In its 18th century heyday, the plant collection at Croome was ‘second only to Kew’ (Arthur Young, 1801) in terms of diversity. The 6th Earl of Coventry, owner of Croome, was a huge plant fan and fortunately for us now, hundreds of plant bills remain in the Croome archive.
Over the past 10 years, a group of volunteers known as the Croome Plant Research Group, have been pouring over the plant bills. The 6th Earl was obsessive about his plant collection and wanted the best, the most exotic and most unusual plants for his collection, as well as the common and native plants that were found at the time. The 6th Earl commissioned Capability Brown to redesign Croome Court and the surrounding landscape in 1751, and encouraged him to include as many plants, trees and shrubs as possible.
The bills are beautiful documents, and give us details such as which nursery was sending the plants, how much they were and how many were purchased. One bill tells us that one ginkgo was purchased in 1766 for the enormous sum of five guineas. The nurseryman who sold it was James Gordon, from Mile End, who had a reputation for introducing exotics and grew the first batch of seedlings from which one was planted at Kew in 1762.
The bills also give us fascinating snippets of information about how the estate was run at Croome and how hands-on the Earl was in its management. He checked the invoices himself and wrote on one "were all dead – deduct 10/", and on another "very very dear, pay no more".
The Croome Plant Research Group decided that they would like to celebrate the Earl’s plant collection and share their findings more widely with everyone, so after writing an article for The Garden History Society Journal in 2015, a book has been produced with many colour images. An Eighteenth Century Obsession: The Plant Collection of the 6th Earl of Coventry at Croome Park, Worcestershire is now available in the Croome shop at £4. It’s well worth a read – so get your copy now!
About the author: Katherine Alker is Garden and Park Manager at Croome Twitter: @NTCroome
Image: Croome Plant Bill 1786 ©Worcestershire Archives