The Veitchs at Killerton

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The Veitch family of gardeners had a long association with Killerton and the Acland family. This began in 1770 when Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 7th Bt, hired John Veitch to be the head gardener for his re-imagined Killerton.

John Veitch

John grew up in Scotland, helping his father Thomas manage the woodlands on the estate of Ancrum House. He wanted to become a gardener and landscape designer, and as a teenager went to apprentice at two nurseries in London. 

John apprenticed at Robert Dickson & Son, then Vineyard Nursery in Hammersmith. James Lee, under whom John worked at Vineyard Nursery, recommended him to Sir Thomas.

John Veitch at Killerton

Sir Thomas was so impressed with John’s work at Killerton that, in order to persuade him to stay for the long-term, he offered him the funds and land to develop his own business.

Sir Thomas also allowed John to act a freelance landscape designer, and encouraged him to marry and start a family (very unusual at a time when many staff were expected to remain single and loyal to their employers).

Alongside working for the Aclands, John developed his own reputation and nursery business.

Veitch plant hunters and Killerton

In 1813 John handed the nursery business on to his eldest son James, who had worked with him at Killerton and the nursery from a young age. 

Under James Veitch the nursery expanded, and began employing plant hunters to bring back exotic plants from abroad. The Veitchs often tested these at Killerton – the rich soil and mild climate made it a wonderful trial ground for new species. 

Growing and growing

Veitch’s family and nursery went from strength to strength over succeeding generations, becoming one of the biggest and most prestigious nurseries in Victorian England. 

The Veitchs continued to use Killerton’s grounds to test new plants right into the 20th century. The garden is therefore an excellent showcase for plant hunters and their adventures around the world.