This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol1", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Although the introduction of the beautiful Japanese plants that now contribute to the charm of British gardens belongs to the distant past, it was not until some fifty years ago that commercial cultivators gave serious attention to the Japanese flora with a view to obtain some other of its members for the further enrichment of our gardens. If until the middle of the last century Japan was not exactly a sealed book to the seeker after new forms of tree and plant life, the restrictions imposed upon the members of other nationalities were such as to render it extremely difficult for them to obtain access to the country, much less to explore meadow or woodland, or plain or mountain, and bring away on their return home the spoils of the exploration. The removal of these restrictions by the opening of the Japanese ports to foreigners rather more than half a century ago gave the desired opportunity for collecting some of the many beautiful trees, shrubs, and other plants that were likely to succeed under the climatic conditions that obtain in the United Kingdom, and placing them at the disposal of the general body of plant lovers. Then as now the nursery firms of this country were remarkable for their enterprise, and therefore not slow to take advantage of the opportunity thus given them for enriching gardens with new and beautiful forms of plant life.
As a proof of this one example will be sufficient. In April, 1860, the late John Gould Veitch, a member of the well-known Chelsea firm, left England on a voyage to the Far East, and arrived at Nagasaki in the July following. He remained in Japan about twelve months, and during that period he sent home a large number of trees, shrubs, and bulbous and other plants, and of these the greater proportion have proved of so high a degree of value as to obtain a place in gardens generally. Coniferous trees included Abies firma, A. microsperma, Cryptomeria japonica elegans, Juniperus chinensis aurea, Larix leptolepis, Picea Alcockiana, P. ajanensis, P. polita, Pinus densiflora, P. parviflora, P. Thunbergi, and the varieties of Retinospora obtusa. The deciduous trees included the varieties of Acer palmatum, the climber Ampelopsis tricuspidata (or Vitis inconstans), and the plants Lilium auratum, Primula japonica and P. cortusioides. The introduction of so many kinds of first-rate importance within so short a period evinces much enterprise, for travelling in Japan was very different in those days from what it is at the present time. The Abies, Cryptomeria, Piceas, and Pinus represent species that rank high in their respective genera, and the varieties of Retinospora obtusa are so diversified in form and colour, and withal so attractive, that they have throughout the period that has elapsed since their introduction enjoyed a high degree of popularity and have been freely used in the creation of garden scenery.
The varieties of Acer palmatum, in the varied form and colour of their elegant foliage, are recognized as forming a group of small-growing trees of immense value for garden decoration; and Ampelopsis tricuspidata is used more largely in clothing wall surfaces than all the other climbers combined, and it contributes in no small degree to the amenities of town life. The richly coloured Primula japonica continues to be highly appreciated as one of the best of the moisture-loving plants for fringing streamlet and pool in shady positions, and as the result of the activities of various commercial horticulturists the varieties of Primula cortusioides have been so multiplied as to form a large group in which there is so great a range of colour as to greatly enhance their value for various decorative purposes both under glass and in the open.
The plants thus briefly enumerated rapidly came into favour. They were largely used, and soon made an impression on the scenery of gardens where novelties of merit received a welcome. They greatly enhanced the interest and attractions of gardens in which they were given a place, and as a result they greatly stimulated an interest in Japanese plants, and gave rise to so strong a demand as to tax severely the resources of nurseries for a long series of years, and have an immense influence for good upon a great industry. They had another effect in their relation to the garden, and that was to quicken an interest in rare and beautiful plants from other parts of the world, by showing that there were subjects other than timber trees and the common laurel suitable for furnishing the garden.
In the case of Lilium auratum there was a brisk demand for bulbs at a comparatively high rate, and when it became possible to supply them at a price which placed them within the reach of practically all owners of gardens, the demand increased to an enormous extent. For forty years or more the importations of the bulbs of this Lily have annually been on such a large scale as to represent a trade of considerable importance and to occupy a prominent position in the business of those who are concerned with the distribution of bulbs. Lilium longi-florum, which was introduced to this country in the year previous to John Gould Veitch's voyage to Japan, has enjoyed a higher degree of popularity than even that of L. auratum, not because of its flowers being superior in beauty, but because of their adaptability for decorative purposes. To the florists they are of immense value, for they can be used more or less successfully in wellnigh all forms of the decorative art, and with the aid of the refrigerator in retarding the bulbs they can be had in abundance at all seasons of the year.
British cultivators are no longer wholly dependent upon Japanese growers for their supplies of bulbs, but they annually obtain large importations from them. The demand for this beautiful and useful Lily is very great, and the importation and distribution of the immense numbers of bulbs that are annually required in market-growing establishments and private gardens has become so important a detail of commercial horticulture that one could wish statistics showing the exact quantities that annually reach this country from Japan were available. Lilium speciosum, which also forms an important part of the trade in Lily bulbs with Japan, was introduced from that country in 1833; but since that year the Japanese growers of Lilies have sent us varieties of this species which are so superior in the size, form, and colouring of their flowers as to surpass those of the typical white and coloured forms and to render them of quite secondary importance.