How one shotgun explorer helped shape the great British garden

Ben Wray recreates Reginald Farrer's shotgun technique.  Picture: Charlotte Graham/Guzelian
Ben Wray recreates Reginald Farrer's shotgun technique. Picture: Charlotte Graham/Guzelian

IT ISN’T a technique anyone on Gardeners’ Question Time ever advocated, but this is how they once propagated plants in the Dales.

It was in Edwardian Yorkshire that the eccentric gardener Reginald Farrer loaded a shotgun with seeds collected on his foreign travels and fired them into a gorge at Clapham.

The practice never caught on, but the Himalayan plants took root and still grow wild around Ingleborough.

Yesterday, they reconstructed Farrer’s experiment with a blunderbuss, to launch next month’s autumn flower show at Harrogate.

The event will celebrate the life of Farrer, who is remembered as one of the country’s pioneering plant hunters, venturing as far as China and Japan and bringing home seeds that helped shape the British garden of today.

A native of Clapham, he died at 40 on an expedition to China’s Min Mountains.

Other plant hunters to feature in a “postcards from the hedge” exhibition at the flower show include the Scot David Douglas, who journeyed to North America in 1823, living in tents and deerskin lodges, before falling to his death at 35 in a pit in Hawaii. His legacy is the Douglas Fir.

Nick Smith, director of the Harrogate show, said: “Reginald Farrer’s shotgun may have been a harebrained scheme but it was valid experiment. How else were you going to get seeds up there?”

He added: “It’s easy to forget that a small band of dedicated people risked and, in some cases, lost their lives to bring us the exotic species to brighten our flower borders.”

The flower show, the biggest of its kind in Britain, will be staged from September 15-17 at the Great Yorkshire Showground.