Samuel Curtis was born in Walworth, Surrey on August 29th 1779. He
was the seventh child of James Curtis who was a surgeon and apothecary.
The family home was Alton, Hampshire, where today there is a museum
devoted to the Curtis family.
Samuel Curtis was first cousin to William Curtis who was thirty three
years older than Samuel. William, a noteworthy plantsman, was the
founder of The Botanical Magazine, later to become, Curtis'
Botanical Magazine. William died in 1799, leaving one daughter, Sarah
aged seventeen. On October 19th 1801 Samuel married Sarah at Newington
In the same year, Samuel purchased a nursery garden of considerable
importance at Walworth. This was close to a nursery owned by James
Maddock who was husband to Samuel Curtis' eldest sister Mary.
In these early years, Curtis gained much knowledge and horticultural
inspiration from his cousin William and his brother-in-law James.
It was during his time at the Walworth nursery that Samuel Curtis
published a series of botanical lectures which had been given by his
cousin William to the Horticultural Society just before his death.
This was followed in 1806 by the publication of Samuel's first work
in his own name; The Beauties of Flora. This beautiful botanical book
was illustrated with excellent full-size coloured plates by two prominent
artists of the day, Thomas Baxter and Clara Maria Pope.
The book and the nursery were a great success and within five years
Curtis was looking for a landscape on a grander scale. He had by this
time developed an extensive knowledge of ornamental plants and hardy
fruit trees. In 1808 Curtis left the Walworth nursery and purchased
a property at Glazenwood, near Braintree in Essex.
Here, he began collecting and planting as many varieties of fruit
trees as he could find throughout Britain, Europe and America.
That same year, (1808), the Society of Arts presented him with their
'Medal of Honour' for, "his exertions in having planted the most
extensive orchard in the Kingdom and, also, for his communications
to the Society on horticultural matters".
On November 20th 1810, he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society.
Over the next few years he collected and planted at Glazenwood, a
vast array of flowering shrubs and, as he himself called them, 'curious
plants', including many new introductions from America.
He had a great interest in Magnolias and Camellias and in 1819 he
published his most famous work, The Monograph of the Genus Camellia.
Once again Curtis commissioned the artist Clara Maria Pope to illustrate
the work. It was an immediate success and greatly promoted the planting
of Camellias in both Britain and America. The work was dedicated to
the Duchess of Norfolk. (From 1816-1821 Curtis was also land agent
to the Duke of Norfolk at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire).
By the late 1820's Curtis had turned Glazenwood into a spectacular
garden which included display glasshouses, inspired by those at the
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and a wonderful collection of trees. It
is stated in an article on Samuel Curtis published in the Journal
of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1933 that, "Curtis grew
(at Glazenwood) every kind of tree of note known to exist in the British
In 1827, Samuel's wife Sarah died, leaving thirteen children,
(eight girls and five boys), from their twenty-six year marriage.
Also in 1827 Samuel Curtis became editor and sole proprietor of The
Botanical Magazine which had been founded by his late cousin and father-in-law
William Curtis, thirty years before. Samuel re-named it, 'The
New Series' of The Curtis Botanical Magazine and enlisted the
editorial help of William J. Hooker who was Professor of Botany at
Glasgow University at the time. Four of Samuel Curtis' daughters
were accomplished artists and helped with illustrations for the magazine.
The Curtis Botanical Magazine is without doubt the parent of all the
botanical and gardening magazines that exist today.
In the 1830s Curtis begun to look beyond Glazenwood for a location
where he could grow outside many of the exotic plants being grown
under glass at both Glazenwood and Kew. He wanted to push the botanical
boundaries enforced by the climatic conditions experienced in Britain
and grow more and more plant species from warmer regions of the world.
In 1841, after much touring of the British Isles, Curtis found the
place he had been looking for; La Chaire, a sunny, sheltered, rocky
valley facing the sea at Rozel Bay on the island of Jersey. It was
a veritable sun-trap, virtually frost-free because of its proximity
to the sea and with a conglomerate 'pudding stone' soil;
perfect conditions for the growing of subtropical plants. Within months
Curtis had bought La Chaire and begun to build a house and plan the
lay-out for the garden, even though there was still much work for
him on the mainland.
Curtis continued to live at Glazenwood until 1845, when he moved to
London to take on a commission, (obtained through his close friend
and colleague William Hooker, who was by this time Director of the
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew), to design and create London's
largest open space, The Victoria Park, Bethnal Green.
In 1846 he sold the rights to The Curtis Botanical Magazine but the
name Curtis continued to be used.
Over the next five years there are records in the Outwards Books at
Kew of living plants and seeds being dispatched to Curtis for planting
at La Chaire. Correspondence between Curtis and Hooker is also at
its most prolific.
Eventually in 1852, Curtis, along with his daughter Harriet, moved
permanently to Jersey. For the next eight years he continued to develop
what became known as the Tropical Garden of La Chaire.
It was a garden which grew, in the open air, probably the greatest
diversity of subtropical plants of any British garden before or since.
Samuel Curtis died at La Chaire on January 6th 1860. He is buried
in the peaceful churchyard at St Martin's, just two miles from Rozel