Some History of Knowle : 2. The Veitch connection

18 Dec

Old Monty (known locally as King of the Knowle) may be one of the oldest Monterey Pines in England. 

Sidmouth resident, Jean Twibell, has been doing some research. Here are some extracts:

‘The Veitch Nurseries are well known in the horticultural world. John Veitch started work at Killerton before setting up the first nursery locally at Budlake (later became St Bridgets).In the 1850s the family started a second one in Chelsea, and the two ran in parallel for several years. They employed many famous plant hunters including William Lobb. He is recorded as bringing seeds of Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) into this country from an expedition 1849-53. Given the local connection and the possible age of the Monterey pines in the Knowle it seems there would be a possibility that these might be amongst the first introduced into this country. ‘

‘I understand the Monterey pine was then fairly widely planted as a shelter tree in British coastal regions. In the climate of its native California it did not grow particularly large and horticulturists were amazed at its performance in Devon where the climate seemed to be far more favourable. When I went on a walk in the Knowle with the two EDDC tree officers, one was asked how old the biggest Monterey was and he replied “probably dating from 1820”- but that it is too early.’

‘I talked to Caradoc Doy who has written a book about plant introductions via Veitch. The title is ‘Hortus Veitchii’, published originally by the Veitch business James Veitch and Sons. In 2006 a limited edition was published by Caradoc Doy as a private publication. During Harry Veitch’s lifetime 1, 659 plants were introduced. ‘  It will be 100 years next year since Harry Veitch moved the RHS ‘Great Spring Show’ to its present location in the Royal Hospital Grounds in Chelsea.’

Jean concludes:

It is tempting to put together the proximity and importance of the Veitch nursery and the date at which the Knowle would have been planted- but there seems to be no chance of documentary evidence.

Mr Doy told me that all of the plant sales records of the Veitch nursery were destroyed when it was sold and became St Bridgets.Hence no chance of a paper trail unless purchasers of the plants kept records.

That takes us back to Sidmouth museum which does not appear to have any records. If you have any suggestions of further lines to pursue I am happy to follow them up.

The fact that William Lobb brought seed of Monterey pine to Britain in 1850 is recorded in Caradoc’s book. I also keep wondering about the rhododendrons in the south west corner of the Knowle as they look extremely old…..’

If anyone can add to this research, Jean would be delighted to hear from you. Please send your information to CONTACT US, at 

One Response to “Some History of Knowle : 2. The Veitch connection”

  1. pining lass December 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    I too think that the Rhododendrons and Camellias look very old. I think we should get the RHS out to check whether they are rare specimens.

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