The trees and shrubs shown on this site come from every continent with the obvious exception
of Antarctica. Some areas have comparatively few garden-worthy shrubs, some very many.
It is helpful when growing any plant to understand the climatic conditions from which
it originated. On these five pages we have discussed the main countries where the plants
have been discovered, thus annotating the climates, temperatures and rainfall in which they thrive.
Eastern North America
The earliest plants to come to Europe from the Americas were brought by the Spanish
from Mexico and the West Indies, and included such tender plants as Dahlias, Agave
and Mirabilis, the Marvel of Peru. The first plants from Virginia and the colder
parts of the eastern states did not arrive in Europe until the seventeenth century.
One of the first collecting expeditions to look for garden plants was made by John
Tradescant the younger in 1638. He visited Virginia and even acquired some land in
York County. Such shrubs as Lonicera sempervirens were grown by the Tradescants, and
listed in Museum Tradescantianum, published in 1654.
Another well-known collector was Mark Catesby who was born in Suffolk around 1682 and
arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1712. He sent back many boxes of plants and
seeds to Europe, and published, in 1763, Hortus Brittanico-Americanus or A Curious
Collection of Trees and Shrubs. The Produce of the British Colonies in North America;
adapted to the soil and Climate of England etc. Sixty-two trees and shrubs are
illustrated including Magnolia grandiflora, Comus florida and Kalmia angustifolia.
John Bartram (1699-1777), born in Pennsylvania, lived and had a garden near
Philadelphia. He is noted for the discovery of Gordonia altamaha, a tree related
to Stewartia, now extinct in the wild, but preserved in his garden and now grown
in many other gardens both in America and Europe.
The climate in eastern North America is more extreme than that of western Europe.
Summers are hotter and often wetter; autumn is fine and sunny; winters are often
much colder; soils are generally poor and acid. Many shrubs, such as American
azaleas, grow very well in Europe; others such as Flowering Dogwood, Comus florida,
which are so beautiful in their native habitat, do not grow or flower nearly so freely.
Western North America
The earliest plants from northwestern North America were seen by Georg Steller,
who accompanied Bering's expedition to Alaska in 1739. Later some were collected
by Archibald Menzies in 1792, who accompanied Captain Vancouver's voyage of exploration.
In 1805 Captain Merriweather Lewis and Captain William Clark crossed the Rockies
and collected both scientific specimens and seeds, which included Mahonia aquifolium,
but it was another eighteen years before more than a small sample of the great richness
of the northwestern flora was sent back east. In 1823 The Horticultural Society sent
David Douglas to collect seed of trees and shrubs in California and Oregon, and he
spent the next eleven years scouring the area for new plants. Among his introductions
were Gaultheria shallon, Ribes sanguineum, and Garrya elliptica.
The climate of western North America varies greatly, even over small distances,
because of its proximity to the sea and high mountains. In most of coastal California
the climate is similar to that of the European Mediterranean, wet in winter, with some
frosty spells; dry and hot in summer. Many of these plants thrive in coastal climates
in Europe, but few can tolerate the very cold winters and wet summers of the eastern
United States. In northern coastal California, Oregon and northwards, summers are
cooler and moister, and the chances of extreme cold are greater, especially inland and
along the Columbia River valley. Most plants from this area grow very well in northwest
Europe, and will grow also in the coastal states of the northeast.
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