A Swallow Press Book

Visions of Loveliness
Great Flower Breeders of the Past

By Judith M. Taylor

“Taylor, a ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles,’ discusses plantsmen and women as if they were fascinating neighbors (her vignettes of the Hemus sisters and their sweet pea cultivars are delicious), and although her anecdotes are blessedly breezy, her encyclopedia is exhaustive.”

Publishers Weekly

“After reading Taylor, I will embark with new eyes on the glorious weeks which are now beginning, the season of lilacs and rhododendrons, lupins, delphiniums, roses and sweet peas. Many of the best have been bred for us, but their breeders were never saddled with a loathsome student loan. They learned by observation and were impelled by what Taylor calls a ‘vision of loveliness.’”

Robin Lane Fox, The Financial Times

“Many gardeners enjoy the floral products of plant breeding, such as Narcissus ‘King Alfred’ or the old-fashioned Dorothy Perkins rose, without giving a thought to their origins. In Visions of Loveliness, Judith M. Taylor brings to life the ‘creators’ of these ornamental plants and many others in a way that will give you new appreciation for flowers of all kinds.”

Denise Wiles Adams, The American Gardener

“…For a gardener who likes a little history with their blooms, it’s fascinating.”

The Plain Dealer

Gardeners of today take for granted the many varieties of geraniums, narcissi, marigolds, roses, and other beloved flowers for their gardens. Few give any thought at all to how this incredible abundance came to be or to the people who spent a good part of their lives creating it. These breeders once had prosperous businesses and were important figures in their communities but are only memories now. They also could be cranky and quirky.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, new and exotic species were arriving in Europe and the United States from all over the world, and these plants often captured the imaginations of the unlikeliest of men, from aristocratic collectors to gruff gardeners who hardly thought of themselves as artists. But whatever their backgrounds, they all shared a quality of mind that led them to ask “What if?” and to use their imagination and skills to answer that question themselves. The newest rose from China was small and light pink, but what if it were larger and came in more colors? Lilac was very nice in its way, but what if its blossoms were double and frilly?

While there are many books about plant collectors and explorers, there are none about plant breeders. Drawing from libraries, archives, and the recollections of family members, horticultural historian Judith M. Taylor traces the lives of prominent cultivators in the context of the scientific discoveries and changing tastes of their times. Visions of Loveliness is international in scope, profiling plant breeders from many countries—for example, China and the former East Germany—whose work may be unknown to the Anglophone reader.

In addition to chronicling the lives of breeders, the author also includes chapters on the history behind the plants by genus, from shrubs and flowering trees to herbaceous plants.

Judith M. Taylor is the author of The Olive in California: History of an Immigrant Tree; Tangible Memories: Californians and Their Gardens, 1800 to 1950; The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: How the World Got into Your Garden, and Visions of Loveliness: Great Flower Breeders of the Past. She lives in San Francisco.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. History of Plant Breeding in Europe and America
  • Chapter 1. The Compression of History
    • The Development of Scientific Botany
    • New Movement in Horticulture
    • The Mutability of Species
    • Prosperity Resulting from Plant Hybridization
    • Advances in Biological Thought
    • Combining Theory with Empiricism
    • Ancient Chinese Advances
  • Chapter 2. The Onrush of New plants
    • Distribution of the Imported Plants
    • Exotic Plants Now Commonplace
  • Part 2. Important Flower Breeders
  • Chapter 3. Flower Breeders in Europe
    • Ernst Benary
    • Blackmore and Langdon, or a Brief Treatise on the Delphiniums
    • Karl Foerster
    • Carter’s Tested Seeds: A Meditation upon the Sweet Pea
    • Haage & Schmidt
    • Thomas Laxton
    • Victor Lemoine
    • George Russell
    • Sutton’s Seeds
    • Louis Van Houtte
    • Vilmorin-Andrieux
  • Chapter 4. Flower Breeders in the United States
    • George Ball
    • Luther Burbank
    • W. Atlee Burpee
    • Ellwanger and Barry
    • Claude Hope
    • Frank Reinelt
  • Part 3. Plants by Genus
  • Chapter 5. Shrubs
    • Azalea and Rhododendron
    • Camellia
    • Hydrangea
    • Lilac
    • Magnolia
    • Rose
  • Chapter 6. Herbaceous plants
    • Begonia
    • Dahlia
    • Hemerocallis (the Daylily) Lily
    • Marigold
    • Narcissus
    • Orchid
    • Pelargonium
    • Peony
    • Sweet Pea
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix: Benary Hybrids
  • Notes
  • Recommended Readings
  • Index



Retail price: $29.95, T.
Release date: Dec. 2014
68 illus. · 424 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World


Retail price: $65.00, S.
Release date: Dec. 2014
68 illus. · 424 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World


Release date: Dec. 2014
68 illus. · ≅ 424 pages
Rights: World

Additional Praise for Visions of Loveliness

“Family feuds, wily businessmen, obsessions with form and color — the history of flower breeding is a veritable botanical soap opera.…After you’ve read these engrossing tales, you’ll look wonderingly at the sweet peas, lilies and other traditional favorites that gardeners admire today.”

The Columbus Dispatch

Visions of Loveliness is a fascinating compilation of the history of some of America’s most beloved garden plants, celebrating the work of key gardeners and plant breeders in many parts of the world. This work fills an important gap in our understanding of early ornamental plant breeding and selection.”

Scot Medbury, President, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

“Behind each cultivar there is both a story and a breeder. Unfortunately, all too often, these stories remain untold and remarkable efforts and achievements are forgotten. Judith Taylor…brings alive the stories of breeders who, in the past, have made a contribution to the cultivated plants we have today.”

Keith Hammett, president of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture

Visions of Loveliness is a great and original work that will be enjoyed all over the world for years to come.”

Jinshuan Ma, vice director of the Shanghai Chenshan Plant Science Research Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences

“Judith Taylor has written an amazing account of the origin of all our plant forms, featuring the exciting work of the intrepid plant hunters, but going much further…. This is a fascinating account that is a must, for any serious gardener.”

Roger Phillips, MBE