Peter Cox writes:
‘After my father went plant hunting with Reginald Farrer in 1919 he had lots of seedlings to find a home for and cleared a little glen in the early 1920s ready for planting on his father's estate Glendoick. Many rhododendrons, primulas, berberis, viburnums etc. were planted including a lorry load of semi-mature plants from Leonardslee through J.G. Millais which gave him a head start. He subscribed to one of George Forrest's later expeditions and also received plants from other collectors.
Like most gardens, Glendoick suffered in the 1939-45 war. After the death of my grandfather Alfred in 1943, we moved to Glendoick in 1944 and the garden started to receive attention again. A number of rhododendrons were bought, mostly from the great collection at Towercourt, Ascot, and some magnolias from Veitch of Exeter. Newly bred rhododendron hybrids were acquired in the 1950s and 60s including some of the first new American hybrids to reach this country, including some raised by the famous hybridiser Halfdan Lem. Real boosts to the collection occurred when the nursery started in 1954 and then when I started to go on plant-hunting expeditions, to Turkey in 1962 and N.E. India in 1965. Then with the opening up of China in 1981, a great many more rhododendron species were planted together with many other genera, notably Sorbus, Cotoneaster, various conifers and gradually beds were made amongst the trees and shrubs for meconopsis, primulas, lilies, trilliums etc.
'The area of the garden was gradually extended, first taking in a small larch plantation, then further up the burn and westwards where Dutch elm disease had taken its toll. A separate new planting was near the drive not far from the back of the Garden Centre, mainly for big-leaved species. Old redundant parts of the nursery are the latest additions to the woodland garden.'
This video is a 50-minute talk on the history of Glendoick. It discusses the gardens, plant hunting, plant breeding and lots more.
Fast forward to 7 mins in to avoid the pre-amble.
The story starts in Dundee, a port on the east coast of Scotland, which until recently was known for three things: Jute, Jam and Journalism. The Cox family were integral to the jute story in the 19th and early 20th centuries: the family firm, Cox Brothers built up their jute business, importing the fibres from the Hoogli river near Calcutta The firm of Cox Brothers was established by the four brothers James, William, Thomas and George in 1841 and became a limited company in 1893. In 1849 the original site at Foggyley became too small and the firm moved to Camperdown Works which was said to be the world's largest factory. Products included jute and hemp yarns, ropes and twines, bags and sacks, hessian, striped beddings, tickings, horse clothing and tarpaulins. Alfred Cox bought Glendoick House and estate in 1899. Glendoick House was built around 1747 for Robert Craigie, Lord Advocate of Scotland in the style of William Adam; unfortunately the architectural records of the house were destroyed in a fire. Alfred and Helen Cox's only child Euan was born in 1893 and educated at Rugby and Cambridge. It was expected that Euan would in time return to Dundee to take over the running of the jute business in Dundee, but this did not attract him: he was more content living in London, mixing with the glitterati and literati of the time. Euan Cox was invalided out of First World War and avoided going on a troop ship which was sunk just outside Southampton. During the war, he worked as John Buchan's secretary at the Foreign Office.
A chance meeting at a tea party in London in 1918 changed the course of Euan's life. Reginald Farrer was already one of the most famous garden writers and plant hunters of his day. Indeed it could be said that he invented garden-writing as an literary form. Farrer's writing today may seem a little affected and over-elaborate but his style of writing was hugely influential. Farrer asked Euan to accompany him to upper Burma on a plant collecting expedition in 1919. This was the diversion Euan needed to excuse himself from the jute business. And his decision to join Farrer was to have far-reaching consequences and lead to the Cox family's 90+ year involvement with rhododendrons and plant collecting.
The 1919 expedition was a considerable success; several important new plant introductions were made including the rhododendron species R. mallotum. Later in that year, Euan Cox returned to Britain leaving his companion in Burma to carry on the expedition into the following spring. During the winter Farrer fell ill and died in Burma at the age of 40 with the consequence that Euan Cox had to sort out and distribute the collections they had made together. Euan later published the first of his many horticultural books Farrer's Last Journey, recounting the story of the expedition.
Euan lived in London in the 1920s and edited a magazine New Flora and Silva which described the new plant introductions flooding into the West from plant hunting expeditions from all over the world. Euan founded a bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London. The shop bombed in 1939-45 war and his partner was killed. In 1931 Euan was forced to return to his native Scotland to help run his family jute business which he sold after the war. He had started developing the garden at Glendoick from 1921 onwards and was able to devote more time to it in the 1940s after moving with his family to Glendoick in 1944, after his father Alfred died.
Euan started growing soft fruit and young flower and vegetable plants for sale locally at Glendoick after the war. The rhododendron nursery started on a small scale when his son Peter settled back at Glendoick after leaving Notcutts nursery in 1953.
Three small plots were taken in one after the other and as the nursery expanded, other areas of field and parts of the old walled garden were gradually given over to cultivating rhododendrons.
From time to time Euan and Peter required Norah Cox (their wife and mother, respectively) to move her herbaceous borders further and further away from the house as they needed more and more space for their rhododendrons. In return, they promised never to discuss rhododendrons at meal times.
In the early days of the nursery, Euan and Peter did all the work on their own, later enlisting help from the fruit workers. Finally, a permanent nursery staff of five were employed, with seasonal extras.
In 1963, Peter married Patricia Sherrard from Ireland, having met due to a mutual interest in rhododendrons.
Glendoick is unusual for the UK in that we have resisted the temptation to change from field to container production of rhododendrons. Bucking the current trend to grow everything in containers, we still grow more than 80% of rhododendrons and azaleas outside in nursery beds where they form large and vigorous root systems and good plant habit. We are convinced that better and more easily-established plants are produced by open ground production methods and many species cannot be produced in containers at all.
Glendoick has exported plants as far away as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, the USA and Canada and all over Europe. We provide plants to most major UK rhododendron collections, public and private and we have supplied plants to many major plantsing projects in recent years: restoration of Crystal Palace Park, London, Harewood House, Aldourie Castle, Fort Belvedere, Kinross House, Finnart Lodge, Mount Stewart, Annesgrove, Mount Usher, Bremen Rhododendron Park and many many more.
In addition to our huge range of rhododendrons and azaleas, we specialise in hardy camellias, Kalmia, Meconopsis, Lilium, Nomocharis and other plants, particularly those collected by the Coxs' own expeditions.
Glendoick Gardens was a small retail mail-order business until 1973 when Glendoick Garden Centre was opened under the direction of Patricia Cox. Peter and Patricia had spent several years visiting as many garden centres as they could before taking the plunge. For a time the garden centre was managed by Peter's sister Susan and her husband Norman.
Glendoick Garden Centre is one of the best known in Scotland and won the UK Garden Centre of the year title in 2009. It features Glendoick plants such as rhododendrons, of course, and the best trees, shrubs, perennials and other gardening items we can locate in the UK and Europe.
Peter Cox For his achievements in horticulture, Peter Cox has been awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour, the Gold Medal of the American Rhododendron Society, The Nurseryman and Garden Centre Lifetime achievement award, awards from the Institute of Horticulture and Royal Caledonian Hortilcultural Society. In June 2005 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of Science from St Andrews University.
Kenneth Cox showed a remarkable ability to learn plant names by the age of two: he was able to name all the illustrations in his plant book and he used to impress Mr Davidian, the rhododendron expert, by pointing out indumentum on rhododendron leaves. Kenneth was not particularly interested in rhododendrons until he spent 6 months in America working for Ted Van Veen and Harold Greer when he was 17. He found to his dismay that the Americans expected him to be a rhododendron expert.
Luckily he had time to absorb the Cox rhododendron books and by the time he returned to Glendoick he had begun research on the book which would become The Encylopaedia of Rhododendron Hybrids.
Kenneth has carved out his particular niche in the world of plant-hunting in leading 9 expeditions to South and South-East Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, India, 1995-to the present. He graduated in 1986 at the University of Birmingham, England with a BA in General Arts and a diploma in commerce. Kenneth Cox is an experienced lecturer on rhododendrons, horticulture and exploration and has toured America and New Zealand, as well as speaking in the U.K. and Europe. Recently talks have been given at literary festivals, botanical gardens, specialist societies as well as The Royal Scottish Geographical Society and Royal Society for Asiatic Affairs. Kenneth is managing director of the family firm Glendoick Gardens Ltd in Scotland. Kenneth is keen on modern languages, speaking several. He is married with two sons and in his spare time plays several musical instruments.
Kenneth's wife Jane took over the running of the Restaurant at Glendoick and has tripled the turnover of the cafe and opened the foodhall, formerly the Food Library Food Hall and winning the 'Garden Centre Restaurant of the Year' in 2006, 2008 and 2010. She is also a psychotherapist.
Gold Medal Award: Kenneth Cox American Rhododendron Society 2006
The Highest award the Society can bestow. Presented by Sir Peter Hutchison in Dundee.
Citation reads: 'Your contributions to the American Rhododendron Society, rhododendrons, and the plant world have been extraordinary.These accomplishments include major efforts as a plant explorer, as an entertaining and informative writer and lecturer, as an introducer of new species and hybrids, and as nurseryman. Most importantly, these accomplishments have received international recognition, advancing the cause of Genus Rhododendron across geographical, political and cultural borders.'