spoilt child, fed only on white of egg, till he grew feeble and was dying, so Venus, pitying him, turned him into the flower which bears his name—and many other such stories. London and Wise give a quaint list of how some plants are propagated, or are "vivacious and lasting, which are commonly grown in our flower gardens." Anemonies are vivacious by their fangs, Asphodils by their tubers, Auriculas, Columbine, Gillyflowers, Grenadil or Passion-flower, Lavender, Scabious, Sunflower, Thyme, and the like, by their roots ; Crown Imperials by the suckers produced from their roots, Ranunculus by their claws, Day-lily by its bulb, Daisy and Sea-thrift by their tufts, Tuberose by its suckers, and so on.
* In the estimate for the work, the walk was to cost £650. 13s., and the turfing of the sides, and planting and making the borders, £490. 10s., and £210 respectively.—Treasury Papers lxiii., 48, etc.