Five plants that changed Britain's gardens

Palm House

Many of our best-loved gardens are home to exotic plant collections from around the world.

Brought back to the UK by plant-hunters, these collections have enriched our landscapes and added flavour and colour to our menus.

In the spring edition of the National Trust Magazine, we tracked these early collectors across the world in search of their treasures. Among the exotic specimens brought to our shores, here are five plants that have changed Britain’s gardens and parks.

A view across the lake at Stourhead in autumn

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Named for its tulip-like yellow flowers, this tree can grow to over 60m tall in its native eastern USA. It was introduced to England by one of the earliest plant-hunters, John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662).

The Giant Redwood Tree at Leith Hill, Surrey

Giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

Cornish plant collector William Lobb is credited with introducing the giant redwood in 1853. Like many collectors, illness from his travels took its toll, and he died alone in San Francisco in 1864.

Petals of the Handkerchief Tree

Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata)

Look out for this Chinese species in May, when its white handkerchief-like flower bracts are at their most abundant. As a young botanist, Ernest Wilson was sent to collect it for wealthy clients in 1904.

Rhododendrons and trees reflected in misty lake


Joseph Dalton Hooker was the first westerner to explore the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim during the 1840s. The diversity of rhododendron species he discovered led to a frenzy of collecting that became known as rhododendronmania.

A Ribes Sanguienum

Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Best known for introducing the Douglas fir, Scottish botanist David Douglas brought more than 200 plants to the UK, including the flowering currant in 1826, with its drooping clusters of pink flowers.

Be swept away by flowering currants

Hill Top
Peckover House and Garden
Tintinhull Garden