University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry. Extension Professor

Many of our public gardens, how we garden today, and even the plants that we grow, are the result of the work and ideas of landscape architects, garden designers, plant breeders, and other horticulturists in past centuries.  Let me introduce you to nine famous people in horticulture history.

Most people probably aren't familiar with Hans De Vries, a Dutchman who designed gardens among other artistic pursuits of the 17th century.  He is the first in his country, and one of the first anywhere, to think of the garden artistically.  De Vries is best known for his intricate and formal gardens with sculpted parterres or patterns, topiary, arbors, and fountains.

If you can remember back to your school days, you may recall studying the famous physician from Asia Minor Dioscorides in the 1st century AD.  At that time many medical treatments were plant-based, and he is one of the earliest to publish plant descriptions in his De Materia Medica. This book has been a key influence on botany, botanical illustration, herbals, plant descriptions and plant names even today.

Andrew Jackson Downing was a famous American landscape gardener during the first half of the 19th century.  He was the first American author on this subject, with A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening.  In this book he showed how gardens could be functional and aesthetic, and how these were related.  He also wrote books on fruit growing with much of the information still valid now.  Downing was the first in this country to advocate public parks.  So the next time you see a landscaping book or beautiful landscape, tend fruit trees, or visit a public park, remember this man!

Another author of note, but lesser known, is John Evelyn of the latter part of the 17th century.  This British horticulturist wrote a massive work on all aspects of gardening, Elysium Britannicum; translated foreign books on gardening; and wrote extensively on silviculture, the care of trees.

Thomas Fairchild also wrote in Britain, but in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  He extensively cultivated fruits, as well as exotic plants imported from North America.  He experimented with plants and wrote about them.  One of these, a cross between a carnation and a sweet william, is said to be the first hybrid deliberately produced.  When growing all those hybrid flowers and vegetables in your garden, just think--it all probably started with this man.

Beatrix Jones Farrand was a famous American landscape architect of the first half of the 20th century.  Among her more famous landscapes are Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., and the Rockefeller Garden in Maine.  She also designed many college campuses, including Princeton and Yale.

Karl Foerster was a German nurseryman and plant breeder of the first two-thirds of the 20th century.  He was also key in reintroducing the focus on plants themselves over design considerations in gardens.  Perennials, ferns, and grasses were the main groups he worked with and bred.  Some, such as the feather reed grass 'Karl Foerster,' which was once named a Perennial Plant of the Year, carry his name.  The popular Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' is also his creation.

Robert Fortune was a Scottish plant collector in the middle 1800s, who introduced more than 120 new plant species, mainly from China, to gardens.  These included rhododendrons, viburnums, and the first forsythia.  Think of him when you see all the forsythia in bloom next spring although the flower is actually named after another earlier Scottish gardener, William Forsyth.

Finally, I should mention Leonhart Fuchs, a 16th century German physician.  Although he published an herbal, he is best known for the Fuchsia, a favorite plant for spring hanging baskets, which is named after him.

To learn more about famous horticulturists whose names began with A-C, visit

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