James Lee

(1715—1795) nurseryman

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(1715–95), Scottish gardener and nurseryman born in Selkirk who came to England to work as a gardener, first at Syon House, Middlesex, and later with the 3rd Duke of Argyll (1682–1761) on his Whitton estate in Twickenham. By 1745 Lee was a partner in the Vineyard Nursery at Hammersmith (present-day Olympia) with Lewis Kennedy, whose identity is not clear; he may be the father of Lewis Kennedy (c.1721–1782) and the grandfather of John (1759–1842), both of whom later became partners. Lee brought out the book Introduction to Botany (1760) which although mostly a translation of Linnaeus' Philosophia Botanica (1751) proved immensely popular. Peter Collinson referred to him as ‘the ingenious Mr. Lee of Hammersmith’. The nursery specialized in growing exotics, particularly those received from the Antipodean expedition of James Cook (1728–79) in 1771, and the South African introductions of James Niven (c.1774–1827). In 1788 Lee is credited with being the first to raise the Australian Banksia serrata (saw banksia) and was instrumental in propagating the Chilean Fuchsia magellanica which he purchased from a seaman in Wapping. Following Lee's death his son James Lee (1754–1824) and John Kennedy continued the nursery, numbering among their clientele the Empress Joséphine (1763–1814) who in 1803 purchased plants to the sum of £2,600 and the Marquess of Blandford, who in the following year reportedly spent £15,000. By 1822 John Loudon reported that the Nursery was ‘unquestionably the first nursery in Britain or rather the World’.

From The Oxford Companion to the Garden in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Lifestyle, Home, and Garden.

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