Perter Collinson Mill Hill
...seeds across the sea

The Botanical Contribution of Peter Collinson


Early Life In Peckham

It is not known why Peter Collinson’s father felt it necessary to send him, at the tender age of two, to live with his grandmother in Peckham but gardeners in England and around the world would come to be thankful for the decision. For it was at Peckham that the young boy developed his gardening skills and the plant collecting bug which became a life long obsession. It was a formal garden, in the style of the period, noted for its topiary and lawns. As a child Peter remembered being taken to buy clipped yew hedges in the shapes of birds, dogs and men from the best nurserymen in London, suppliers such as Wrench of Parson’s Green and Parkinson of Lambeth. He would have been fascinated by the extraordinary nursery garden of Thomas Fairchild at Hoxton because Fairchild was a plant collector extraordinaire, uniquely skilful in germinating and nurturing exotic species including hothouse plants and fruits. His tree collection included important introductions from the American Colonies such as the tulip tree, American sycamore and the red flowered horse chestnut. These he supplied to the great houses and gardens of the age. One such garden belonged to Dr. Henry Compton, Bishop of London. As a child, Peter regularly visited this garden at Fulham Palace. In later years he reminisced wistfully,
“Dr. Compton, Bishop of London, was a great lover of rare plants, as well such as came from the West Indies as North America, and had the greatest collection in England. After his death, the see was filled by Bishop Robinson, a man destitute of any such taste, who allowed his gardener to sell what he pleased, and often spoiled what he could not otherwise dispose of.”

The Collinson Garden in Peckham 

The small garden in Peckham was inherited from his maternal grandmother (1). The garden was locally famous and consisted of a square plot, bisected by a path. At one end was a greenhouse in which Collinson kept his tender exotics.  The layout was arranged so that most of the flower beds caught the morning sun, which was, according to Collinson, important especially for the American plants. The borders were edged with the bones from horse and ox legs – sunk vertically into the soil so that only the soft curves of the white knuckles were visible. Though it seemed an eccentric method to his contemporaries, the lines of bones prevented the earth from falling on to the gravel paths while, at the same time, releasing phosphorus and calcium – a result similar to many of today’s organic fertilisers. At one end of the garden the clipped branches of an elm formed the roof of a little pavilion, and opposite it, at the other end of the garden, there was a bench and the branches of a horse chestnut over were trained into a leafy canopy. Implying a penchant for quiet reflective areas to sit, think and perhaps socialise.(2)
The Peckham plants were grown in long flowerbeds between 3 and 4 feet wide and all were labelled with numbers painted on pales or stakes placed in the soil, or drawn directly on the wall in the case of climbers and espalier fruit. These numbers were cross-referenced to a catalogue of names - possibly like the classification beds at Kew Gardens. Some plants in the Peckham garden were:

  • Monarda didyma
  • Dodecatheon meadia
  • Phlox – pink, purple and light blue species
  • Asters
  • Lilies
  • Rudbeckias
  • Sunflowers
  • Yucca filamentosa – a John Tradescant the Younger introduction
  • Delphinium grandiflorum – from Siberia
  • Spanish Broom
  • Collinson also had a special germinating bed in Peckham, six foot by three, for his newly arrived American plants

His own garden at Peckham was not designed for contours and landscape, rather it was as complete a collection of rare and exotic specimen trees and herbaceous species as could be found outside Miller’s Chelsea Physic garden (which itself, derived in part from Collinson).

Linnaeus visits the Garden in Peckham 1736

Carl Linnaeus visited Collinson in his Peckham garden in late July 1736 – and at this time the lady’s slipper orchids and the Robinia had both past their flowering, as had the shade loving Solomon’s seal. (3)
However the plants that Linnaeus would have seen were likely to have been: 

  • Magnolia virginiana – one of Collinson’s great rarities
  • The vigorous perennial Goldenrod
  • Sassafras albidum – a columnar tree from the laurel family
  • Kalmias
  • Iceland Poppies
  • The first of many Rhododendrons
  • Many Lilies of different hues – including an 8’0” Lilium superbum
  • Bletia verecunda  (probably sent by Mark Catesby FRS from the Bahamas in 1725)

Philip MIller and the Chelsea Physic Garden 

The Collinson family were well connected with leading figures in London, none more influential than Sir Hans Sloane who owned a massive private collection of natural specimens and archaeological artefacts from all over the world. Young Peter enjoyed helping Sloane catalogue and display his collection and the two became close friends. It was Sloane who put Philip Miller in charge of the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1722 with the specific brief to develop rare exotic introductions. Miller was not known for his affability but he was a very skilful nurseryman. The passion for new plants was the basis of a lasting friendship with Collinson, a relationship of some significance later for it was Miller who developed a comprehensive Botanical dictionary, which became the plant bible for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic. Miller’s dictionary was published and financed in Pennsylvania by the good offices of Peter Collinson through another of his hugely influential lifelong friends, Benjamin Franklin. Published in 1731, It was the first volume of its type to include helpful notes on the culture and maintenance of plants and was largely responsible for putting the art of gardening within reach of the ordinary man, a virtual reformation within horticulture, once the exclusive province of a privileged few.

Seeds across the Seas

As young Peter Collinson entered the textile trade of his father, his interest in plant introductions became an expensive pastime. For example, he financed the publication of Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. This seminal volume, the most costly book of its day, consisted of etchings and notes from Catesby’s collections of plants on his trip to the Americas, a trip itself made possible by sponsors found by Collinson.

He was not the first to develop an interest in plants from the Americas, nor the first to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for the cultivation of exotic species but he was the first to apply the principles of business to this enterprise and it was through his business skills that these rare and hitherto prohibitively expensive plants became accessible throughout the country and found their way into the great parks and gardens of the age. He was well acquainted with the ships’ captains who plied the busy Thames dockyards just down the street from his London Grace Street office and through them was able to send and receive packages across the major trading routes of the world. In particular, he exploited his connections with North America persuading them to send him specimens both animal and vegetable from that continent but was frequently frustrated.
“What was common with them but rare with us, they did not think worth sending. Thus I laboured in vain or to little purpose for some years for but few seeds of plants……neither money nor friendship would tempt them…”
In 1734 he received a letter from John Custis, a wealth tobacco grower from Williamsburg, Virginia. Custis was a man of considerable charm and influence in Virginia. His son who died at 25 years had been married to Martha, later to become the wife of George Washington and he was a friend to the young Thomas Jefferson. He had been educated in England, had known Catesby during his seven year stay in Virginia sharing his enthusiasm for the exchange of foreign plants. His supply had been erratic and achieved via the tobacco importer, James Cary of Hampstead. It was most probably Catesby who connected him with Peter Collinson to whom he wrote in 1734,
“….Capt. Isham Randolph (grandfather of Thomas Jefferson) acquaint me that you are desirous of the mountain cowslip which is a beautiful out of the way plant and flower……”(he refers to  roots of this plant which he has enclosed in a package to England and continues ) … “I have a garden inferior to few if any in Virginia in which  my whole delight is placed and have had for several years evergreens, flowers etc. from England but the masters of ships are so ignorant and withal careless that it is rare to get anything safe….”.
His gifts probably crossed with corresponding boxes on passing ships in the Atlantic. Collinson writes,
“I am much obliged to you for your kind present but what much enhances the obligation, on my side, is that being an entire stranger you should take so much pains to gratify me. I can’t enough commend the method you took to convey this rare plant to my hands by sending the seed by one ship and the plant by another………..As a small token of my gratitude for your favour I desire your acceptance of a box of horse chestnuts. Why this name is imposed on this noble tree I can’t say for no horse that I ever heard will eat the nuts …….”.
Their friendship flourished and they had much in common, both being men of business with exceptional knowledge of the shipping trade. Their correspondence lasted until Custis ‘ death in 1749. Some quaint and interesting items emerge from it. For example, in reference to what we now call a tomato, Collinson asks Custis,
“Pray what sort of fruit is your wild scarlet plum. Is it more for show than for taste….Apples of love are very much used in Italy to put when ripe into their broths and soups giving it a pretty tart taste….. They call it tamiata. I never tried it but I think to do it….”

It is nothing short of miraculous that Peter Collison managed to maintain his business and family life whilst keeping up the correspondence with all his gardening friends and contacts. He had by now attracted the attention of the major botanists of the age with whom he corresponded enthusiastically, notably Carl Linnaeus, and Peter Kalm of Sweden, Jan Frederik Gronovious of Amsterdam, Bernard Jussieu in Paris and Dr. Amman in Russia who from Siberia sent him many exotic trees and shrubs.
Although Peter Collinson is best remembered for his North American introductions, it should be noted that significant contributions came from other parts of the world. One of Peter Collinson’s introductions is now the very common street tree, Ailanthus altissima, the tree of heaven. He wrote in his journal of this tree,
“A stately tree raised from seed from Nankin in China, in 1751 sent over by Father D’Incarville, my correspondent in China to whom I have sent many seeds in return; he sent it to me and to the Royal Society. I have from China a tree of surprising growth that much resembles a Sumach, which is the admiration of all that see it. It endures our winters. We call ours the Varnish Tree”
Father D’Incarville also sent him the magnificent Pagoda tree, one of which survives in Mill Hill although there is no mention of it in his catalogue. Another memorable East Asian introduction was the paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera of which he wrote
 “1751 Raised this year a mulberry from seed sent from China; it proves the paper mulberry described by Dr. Kaemfer in his Amoenitates exoticae, which I have given to the Chelsea gardens, to the Duke of Argyle, Lord Lincoln etc.”

These entries appear in the catalogue of Collinson’s collection completed after his death. Careful reading reveals both the diversity of his supply chains and some fascinating insights into his emotional (and occasional culinary) response to the different plants. The catalogue brings up another pressing issue of the times and one which resulted in an extreme polarisation of views - the issue of nomenclature. Principle combatants were Linneaus and Miller, both had a reputation to lose: Linnaeus’ Systema naturae versus Philip Miller’s dictionary; academic aristocracy in conflict with practical horticulture. Miller was a man of the soil; Linnaeus was on a personal crusade to convince the international community to accept a binomial naming system based entirely on the sexual organs of plants.
Linnaeus arrived from Holland in 1736 the year after publication of Systema naturae, which expounded the principles of his binomial Latin nomenclature. As an employee of the Dutch East India Company, his mission, ostensibly, was to add to the Dutch collection of American species. His chief agenda, however, was to persuade the English botanical community to support his new naming system and first on his list was Peter Collinson. Linnaeus was very impressed with Collinson’s collection at Peckham not least by the Magnolia virginiana, a tree of impressive proportions (Miller thought it the biggest in the country), which had been painted by Catesby. It took a lot more than this visit to persuade the English scientific and horticultural community to adopt the binomials, not least because Linnaeus was not known for his natural charm or humility. Collinson, however, maintained a cordial and extensive correspondence with him and took no side other than that which might advance the cause of international harmony and understanding and the development of horticulture. As a result, Linnaeus’ colleague, Peter Kalm visited the Peckham garden and some years later Linnaeus sent his best student from the University of Uppsala, Daniel Solander, to catalogue Collinson’s collection (then at Mill Hill) and through him to gain introductions. Solander was an extremely gifted and socially adept young man so it was with ease that his host, Peter Collinson introduced him to Sir Hans Sloane and members of the Royal Society, including an even younger Joseph Banks. Linnaeus lost his man to England forever as Solander accompanied Banks on James Cook’s famous voyage of Discovery to the South Atlantic and Pacific oceans. On his return from that memorable adventure on HMS Endeavour he became Bank’s librarian and curator of Sloane’s collection, which was to become the British Museum.

John Bartram, seed boxes, Patrons and Nurseries

A yet more important North American contact emerged in Pennsylvania though the intermediary offices of Benjamin Franklin and the subscription library. Knowing how anxious Collinson was to establish a plant exchange mechanism on a more botanically sound basis, the secretary of the library, a fellow merchant, John Breintnall put him in touch with a farmer from Philadelphia called John Bartram. To his delight, Bartram was willing to send over boxes of materials and to do so as regularly as the unpredictable nature of shipping would allow. For this Collinson agreed to pay five guineas a box and so the stream of roots and seeds, dried insects and stuffed birds began. In return Collinson sent books, plant material and even clothes, being ever mindful of the practical needs of his correspondent. They never met but their friendship was lifelong and profound. A small sense of it may be gleaned from the numerous letters, which passed between them. A typical early exchange is dated February 1735. Bartram writes;
 “I am greatly obliged to thee for thy present of a suit of clothes which came in the right time…”
 Collinson shows early caution in his reply;
 “Pray give nobody a hint, how thee or thy wife came by the suit of clothes. There may be some, with you, may think they deserve something of that nature. “ 
 He soon, however, gets back to the business between them;
“If thee observes any curious insects, beetles, butterflies, etc, they are easily preserved, being pinned through the body to the inside of a little box. When it is full, send it nailed up, and put nothing within it, and they will come very safe. Display the wings of the butterflies with pins, and rub off the down as little as possible. When thee goes abroad, put a little box in thy pocket, and as thee meets with them put them in, and then stick them in the other box when thee comes home. I want a terrapin or two. Put them in a box with earth, and they will come safe. They will live a long while without food.”
John Bartram was a farmer, a son of a farmer, a man who built his own house and was hardened to the demands of the newly settled ‘back lands’ of Pennsylvania. He had plenty to fill his days but was possessed of an extraordinary enthusiasm for natural science and found the time for lengthy correspondence with like-minded planters and settlers on the eastern seaboard of North America. He created a model garden with an extensive collection of curiosities. No lesser international figure than Carl Linneaus called him “the greatest natural botanist in the world” but adds significantly, “……and Peter Collinson may almost be said to have created him such!”
To understand the origins of botany in North East America and the development of English gardens in the eighteenth century, it is necessary to explore both the personal as well as the scientific relationship between these two men. They were separated by all manner of circumstances, not least the Atlantic Ocean, war with France and stirrings of revolution. Not surprisingly, their views of the world differed greatly. Bartram lived at the sharp edge of three competing cultures, English, French and indigenous. On his plant hunting trips he often found himself in danger.
“Dear Peter,”
(he writes in 1756), “ We are now in a grievous distressed condition; the barbarous, inhuman, ungrateful natives weekly murdering our back inhabitants and those few Indians that profess some friendship to us are watching for an opportunity to ruin us”……“The only method to establish a lasting peace with the barbarous Indians is to bang them stoutly….it is only throwing away men, blood and treasure to make peace with them.”
 Collinson was clearly shocked by this;
 “My dear John, thou dost not consider the law of right, and doing to others as we would be done unto. We, every manner of way trick, cheat and abuse these Indians with impunity. They were notoriously jockeyed and cheated out of their land in your province….”
Bartram was a man hardened by the realities of a hostile frontier. Collinson was no adventurer and travelled rarely.  With Hogarth, Corem and like-minded liberal thinkers and social activists of his day he was concerned for the dispossessed and underprivileged in society. He might today be criticised as a “Hampstead liberal”, one whose views of the world are filtered by the luxuries of distance and financial ease.  There is no evidence, however, that such differences dented the friendship and loyalty between the two men. Indeed Collinson with Franklin’s help, lobbied powerful contacts on both sides of the Atlantic to have Bartram named as Botanist to the King (George III) in 1765, a position which gave him a significant annual income.
Where Bartram was unsure of a plant name he sent pressed samples and kept a numbered copy. Peter Collinson would, with Philip Miller’s assistance, identify the specimen and send back a reference. He sent Bartram a copy of Philip Miller’s  invaluable ‘Gardeners’ Dictionary’ via the Pennsylvania library, their normal means of communication. Collinson was careful to keep the American soil, which accompanied the plants in their boxes and he used it in his garden to acclimatise the seedlings. The costs of this operation were significant but were offset by the formation of a subscription service, a network established by Collinson and affectionately called the ‘Brothers of the Spade’.
First among the subscribers and chief among Collinson’s friends and allies was Lord Petre whose garden at Thorndon Hall became the repository of all the wonders imported through the brotherhood. His was the model garden, a showcase for marketing the exotic introductions and the centre for experimentation, not least with species requiring a hot house. The largest hothouse, or stove, as it was known was 30ft. square in dimensions. In just two years before his premature death from smallpox he planted 60,000 trees of at least 50 different species, mixing the different contours and colours in a way which was beginning to catch on throughout the land, a style called ‘natural’ which contrasted with the formal Baroque style of the previous age. Collinson described the garden as using “hints borrowed from nature”. It owed much to Petre’s head gardener, the nurseryman, James Gordon. Of particular note were the tulip trees, cedars and American maples. It was a matter of lasting anguish for Collinson that his great friend Lord Petre died so young in 1742 and the collection was broken up. He wrote of his loss to Bartram,
“Oh, Friend John  ….   I loved him and he me more like a brother than a friend.”

The Thorndon Hall collection was later bought and distributed among the other fifty odd subscribers. These included The Dukes of Richmond, Argyle, Bedford, and the earls of Jersey and Bute, and of course, Sir Hans Sloane and Philip Miller. Collinson’s network supplied the nurserymen who, in turn supplied the great designers such as Lancelot Brown. Slowly the gardens were changing. Woburn Abbey, Blenheim Palace, Stowe; even the Prince of Wales became a subscriber for his gardens at Kew and Carlton House. In this way, the North American introductions and exotic introductions from other parts of the world became affordable in bulk, another vital aspect of the ‘gardening reformation’ and perhaps the most influential and lasting of Peter Collinson’s contributions to botany. All of this, it should be remembered was happening at a time when French boats would attack the English merchant ships on the cross-Atlantic route. Ironically, Collinson arranged for shipments of seeds and plants to be directed to his friend Bernard de Jussieu, the Director of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris to ensure safe delivery and onward passage to England. The Jardin des Plantes still bears testimony to this relationship. Visitors will notice a commemorative plaque labelling a grand old cedar of Lebanon donated by Peter Collinson in 1734.

Mill Hill Garden 1749 - 1768

In 1749, on the death of his wife’s father, Peter Collinson inherited Ridgeway House in Mill Hill together with 8 acres, a perfect site for his garden. He spent the next two years transplanting the entire collection and settled into his new home with great satisfaction;

"Very few gardens (he records) if any excel mine at Mill Hill for the rare exotics which are my delight.”

 At the time Ridgeway House was a small property comprising several fields in which there were at least two ponds (in the lower of  which Peter Collinson placed the “great Snapping Mudd Turtle… and one of our small frogs”) The house had no particular architectural merit; it was described as “double-fronted” with French windows” that open onto the garden. It stood near to the road called The Ridgeway, from which it was protected by a red-brick wall that still exists and is ‘listed’. About fifty yards behind the house, there were two avenues of trees, one running north to south, the other east to west. The garden lay to the south on ground which sloped down from the house towards the west, from which could be seen the woods that belted London, with the royal palace of Windsor Castle just visible in the distance. There were also two walled gardens that were probably close to the western edge of the garden, down the slope from the house. There are no surviving plans of the Mill Hill garden. 
Peter Collinson took great care to transplant the flowers, shrubs and trees from Peckham – most of which were so precious that he planted them out himself. He took one of the two deciduous mountain magnolias (Magnolia acuminata) raised from seed at Peckham in 1746 to Mill Hill and planted it in “the Corner of the Best Garden.” (5) He also transported pots of Mertensia virginica. A Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) planted in 1700 grew “In the centre of the court before our House.” Peter Collinson described it as a ‘pretty large tree’. Either Spanish or a horse chestnut (Castaneasativa or Aesculus hippocastranum) planted in the same year ‘in the Field’ was measured in January 1759 by Collinson and his son and is possibly the one which still exists today.

The Mill Hill garden comprised the ‘Best Garden’ and ‘the Field’. There is also mention of a large greenhouse and a ‘Grass Walk’ but details are very sketchy. The Best Garden is a term that is difficult to define. We take it to mean an ornamental area designed with borders for herbaceous plants, flowering shrubs, and small flowering trees, possibly seen from the house or within a walled garden. Under Peter Collinson’s regime “the Field” became a collection of trees or arboretum. Various notes of Collinson’s show that he received seed of the Eastern Hornbeam or ‘Azad’ from Persia. The two clumps of Pinasters (Pinus pinster or maritime pine) that grew in ‘the Field’ were raised at Mill Hill from seeds from Mr Lethiulliers c1749. There were also two Stone Pines (Pinus pinea) - grown from seed at Peckham (1743) – one of which survived to become a large tree at Mill Hill. Therefore ‘the Field’ was an area of hardy deciduous trees mixed with conifers.

Peter Collinson had a greenhouse at Mill Hill, and in February 1768 he gave a description to Bartram stating that …”whilst snow covered the garden without… out of my parlour I go into my Greenhouse 42 foot long which makes a pretty walk to smell the sweets of so many odoriferous plants, Winter without but Summery within.” (4) The Linnaean Society has a sketch but how it was heated is unclear, although the sketch does show a brick chimney stack. As he never referred to an orangery at Ridgeway House, Collinson must have kept his… “collection of Oranges, Lemons etc, numbering twenty varieties in all”… in the greenhouse.

The value of the Peter Collinson garden at Mill Hill lay in its incomparable collection of rare species, many of which he had introduced and raised himself. Like all good gardeners he took advantage of varying soil conditions – in boggy parts he planted pyrola (Pyrola rotundiflora), Colden’s pitcher plant and a “Great striped Leaved Orchis… grew in the bog”. Collinson kept the strange pitcher plants in an artificial bog that imitated its natural habitat in America; This carnivorous insect-devouring flower, had originally been plucked from the swamps around Jamestown in Virginia by John Tradescant the Younger in 1637 – but ever since then English gardeners had struggled to keep them alive – but Collinson brought them to blossom every year. Also in the garden were Collinson’s beloved lady’s slipper orchids.
Though the garden had many of John Bartram’s American species, there were also many curiosities from elsewhere – for example…

He had been given seeds of Tree of Heaven by a Jesuit priest from China
He was the proud owner of a most beautiful specimen of the evergreen Arbutus andrachne from the Levant – also called Greek Strawberry tree because of its red strawberry-like fruits; it remained such a rarity that one mature tree sold twenty years later for £53 11s. (6)
In 1752 the Duke of Argyll gave him “2 Swamp Carolina Pines” and “2 Cembros or Siberian Pines.” In 1761 he planted six cedars of Lebanon “in the Field”. (They came from Mr Clark of Barnet.) He also planted a Cedar of Lebanon “on the grass before the house.” The Duke of Richmond gave him two more, which he put on either side of “Grass Walk”.
By 1759 he was running out of space, for that year he “Took in More of the Field” and made a plantation of pears, Russian and “Newfoundland larch,” and New York spruce (Tsuga Canadensis) and added a black walnut (Juglans nigra).

On 1st July 1760 Daniel Solander, being the favourite student of Linnaeus, visits the Collinson garden in Mill Hill.  Many of the plants listed here come from his description of the garden. (6) (7)
In 1762 Collinson notes that his mountain magnolia (in the best Garden) was the “first Tree that has flower’d in England”.  He also grew other species of magnolia, including the umbrella tree and the “Laurel Leaved magnolia” (M. gradiflora) raised in Peckham in 1740.
The Carolina allspice’s fragrance was smelt at a great distance – Calycanthus floridus. Another perfumed glory was the fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) – “its blooms were creamy white feathery clusters that clad every branch and almost entirely hid the emerging leaves”. There was the beautiful contrast between the bright green foliage and the dangling rose pink petal of Robinia hispida, one of the rarest sights in England.
The vigorous climber, Campsis radicans – the trumpet creeper, that grows hugging the greenhouse covering it with its orangey red tubular flowers. The sorrel tree – also called the lily-of-the-valley-tree for its delicate tiny urn-shaped flowers; the glossy foliage turned deep red in autumn and the branches were decorated during the winter months with seeds in the shape thousands of upright capsules. The ground below the tree was covered with the delicate white blossom of the shade-loving Saxifraga x geum.
As well as Cedars of Lebanon, Balsam firs, and the Swamp Pine – there were the John Bartram’s specialities - magnolias, kalmias, rhododendrons, azaleas with a vast array of colourful annuals. We must not forget Collinsonia Canadensis, which is also a homeopathic remedy. However, the crowning glory of Collinson’s garden ‘tour’ was Rhododendron maximum – his then favourite shrub from the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains, often growing to over 20 feet.
It is obvious that the plants in the Mill Hill garden came from a vast array of sources, and it is important to realise that Peter Collinson not only knew his plants but each one acted as a mnemonic for his friendships. With Bartram and Linnaeus Collinson shared his love of plants, but with Colden he added recollections of these friends:

As often as I survey my Garden & Plantations it reminds Mee of my Absent Friends by their Living Donations – See there my Honble Frd Goverr Colden how thrifty they look – Sr I see nobody but Two fine Trees a Spruce and a Larch, that’s True, but they are his representatives, but See close by how my Lord Northumberland aspires in that Curious Firr from Mount Ida, but Look Yonder at the Late Benevolent Duke of Richmond, His Everlasting Cedars of Lebanon, will Endure when you & I & He is forgot, see with what Vigor they Tower away how their Stems enlarge & their branches extend – But pray what are those pines Novelties rarely Seen – that Elegant one with five Leaves is the Cembro Pione from Siberia, the other Tall Tree is the very long Leaves Pine of 10 or 12 Inches from So. Carolina they Stand momentos of my Generous Frd the Late Duke of Argyle that Gentle Tree So like a Cypress looks uncommon, that’s the Syrian Cedar the Seed was given Mee by Sr Charles Wager first Lord of the Admiralty gather’d in the Isle of Iona, in his Voyage to convey Don Carlo
(the Now K: of Spain) to Naples.
But those Balm Gilead Firrs grow at the Surpriseing rate it is pleasant to See, but they renew a concern for my Dear Frd Ld Petre, they came young from his Nurserys, with all the species of Virgina Pines & Cedars – but that Firr that grows Near them is remarkable for its Blewish Green, that was a present from my Worthy Frd Sr Harry Trelawny, it is called the black Spruce He had it from Newfoundland, it grows delightfully regard but ye Variety of Trees & Shrubs in this plantation as mountain Magnolia, Sarsifax Rhododendrons Calmias & Azaleas &c &c &c all are the Bounty of my Curious Botanic Friend J: Bartram of Philadelphia and those pretty Fringe Trees, Halsesias & Stuartia all Great Beauties I must thank my Fr Mr Clayton; the Great Botanist of America. How fragrant that Allspice, how Charming the Red flowd Acacia Great Laurel Leafed Magnolia &  Umbrella Magnolia & Loblolly Bay – these Charming Trees are the Glory of my Garden & the Trofies of that Friendship that Subsists between Mee & my very obligeing Friend I: Lambol Esq of  South Carolina.
Thus Gratitude prompts Mee to Celebrate the Memory of my Friends amongst whome you have long Claimed the Respect & Esteem of yours Sincerely
                                                                                                 P. Collinson”  

Ultimately, by 1767 there were signs that Peter Collinson was starting to curtail his horticultural activities. In September 1767, he warned Bartram that unless anything new or rare turned up, he should send nothing more.  By the following year, August 1768, Peter Collinson had died. Now Mill Hill School occupies the site of Ridgeway House, the ‘Best Garden’ and ‘the Field’. By naming a genus Collinsonia, Linnaeus ensured that Collinson’s name would be remembered for “as long as men and books endure.”

Unlike the garden at Peckham, in the present day under a concrete urban sprawl, the site at Mill Hill retains its beauty although the actual garden is lost. Mill Hill School was founded in Peter Collinson’s old house on The Ridgeway, later replacing it with the present imposing building - School House. It was the first educational establishment to provide a first class education for the sons of dissenters, those whose religious or philosophical outlook did not conform to that of the state and who, like Collinson, a Quaker, were barred from the attending the established seats of learning. It was founded on principles of tolerance and liberal values and was open to all, regardless of background or belief. Some of the original trees still remain today, including an oriental plane, pin oak, tulip tree and black locust. A number of exotics of more recent provenance, for example an Eastern Red Cedar, can also be found, which presumably owe their presence to natural seeding from the original collection.


1. Dictionary of National Biographies Vill.ll djvu/388 pages 382/383

2. Extracts taken from 'The Brother Gardeners' by Andrea Wulf page 94

3. Extracts taken from 'The Brother gardeners' by Andrea Wulf page 50

4. Extracts taken from 'Peter Collinson and the 18th Century Natural History Exchange' by O'Neill/McClean pages 50/51

5. Dictionary 6th Endpaper - Peter Collinson and the 18th Century Natural History Exchange' by O'Neill/McClean page 147

6. 'The Brother Gardeners' by Andrea Wulf page 139 and pages 139/140

7. Later Solander was appointed, on Collinson's recommendation, assistant librarian to catalogue natural history collections at the British Museum in 1763.
Five years later he sailed with Joseph Banks to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti and went on to collect palnts of New Zealand and Australia.
In 1773 he was made keeper of the natural History Department at the British Museum.

8. Collinson to Cadwallander Colden, 25th February 1764, Colden Papers, 6:290-291 Lord Northumberland is Hugh Percy, first Duke of Northumberland.