Camellias at Valentines  by Georgina Green


One of my particular interests as a local historian is those people who imported plants into this country in the 18th century. It is well known that Richard Warner grew the first Gardenia in this country in his garden at Harts, Woodford, in 1758. Dr.John Fothergill (1712-1780) bought the estate of Ham House (some of which remains as West Ham Park), in 1762. This was not his home, but was used to cultivate plant specimens sent to him through Quaker connections in America. Fothergill created flower gardens, shrubberies and a wilderness of trees at Ham House. There was a water garden and hot houses where over 3,000 exotic species were planted. Fothergill employed an artist to draw any new plants in his care so that records could be kept if they subsequently died.

Another local plant importer was Gilbert Slater (1753-1793), the son of Capt. Gilbert Slater of Stepney, who spent all his life connected with the East India Company. In the 1730s he sailed on two voyages on the ‘Wager’ under Captain Charles Raymond, first as 5th Mate and then as 3rd Mate. From his early childhood Gilbert junior had been fascinated by plants and when he took over from his father as the managing owner of several ships which traded for the East India Company, he took the opportunity of bringing new plants into the country. He wrote and had printed a booklet on how to collect seeds and plants and transport them back to England and this was distributed among officers and friends in the China trade. Gilbert Slater only lived to be 40 but the last seven years of his life were spent at Knotts Green, Leyton, where he grew many exotic plants. Gilbert Slater is credited with introducing 17 new species into this country, and he always provided specimens for Kew Gardens, which had been established in 1760.

Sir Charles Raymond was well acquainted with Warner and Slater, and probably knew Dr. Fothergill, but I was most surprised to read that Raymond was also credited with introducing a new species of Camellia. Perhaps he had a copy of Gilbert Slater’s booklet. I have traced back the source of the information to “The Botanical Cabinet consisting of coloured delineations of plants from all countries with a short account of each” published in several volumes in 1819.

Vol. IV  no.329  Camellia japonica, variegata  

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 leaf of this kind is larger, thicker, and of a much deeper green, than any of the others. It is a most abundant flowering sort, and possesses the peculiar property of flowering differently at different seasons. If the blossoms open in the autumn (which by keeping the plants warm in the spring, and forwarding their growth they will do) they usually are most elegantly variegated: on the contrary, if kept cool and backward, so as to flower in the spring, they come out almost, or quite plain red.

Like the other sorts, it is increased by grafting upon the single: it requires only the common greenhouse protection, and should be potted in good fresh loam, with a little peat earth.

However, there is slight problem with this in that Sir Charles Raymond had died four years earlier, in 1788. The last ship of which he was Principal Managing Owner was ‘Earl Talbot’. This made four voyages under his management, the last leaving England in April 1788, visiting China and returning in April 1789 after Raymond had died. Donald Cameron was the Principal Managing Owner for the next voyage between March 1790 – Sept 1791, when she visited China again. I think we can be confident that this variety of Camellia did bloom first at Valentines, but while it was the home of Donald Cameron, Raymond’s friend and business associate.

Camellia japonica, variegata
From “The Botanical Cabinet consisting of coloured delineations of plants from all countries with a short account of each” published in several volumes in 1819.  Vol. IV  no.329

Reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library



© Georgina Green 5 January 2004


A camellia of the nearest variety has been planted in the kitchen garden.


 Photograph by Madeline Seviour, 2011