John Veitch and Killerton House

Killerton House would not look out of place in a Jane Austen production.  It is home to the National Trust’s 20,000 items of fashion collection.  The house sits in a Capability Brown style park and grade 2* listed garden.

The gardens are full of exotic trees from every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica.  Some of the first Giant Redwoods brought to England are in this garden.  There are 100 species of Rhododendrons.  The photograph below was taken from the top of the icehouse looking down at the trees.

Below is a painting of Thomas Acland 7th Baronet who commissioned the gardens to complement his house, in 1770.

Below is the wife of Sir Thomas Lady Lydia with two of the couples ten children.

The man Sir Thomas chose to carry out the work was John Veitch, a nineteen year old scotsman.  John Veitch was later to be the founder of the Veitch nurseries.  Sadly there were no paintings of John Veitch at Killerton.  I did however find this photo of him, as an older man, in an old National Trust guide book.

John Veitch was born in 1752 at Jedburgh, on the scottish borders.  The story goes that in 1768 he was given ten shillings by his father and sent away to walk to London to find work.  He would have been sixteen.  John found work with Lee’s which was a scottish nursery based in Hammersmith.  In 1770 Sir Thomas Acland asked John Veitch to work on his garden and off he went to Devon.

Below is the summerhouse, built by John Veitch,in 1780, for Lady Lydia as a wedding present from her husband Sir Thomas.  It was known as the Bear House because later a bear was brought from Canada as a pet and it lived in the summerhouse.

The garden is said to be one of the first arboreta in the country.

On our visit we spotted two cork bark trees, Quercus suber, from Southern Europe and North America.

Below is a photograph of Cryptomeria japonica lobbii or Japanese cedar.  The lobii refers to William and his younger brother Thomas Lobb who were plant hunters working  for the Veitch nursery.  They went all over the world in search of plants.

We found one Magnolia tree with a label Magnolia x veitch Peter Veitch.  Peter Christian  Massyn Veitch 1850 – 1926 was the grandson of John Veitch.  He too was a nurseryman.

By 1780 John Veitch had been promoted to Land Steward for all the Acland estates.  Sir Thomas encouraged Veitch to start up his own nursery business and leased him land , for the purpose, near Killerton. According to a lady guiding for the National  Trust the remnants of the nursery can still be seen at the estate offices.  These are now on the other side of the M5 from Killerton House.

The business grew to be one of the most significant plant nursery dynasties of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It is said to be the largest family run nursery, in Europe, of the nineteenth century.  In 1969 the business was sold to Bridget Nurseries of Exeter.

At Writhlington we have two species of orchid from the Veitchi nursery.  The photo below shows Masdevallia veitchiana .  It is a hummingbird pollinated orchid from rocky grasslands in Peru.  We grow the orchid in our Cool Americas section of the greenhouse and it flowers several times throughout the year.

Our other Veitchi orchid is Laelia anceps veitchiana.  It is thought that our original cutting of this plant came from a specimen that was wild collected in Victorian times.  If this is the case our orchid could possibly be 150 years old.





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