History of the garden
Though the garden became prominent when Bishop Grindal (1559-1570) imported and successfully cultivated the first Tamarisk tree, it was Bishop Compton (1675-1713) who gave the Palace garden world significance.
There were few botanical gardens in London at this time. A serious student of botany, he was keen to import rare species. As Bishop of London, Compton was responsible for the Church of England overseas, including colonies in America, the Caribbean and outposts in Africa and India. He arranged for Reverend Banister, himself an able botanist, to be sent to Virginia as a missionary in 1678, and to send back seeds and cuttings, which Compton then grew at Fulham. Consignments were sent in 1638 and 1688.
The first magnolia in Europe was grown at the Palace Magnolia virginiana, and other species were planted such as the Cork oak, Quercus suber, the Black walnut, Juglans nigra, and maples, some of which are still represented in the grounds.
The fame of the garden spread and visitors (including John Evelyn in 1681) came to Fulham to inspect the trees, and over a thousand ‘exotics’ were grown in stove-houses. Compton also received seeds from other parts of the world and was part of a group of botanical enthusiasts who met at the Temple Coffee house to exchange information and seeds. One of Compton’s gardeners was George London who went on to found the nursery of London and Wise at Brompton. The University of Tennessee emphasises the importance of Compton to botanical history, and collects illustrations of the species he grew.
As Compton’s successor, Bishop Robinson (1713-22) was more interested in edible plants and many of the rare plants were sold or removed, although Compton did leave some to the botanic garden at Oxford.
The major change in the garden came with the new building of the 1790s when a number of trees were removed; “in order to fit up the new garden some fine trees were thrown down” (Dr John Hope 1766). Later bishops however, continued the earlier traditions and kept careful notes of the trees they planted and the height and girth of Compton’s surviving trees; which included the Black walnut, in 1793 measuring 11’2” and by 1865 15’5”. Sadly the original no longer exists but today there is a there is a large representative specimen growing on the north side of the main lawn.
The museum collects evidence relating to the garden’s history such as the 1869 inventory which includes the contents of the kitchen garden and outbuildings.