Messrs. Young, Nurserymen of Epsom
and the
Banana Connection

Young's Nursery East Street Epsom 1827
Young's Nursery East Street Epsom 1827
Image Source The Gardener's Magazine and Register Vol V. 1829

The Nursery

The Young Nursery in Epsom was a large and very well regarded business in the early 1800s; they grew over 4000 different plant types, which were recorded in their Hórtus Epsoménsis. They cultivated around 20 acres and while the main operational site was close to the gasworks in East Street the company had many individual plots distributed around the town.

Pownall writing in Some Particulars Relating To The Some Particulars Relating To The History Of Epsom 1825 said:
... we will commence with the Nursery Grounds of Messrs. C. and J. Young, which are situated in East street, at the entrance of the town, to the north of the London Road. To Messrs. Young we are indebted for many valuable additions to our botanical list, their scientific knowledge is well known, and the circumstance of their having obtained several medals from that national and highly useful institution, the Horticultural Society, sufficiently attest their merit. We cannot, however, refrain from observing, that in the production of pelargoniums, (of which we believe they have 260 varieties) dahlias, and monthly roses, they are considered pre-eminent. We remember once seeing at a meeting of the Horticultural Society a camellia japonica myrtifolia, or myrtle-leaved camellia, raised by these gentlemen, and although it was only thirty-three inches high, it had thirty-six full blown flowers with several buds not then opened. The readiness with which the respectable inhabitants and strangers are admitted into their grounds, greatly enhances the pleasure experienced in viewing them. ...
The Gardener's Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvement for Gardeners and Gardening Vol V. 1829 gave this description of the company:
... Epsom Nursery: Messrs. Young. August 18. - This nursery has under gone considerable changes since we last saw it in 1827. At that time it had been enlarged and improved, and one of the foremen, a self-taught draftsman, had made us a general view of it as seen from the road. Since that sketch was made, several plant-houses and pits have been erected, and, as will be allowed by anyone who is in possession of Hórtus Epsoménsis (vol. iv. p. 260.), the most extensive collection of herbaceous plants, at least in Britain, has been assembled. A great many species have been added since the catalogue was published, and some of very great rarity. The lists of rare plants which flower in the Epsom Nursery, furnished us by the botanist of the nursery, our very intelligent correspondent, Mr. Penny (p. 470.), render it unnecessary for us to enter much into detail, and indeed, if we were determined upon this, we do not know where we should begin. Mr. Penny is a most successful propagator, and the number of young plants, of rare articles, both of the green-house and open air, is sufficient, one would imagine, to supply all the trade, both in Britain and France. Messrs. Young have bought the entire stock of Magnòlia Soulangiàna from M. Soulange Bodin for 500 guineas, in consequence of which that fine tree will soon be spread over the country. The collection of phloxes here amounts to 60 species and varieties, and of Diánthus to 40 species, one of which, the D. Fischèri, is highly odoriferous. A new hardy evergreen honeysuckle was pointed out to us, which, from its rapid growth, promises to be as valuable an addition to our ligneous twiners, as Eccremocárpus scàber is to our herbaceous climbers. Hardy orchideous plants are grown to an extraordi nary degree of perfection, and also such rare bog genera, as Pinguicula, Dionæ'a, Nepénthes, &c. In small square enclosures, which they call sanctums and paradises, are many new things not to be shown to the uninitiated till they come into flower, and not to be sold till a number of plants have been propagated; and in several places are beds of green-house plants, to prove how far they will stand the winter. The bed of fuchsias made a very rich appearance, and Mr. Penny thinks that several species will be found hardy enough to stand our winters in a dry soil, and under the protection of a wall, or near a bush with very little protection.

We are very much gratified to find this nursery devoted in so marked a manner to herbaceous plants, believing this circumstance will further our plan of introducing every where Jussieuean flower-gardens. It will be a great point gained in spreading a knowledge and love of plants, to be able to exemplify almost every natural order by species that will grow in the open air in this country. At the end of our Hórtus Británnicus, we intend to state the number of orders that can be so illustrated, and as we think Messrs. Young will be able to illustrate more of these orders than any other nurserymen, we propose ascertaining from them and publishing the price for collections of different degrees of extent ; and we shall suggest, probably in our next Number, a more complete and durable mode of naming private col lections than has hitherto been done anywhere, founded, however, on Mr. Murray's invention (Vol. III. p. 29.), and Messrs. Loddiges' name-bricks.

In conclusion, we have to express our highest approbation of the liberality of Messrs. Young, whose collection is at all times open to gardeners and botanists of every description; and who most readily allow specimens to be gathered of everything that can be spared for such as are forming herbariums. No nurseryman ever loses by this kind of liberality. As the London botanist who would study trees ought to spend two days a week in Messrs. Loddiges' arboretum at Hackney, so he who would acquire a knowledge of herbaceous plants should pass two other days a week in the herbaceous ground of the Epsom nursery.

The fruit-tree and timber-tree departments of this establishment, being at a little distance, we had not leisure to look into; but all that we saw in the home ground was in as good order, and as neat as the present wet season would permit. Mr. Penny is a most ardent and highly scientific botanist, and ranks as such with George Don and Mr. Sweet, with the prospective advantage of having his mind in a larger body than has either of these botanists. As a proof of the pleasure which we feel in seeing such a man in such a place, and of our personal esteem for him and his employers, we have sent him the First Volume of our Mag. Nat. Hist. and the Encyc. of Plants. ...

The Banana Connection

Musa cavendishii
Musa cavendishii
Image source Paxton's Magazine of Botany, and Register of Flowering Plants, Volume 3

Bananas are native to several parts of Asia and humans have been eating and cultivating them for at least 7000 years. However, because of their short shelf life, very few arrived in the UK till the late 1800s when steam ships and refrigerated cargo holds let the banana trade became commercially viable.

Before then the few bananas that did arrive would have been overripe following weeks onboard ship. In June 1999 archaeologists from the Museum of London found a blackened banana skin in a rubbish filled fish tank in Southward which they have provisionally dated to around 1560. There is an account of a bunch of bananas imported in 1633 from Bermuda and hung up in Thomas Johnson's herbalist shop on Snow Hill, central London.

The first recorded banana plants to arrive in England came from Mauritius around 1829. They were shipped by Charles Telfair, who reportedly had obtained the species two or three years previously from China. He had been collecting all the species and varieties of Musa he could obtain. The two he sent to England he considered to be the most valuable as they grew profusely and were only three feet high. The plants arrived at Bury Hill near Dorking, the home of Mr Barclay.

They didn't stay at Bury Hill long as when Mr Barclay died, some of his plants were sold off and Messrs Young of East Street Epsom bought the two banana plants. One was sold for £10 to William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire and the other was exported to the continent. The Duke was keen on horticulture and employed Joseph Paxton as his head gardener at Chatsworth House. Paxton raised and bred the banana plant in the huge new Chatsworth House greenhouse that he had designed, which was later to be a prototype for the Crystal Palace. Paxton named the plant Musa cavendishii after his patron.

The good transport and shelf life properties made the plant bought in Epsom the source of almost all the worldwide varieties of Cavendish banana which is now the world's most commercially exploited banana variety.

This article was suggested by Clive Vaisey, London
and was researched and written by Peter Reed. April 2014