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John Tradescant

Two John Tradescants, father and son, were among the early English botanists and plantsmen, travellers and collectors.

John Tradescant the elder (ca 1570s - 15/16 April, 1638) was an English naturalist, gardener, collector and traveller, probably born in Suffolk, England. He began his career as head gardener to the Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House, who initiated Tradescant in travelling by sending him to the Low Countries for fruit trees. Later, Tradescant was gardener to the royal favorite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. John Tradescant travelled to Arctic Russia in 1618, to the Levant and to Algiers, collecting seeds and bulbs everywhere and assembling a collection of curiosities of natural history and ethnography that became the first museum open to the public, the Musaeum Tradescantianum, in Lambeth, London. From their botanical garden in Lambeth, on the south bank of the Thames, he and his son, John, introduced many plants into English gardens that have become part of the modern gardener's repertory. A genus of plants (Tradescantia) is named to honor him.

His son, John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), botanist and gardener, born in Meopham, Kent, made three trips to Virginia between 1637 and 1662 to collect plants. Among the seeds he brought back, to introduce to English gardens were great American trees, like Magnolias, Bald Cypress and Tulip Tree, and garden plants such phlox and asters. When his father died, he succeeded as head gardener to Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, making gardens at the Queen's House, Greenwich, designed by Inigo Jones, from 1638 to 1642, when the queen fled the Civil War. He published the contents of his father's celebrated collection as Musaeum Tradescantianum-- books, coins, weapons, costumes, taxidermy, and other curiosities-- dedicating the first edition to the College of Physicians (with whom he was negociating for the transfer of his botanic garden), and the second edition to the recently-restored Charles II. Tradescant bequeathed his library and museum to Elias Ashmole (1617--92), whose name it bears as the core of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.


Prudence Leith-Ross, The John Tradescants: Gardeners to the Rose and Lily Queen 1982. Sounder than its title suggests.