Kew Guild

Benington Lordship Trip, February 2017

On a fine but cold Sunday in February, 23 intrepid Guild members including their guests met at the stunning spring garden of Benington Lordship the home of the Bott family. We were met by Richard Bott, the present owner, and were given an introductory talk and a short walk through the more formal areas of the garden to set the scene and get orientated for members to make their own way around this Edwardian Garden and old Norman Castle site.

After this introduction Members soon broke up into small groups to explore the gardens in more detail.

Benington Lordship is situated just four miles east of Stevenage in the picturesque village of Benington . The Lordship Gardens spread over seven acres, surrounding a fine Georgian manor house with remains of a Norman Castle and moat. We were able to appreciate this peaceful location, a haven for wildlife and unspoilt views over the surrounding Hertfordshire countryside.

Benington’s known history goes back to Saxon times when it was a fortified site used by the kings of Mercia. After the Norman conquest William the First gave the fortified manor to Peter de Valoinges and the remains of that Norman Motte and Bailey fortification are still clearly visible. The north wall shows some very well preserved flintwork laid in a herringbone pattern and is the only Norman stonework left in Hertfordshire.

The present red brick manor house was rebuilt after a fire in about 1700. In 1832 George Proctor built the magnificent flint gatehouse including the curtain wall and summer house. This romantic folly is the work of James Pulham who was famous for work using his “Pulamite Stone”. This secret mixture was a sort of cement that could be moulded to replicate stonework. Much of his work is now recognised as significant and a great deal of research is now being undertaken on other Pulham features around the county and the rest of the country with features in Buckingham Palace and Sandringham gardens.

In 1905 the present owner’s great grandfather Arthur Bott bought the Lordship and surrounding estate. He built the Edwardian extension on the west side of the house. This included the unusual Verandah which would seem to be a consequence of his work in India as an engineer.

By 1970 the garden was somewhat dilapidated and Sarah Bott with the help of Ian Billot and then Richard Webb spent the next 25 years restoring it to its current state. They have taken great care to preserve its Edwardian character and the informal way it enhances its historic surroundings.

The gardens are best known for the huge drifts of naturalised snowdrops that cover most of the moat and the grounds around the Norman castle and house and it is these we came to see and were not disappointed.

Two species make up this spectacular display, the single Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, and the double, Galanthus nivalis “flore pleno” but over 200 named varieties are grown around the garden.

Although the tour was to view the extensive array of snowdrops we were also able to admire the Victorian Folly, the Kitchen Garden, the contemporary sculptures, carp pond, wildlife area and the Rose Gardens.

After the tour of the gardens we were able to warm up with a steaming bowl of homemade soup and a cup of tea in the small cafe, exchanging our thoughts on what we had just seen with before making our way back to the cars not forgetting to purchase some special ‘in the green’ snowdrop bulbs on the way out and our journey home.

Pamela Holt, 18th February 2017.

Bennington Lordship, Hertfordshire 2.jpg

Amos C. Hartless (18??-1941)

Kew gardener, 1888. At Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta, 1889. To Mungpu, c.1900. Superintendent, Government Gardens, Poona, 1903; Government Gardens, Saharanpur, c. 1906–20. Left India in 1923. Author with particular reference to Indian horticulture.

Dates of birth and death unknown

Entered Kew on 8 June 1888, leaving the following March. He proceeded to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Calcutta where he served with the late G.T. Lane, Robert Louis Proudlock and H.J. Davies. He soon became assistant in the Government Cinchona Plantations at Mungpoo. In 1903 he became Superintendent of the Government Gardens at Poona. In 1906 he again transferred to take charge of the Government Gardens at Saharanpur, remaining there until 1920 when he retired from the Indian Colonial Service, returning to settle down in Wimbledon, England.

He wrote many articles with particular reference to Indian horticulture.

His drawings are at Kew.


Desmond, R. (1994), Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists, Taylor & Francis & The Natural History Museum, London, p. 323.

Dunk, E.G. (1942), In Memoriam, Amos C. Hartless, Journal of The Kew Guild for 1941, 89.

Burkill, I.H. (1962), Chapters on the History of Botany in India. IV. The Royal Gardens at Kew begin to guide the direction of Botany in India, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 59 (2): 357.

Kew celebrates National Lottery Award

Kew celebrated its Grow Wild initiative being voted the UK’s Best Environment Project in the National Lottery Awards on TV in September 2016.

Staff and volunteers from Grow Wild were joined on the red carpet by celebrities such as John Barrowman, Katie Derham and many of Team GB’s National Lottery funded Olympic heroes, as they accepted their award.

Millions of TV viewers saw the project recognised for its inspirational work. Grow Wild is the UK’s biggest-ever wild flower campaign, bringing people together to transform local spaces with native, pollinator-friendly wild flowers and plants. Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Grow Wild celebrated its win of the Best Environment Project in the National Lottery Awards 2016 with staff from across Kew Gardens and local Grow Wild funded community groups from London.

After the Kew staff talks from the Director of Kew, Grow Wild had a surprise in store for their colleagues all across Kew Gardens. Inviting everyone to join them on board the iconic Kew Explorer, along with members of local Grow Wild community projects, they embarked upon a victory lap of the Gardens with the iconic National Lottery Award trophy! The first stop was The Great Broad Walk Boarders for another surprise – a glass of bubbly!

The celebrations are well earned – not only has Grow Wild had success in the National Lottery Awards this year, it has also funded hundreds of fantastic community projects and distributed over a million packets of native wild flower seeds for free.

Independent research conducted online and in focus groups by Forest Research (the research agency of the Forestry Commission) clearly shows the incredible impact that the programme has made all over the UK. Grow Wild has boosted community co-operation and inspired people to do something positive for nature where they live.

Guests who rode the Explorer with us included young volunteers from Stand Up Garden. Project participant, Liam, said: “We wanted to work on a project that gave us a connection to the community, get us off our phones and participate in something different. If young people help construct their local community, they care more and are less likely to ruin it.”

Richard Deverell, RBG Kew Director, said: “The really great thing about Grow Wild is that it allows us to visit people in every area of the UK, who would never visit Kew Gardens or Wakehurst. So we’ve connected wonderfully diverse communities, across the length and breadth of this country, with wild flowers, with biodiversity. They’ve been touched by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and that simply wouldn’t have happened without Grow Wild.”

Philip Turvil, Grow Wild Programme Manager, said: “Thanks to the National Lottery, over three million people have come together across the UK – changing lives and transforming spaces with wild flowers, all through Grow Wild projects led by Kew Gardens. This award is an incredible recognition; a horticultural thumbs up to all our wonderful groups and volunteers on the ground and online. More people are now growing the native wild flowers upon which so much of our lives depend for pollinators and colour.”

John Barrowman, who presented the TV show for the seventh year, added: “The National Lottery Awards celebrate the UK’s favourite Lottery-funded projects as voted for by the public. They recognise the legends behind these amazing organisations – ordinary people who do extraordinary things with National Lottery funding.”

Grow Wild was awarded Best Environment Project in the National Lottery Awards 2016 after gaining an absolutely incredible 23,493 votes. Thank you so much to everybody who voted!

Find out more
Find out more about Grow Wild at and @GrowWildUK on Twitter/Facebook


National Lottery Awards 10th September 2016. From left to right: Philip Turvil, Grow Wild Programme Manager, RBG Kew John McFarlane, Grow Wild community volunteer Tracey Rosean, Grow Wild community volunteer Kimberly Wyatt, singer and TV star Julia Willison, Head of Learning and Participation, RBG Kew Pete Harrison, Grow Wild community volunteer Nikki Mugford, Grow Wild Marketing and Campaign Manager, RBG Kew


Kew celebrates National Lottery Awards 2016





Grow Wild awards light up Kew Orangery

The Orangery lit up with colour, laughter and wild flower fun for the first ever Grow Wild awards, an opportunity to bring together Grow Wild volunteers, groups, partners and supporters in one of Kew’s most iconic venues. Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, supported by the Big Lottery Fund. They bring communities together to sow, grow and enjoy UK native wild flowers. The awards celebrated the most innovative, creative and impactful projects and groups from all over the UK.

The winners of the Grow Wild Awards 2016 (held 21st October 2016) were:

– Phytology (Best Innovation in England, presented by Grow Wild Partnership Manager for Northern Ireland, Stephanie Baine)

– Wild About The Hillfoots (Best Innovation in Scotland, presented by Grow Wild Partnership Manager for England, Richard Pollard)

– Meadow Champions (Best Innovation in Wales, presented by Grow Wild Partnership Manger for Scotland, Claire Bennett)

– Eufloria (Best Innovation in Northern Ireland, presented by Grow Wild Partnership Manager for Wales, Maria Golightly)

– Coplaw Street Community Garden (Community Project to Make the Greatest Community Impact, presented by Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, Peter Ainsworth)

– Include Us Too (Community Project with Best Youth Involvement, presented by RBG Kew’s Head of Learning and Participation, Julia Willison)

– Flowers of Foyle (Best Transformation of a Space in a Community Project, presented by RBG Kew’s Director of Horticulture Richard Barley)

– City To Sea (Best Use of Promotion by a Community Project, presented by Grow Wild Programme Manager, Philip Turvil)

– You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (Best Youth ‘Get Creative’ Project, presented by Grow Wild youth volunteer Sunny Hassan)

– Stepping Stones(Best Transformation of a Space by a Youth Project, presented by National Lottery Community Partner from Camelot, Natasha Stonebridge

– Yorkshire Ambulance Service(Best Use of Seed Kits in a Workplace, presented by Grow Wild Lead Partnership Manager, Tim Owen)

– Wildflower Alley (Best Use of Seed Kits by a Charity or Community, presented by Grow Wild Marketing Campaigns Manager, Nikki Mugford)


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Text/Photos Courtesy Philip Turvil – Grow Wild Programme Manager

RHS Scents -Tijana Blanusca

RHS scents Tijana Blanusca – Courtesy of Vikki Rimmer

The application of science: plant selection for a positive environment

A look at how choosing the right plant for the right space can help make our spaces more environmentally friendly and actively ‘service’ the immediate environment.

Plant selection and the mantra ‘right plant, right place’ has been a topic of much discussion for garden designers over the last few years as biodiversity requirements have become increasingly important. Science has a role to play in this discussion and could also provide an interesting added dimension when compiling planting plans.

Ahead of Palmstead Nurseries ‘What have plants ever done for us?’ workshop last September, we spoke to Dr Tijana Blanusa, a speaker at the conference and a leading RHS scientist working out of the University of Reading. Dr Blanusa’s work looks at the impact of vegetation in towns and cities, in particular the effect of vegetation on lowering atmospheric pollution, providing cooling and rainfall mitigation.

How can the application of science help designers in their quest to select the right plant for the right place?

My work is a very applicable science, it looks at how you can provide environmental benefits by choosing plants that would maximise the provision of localised cooling, species that help to absorb excess rainfall and in terms of pollution, choosing plants that effectively remove pollutant particles from the air.

How a plant ‘adds’ to our environment in terms of benefits such as ‘cooling’, ‘water capture’ ‘sequestration of pollution’ and ‘biodiversity support’ is becoming increasingly important as people migrate further to urban environments.

If we are to look at the element of science as the added 4th dimension when we select plants, what do we need to know?

Not all plants are the same and science can help us look at the difference in how they function, and how their structure can work positively or negatively. If we  take trees as an example and look at the surface of the leaf and how it ‘takes up’ the gases in the environment we can see that if you chose a more active plant, with more ‘openings’ in the leaves then it has a potential to take up more pollutant gasses such as carbon monoxide, ozone or nitrous oxides.

Do specific types of plants help more than others?

In very simplified terms, one can liken plants to humans: you can have slow and sluggish people and you can have some that are full of energy. If you want a plant that will help take up pollutants better or take up more rainfall from a saturated soil, then it’s good to chose the ones with lots of energy and activity. Examples of active trees are those with large canopies and leaves with lots of structure and ‘pipework’. The London Plane has a large leaf area and rough hairs that also trap pollutant particles well. Conifers such as Thuja and Leyland can also be good candidates for trapping particulates from the air.

Are there ‘downsides’ to these choices?

There are of course other factors to include in plant selection, such as the cost of maintenance; an energetic or active plant may have a higher maintenance cost, especially if a choice is made to select a species such as a Leyland (for its pollution sucking qualities!)

What would you like to see garden designers and landscape architects think about when they chose plants/trees in urban environments?

I am a scientist first and foremost so I  wouldn’t say – you must chose the London Plane because it behaves like this, instead I would point to how it behaves, the size of its canopy, what the fine hairs do and point to what the tree can do to provide those various benefits. The designer could then look to similar species. There may be a choice that is less allergenic. I would also say that ’more is better’ and to avoid mono-cultures and go for diversity. It’s good to see designers who are playful, using more than one thing, thinking about perennials and mixing things up.

Why is this topic growing in importance?

Living in increasingly urban areas, we see our neighbours paving over their gardens, leaving high water levels underneath – which cannot be good long term. We need to keep talking about the issue of providing multiple benefits within the environment so that it becomes natural. Today, you don’t think twice about seeing an unmown meadow – you know it’s a good diverse space whereas ten years ago people might have said ‘that’s untidy’.

Who are your landscape architect and design heroes? 

As a scientist, I  look for things that are practical and ‘do-able’.  I’m also attracted to designs that appear young at heart. Often it’s the lesser known people who have the courage and willingness to experiment and bring scientific principles to life. I like to see something that has practical purpose at its core but is a firework of energy and imagination, colours and textures and various types of plants. Great plants people know what they are doing but they also listen to advice and aren’t set in their ways.

Is there a definitive list we can follow?

As a scientist I more comfortable sharing what the key findings are to the best of our knowledge; that is not to say that five years down the line we may find a new subtlety – science moves all the time. Plants people have various criteria that they have to meet if the garden/space is to succeed – if the client doesn’t like the plants then you’ve lost it!  I’m trying to add a fourth dimension which comes after you have put the budget together, after the aesthetics and site requirements. Our work is progressing so that in the future it can help designers to find a plant in the RHS Plant Finder that will tick all of the boxes – being affordable, aesthetic, suitable for the space and also beneficial to the environment.

Tijana Blanusa (Principal Horticultural Scientist) obtained her BSc (Crop Science) and MSc (Plant Physiology) from the University of Belgrade. She joined the RHS after completing her PhD in Plant Physiology (East Malling Research / Lancaster University) in 2003. She is based at the University of Reading where she works in the Centre for Horticulture and Landscape and collaborates with other departments and external organisations (University of Sheffield and Imperial College London; Universities of Siena and Bologna, Italy; University of Belgrade, Serbia).

Her research interests lie in understanding the interaction between plants and the environment – how the changing environment, such as drying soil and elevated temperatures, affects plants, and how plants moderate the environment around them. She runs several projects investigating the contribution of green roofs and walls, garden hedges and other forms of green infrastructure to the moderation of air temperatures, capture of excess rainwater and aerial pollutants.

Philip MacMahon (1857–1911)

Kew gardener 1881. Curator, Botanic Gardens, Hull, 1882. On botanical exploration to Central America. In India 1887. To Victoria, Australia, 1888. Curator, Brisbane Botanic Gardens, 1889. Director of Forests, Queensland, 1905.

b. Dublin, Ireland, 13 December 1857; d. Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia, 14 April 1911

MacMahon left Ireland to work for a large agency in Chester, before gaining a studentship to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1881. Upon the recommendation of Kew’s Director, Joseph Hooker, he was appointed as curator to the Botanic Gardens at Hull in March 1882.

After serving five years in Yorkshire (during which time he visited central America) he went on to work in tropical agriculture in India.  In 1888 he moved to Melbourne, Australia, where he first worked as a journalist for the newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.  In April 1889 he was appointed curator of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Queensland, the position later being upgraded to director.

Writing extensively during his sixteen years’ service at the Botanic Gardens, he made a significant contribution to Queensland horticulture.  On 1 November 1905 he was appointed Director of Forests, Queensland. While inspecting Fraser Island he was taken ill suddenly and died.

He ‘combined with a keen interest in scientific horticulture the poetic temperament, a lively imagination, and a ready tongue’.


Desmond, R. (1994), Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists, Taylor & Francis & The Natural History Museum, London, p. 458.

‘W.’ (1912), In Memoriam, Philip MacMahon, Journal of The Kew Guild for 1911, p. 49, portrait facing p. 47.

Robert MacKenzie Cross (1836–1911)

Kew gardener, 1857.  Collector of cinchona and rubber.  To Ecuador for Cinchona, 1859;  Panama for Castilla, 1875;  Brazil for Hevea, 1876.

b. Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, 1836; d. Torrance, Stirlingshire, 1 March 1911

Robert Cross entered Kew as a gardener in June 1857 and left in 1859. He came to play a major role in the initiatives to establish cinchona and rubber in eastern Asian countries.  In 1859 the India Office requested Kew to assist in the establishment of Cinchona succirubra, ‘Red Bark’ or Peruvian Bark’, the source of antimalarial quinine, in India.  In 1859, recommended by William Hooker, Cross was selected to join Yorkshire botanist Richard Spruce on an expedition to Ecuador to collect it.  Delayed by illness and a local war, they eventually reached the foothills of the Andes in 1860 and collected more than 100 000 ripe seeds (which were despatched to Kew) and more than six hundred cuttings and seedlings.  Cross was responsible for the safe passage of the young plants (in Wardian cases) to Britain, which included a hazardous trip by mule and raft to the coast.  Plants were then sent to India, and by 1880 some 15 000 acres were in cultivation there.  The Botanic Garden at Peradeniya in Ceylon also established a mountain nursery at Hakgala solely for cinchona, and Kew sent a gardener, Mr M’Nicoll, to take charge of it.

Following this success, Cross was re-employed for further expeditions to Central and South America.  Over the next ten years he made four more trips.  He collected Cinchona officinalis in Loxa, then on three visits to Pitaya collected Pitayo Cinchona.  He was then involved with collecting from rubber trees.

Now chosen by Joseph Hooker, in 1875 Cross left for Central America seeking Castilla elastica.  Before the adoption of Hevea this was considered to provide the best rubber.  On the return voyage the ship carrying Cross and his 600 plants ran onto a reef off the coast of Jamaica.  While most passengers were taken off, Cross stuck by his plants and was eventually taken on board HMS Dryad.  Sadly none of the 7000 seeds collected germinated, but his cuttings flourished at Kew and were distributed to West Africa, Ceylon, India and Java.

In 1876, again supported by Joseph Hooker, he sailed to Pará, Brazil, for Hevea brasiliensis, the source of the best natural rubber, returning five months later with just over a thousand seedlings.  On this trip he worked with a trader in rubber, Henry Wickham.  Four hundred seedlings were retained at Kew, with about a hundred of these plants going on to Ceylon, the country considered to be the most suitable in South Asia for the propagation and distribution of rubber to India and Burma. He also brought back some 40 plants of Ceara Rubber, Manihot glaziovii.

In all, Cross made seven trips to South America but his health, like that of Spruce, suffered from service in that region.  He was said to be of a retiring nature, ‘a typical Scotsman, with grit’, who penetrated parts of Panama that even the native people were afraid to enter because of its supposed deadly climate.

The Goods Inwards and Outwards lists of plants sent to and from Kew, held in the Kew Archives, contain multiple entries for Robert Cross, e.g.

Goods Inwards 1859–1867 f. 92: ‘Mr R. Cross of Mr Spruce’s Cinchona Expedition. 6 plants C. Succirubra – the smallest selected from the 15 Wardian cases, which were forwarded to India to day.’

Goods Inwards 1868–1872 f. 313: ‘From Mr Cross. 6 plants of Cinchona.’


Anonymous (1912), In memoriam, Robert MacKenzie Cross, Journal of The Kew Guild 1911, pp. 51–52.

Desmond, R. (1992), The European Discovery of the Indian Flora, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Desmond, R. (1994), Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists, Taylor & Francis, & The Natural History Museum, London, p. 180.

Markham, C. (1880), Peruvian Bark : A Popular Account of the Introduction of Chinchona Cultivation into British India : 18601880, John Murray, London.

Rocco, F. (2003), The Miraculous Fever-Tree: Malaria, Medicine and the Cure that Changed the World, HarperCollins, London.

A Royal Invitation

In the autumn of 2016 the Kew Guild received an invitation from the Master of the Household at Buckingham Palace indicating that Her Majesty the Queen had invited three representatives of the Kew Guild to attend a reception to be given at the Palace.

The reception was held to celebrate the Patronages and Affiliations of Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy, who is the Patron of the Kew Guild. On the 29th November Your President, immediate Past President and Membership Secretary, Sylvia Phillips, attended the reception at Buckingham Palace which was held in one of the main reception galleries. There was an amazing cross section of organisations represented and those present were numbered in their hundreds. After the initial speeches the guests were presented with a superb selection of hors d’oeuvres and copious amounts of champagne. At this point Her Majesty passed through the room holding conversations with many of the groups represented there.

The Kew Guild representatives were lucky to be able to hold a lengthy conversation regarding our work with Her Majesty and she showed considerable interest in the support that we give to the students. She was particularly impressed with the practical aspects of their course and stated that in this age of new technology and the internet there was still an important place for those that could actually do the work.

The reception lasted for almost two hours and at the end it was a great honour to leave the Palace through those oft photographed main gates. Your past president’s family were waiting to meet us and keen to take photographs which did give us the air of being “greeted by the press.”

All in all, a most memorable night.


Sylvia Phillips and Tony Overland outside Buckingham Palace

Visit to Thorpe Perrow Arboretum, 22nd October 2016

Faith was rewarded as 13 Kewites travelled far to this northern outpost one Saturday late in September, for on this day the 100 acre Arboretum was bathed in autumn sunshine and the start of autumn tints.  It was Faith too that led us around (Faith Douglas, the part-time curator, a one-time nurse who re-trained at Askham Bryan College). This remarkable collection boasts 55 UK Champion Trees and 5 National Collections of genera such as Tilia, Juglans and Cotinus.

The Arboretum is privately owned by the Ropner family who bought the Millbank Pinetum of Victorian origin and underplanted the conifers with Japanese Maples. The Acer Glade is now set off by Blue spruces and a specimen Magnolia biloba. An avenue of Elms has been replaced unconventionally with a double line of Acer Ozakazuki backed by a foil of Italian Alders which also act as a windbreak. Somehow in this north-easterly location a mild micro-climate has been established; we saw Eucryphia still in flower.

The Ropner family has had its eccentricities; Sir Leonard Ropner was the major influence in the Arboretum`s creation but was prone to some of life`s vices so that by the time his son, Sir John Ropner, inherited it in 1977, it was a jungle. A meeting with Lord Hesletine convinced him to open it to the public in 1980, which in doing so released a £50K grant.

Now 70,000 people visit the Arboretum annually but the level of income to employees thus funded is well demonstrated in that in addition to a part-time Curator there is just one full-time gardener, a handyman, 15 volunteers and Lady Ropner who was once frequently seen on a mower. A remarkable lesson in efficiency to run a 110 acre Arboretum.

Maybe a little incongruous, a Bird of Prey and Mammal Centre is located in the former walled kitchen garden but then it provides a rounded experience to the Arboretum visitor. The plant collection is diligently labelled, but with cattle ear-tags! A novel way to beat the ubiquitous label thieves. A visitor has to purchase the Arboretum Catalogue to cross-reference the naming, making plant identification a little opaque to the casual visitor, and even to the Kewite with an eye for detail and accuracy. For the Sunday stroller however it is simply a superbly varied and beautiful landscape.

Stephen Ashworth


Left to right: Di Stuttard, Curator Faith Douglas, hidden behind her: Jean Peach, Rod Peach, David Edmonds (in blue hat), Jan Overland, Alan Stuttard, Stephen Ashworth, Tony Overland and Charles Attwood.

Henry James Murton (1853–1882)

Kew gardener 1873. Superintendent, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1875–1880. Exchanged plants with Kew.

b. Cornwall, England, 1853; d. Bangkok, Siam, 20 Sept. 1882

Murton entered Kew at the age of 20 in April 1873, leaving a year later to take charge of the newly formed Botanic Gardens at Singapore on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Hooker. He spent three months with G.H.K. Thwaites in the Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya, Ceylon, before proceeding to Singapore, taking with him donations of plants from the Ceylon Botanic Gardens.

A very young man when he took charge, he was a skilled and avid horticulturalist. He corresponded with the agricultural societies and botanic gardens in the East, from Hong Kong and Brisbane to Mauritius, obtaining exchanges of plants. He also corresponded with Kew and received many plants for the Gardens from their collections.

His stay in Singapore was relatively short, resigning his position in 1880. He then assisted the Director of the Royal Gardens at Bangkok.

His time at Singapore is evident in the planting, as he added greatly to the collection. He set up exchange programs with other gardens worldwide, receiving plants, and sending plants of local origin, chiefly orchids. He travelled widely and frequently in the Malay Peninsula, contributing a great many new and exotic species to the Gardens.

Murton established a library and herbarium and laid the foundations for an Economic Garden. He also set up an ill-fated zoo in the Gardens.

Notably, it was Murton who received from Kew the first seedlings of Para rubber from Kew in 1879. Most of the rubber in Malaya has come from this original introduction. He reported his concern over their slow rate of propagation, a problem which a subsequent director, the better-known, Henry Nicholas Ridley, would solve.

Another Kewite, Nathanial Cantley, followed him in taking charge of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Murton died in Siam after a brief illness following a fall, aged just 29 years old.

He is credited for successfully transforming the Botanic Gardens at Singapore from a recreational space into a scientific research centre during his time there. He was commemorated in the genus Murtonia but this was later placed in Desmodium (Fabaceae).

A photograph of James Murton and his staff of gardeners in 1877 appears in Tinsley (1983) pp 26-27.


Desmond, R. (1994), Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists, Taylor & Francis & The Natural History Museum, London, p. 509.

Singapore: City of Gardens, William Warren & Luca Invernizzi Tettoni (2000).

Tinsley, B. (1983), Singapore Green: A History and Guide to the Botanic Gardens, Times Books International.