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Lyndon Osborn, Nurseryman

October 10, 2020
by the gentle author

This pen portrait serves as a taster for my full profile of Lyndon Osborn published in theTelegraph today, including an account of ‘How to propagate pelargoniums.’

This is Lyndon Osborn, a noble nurseryman from New Zealand, who has been trading in Columbia Rd Market for twenty years – although he spent the first seven years nearby in Ezra St, while he worked his way up the waiting list for a pitch in the market. “I have been thirteen years in the firing line,” he declared with characteristic Antipodean bonhomie, “but I had already built up quite a big customer base round the corner – and now I’ve discovered many others who only walk along Columbia Rd.”

Twenty years ago, I bought one of the tree ferns from Lyndon, which remain his speciality to this day, and today a magnificent array of fine specimens line my garden path.

These extraordinary plants lie dormant, permitting the trunk alone to be transported, apparently a dried-out husk – until you add water and it regenerates, sprouting tendrils from the top and resuming vigorous life in a new continent. Over this time – just like his tree ferns – Lyndon himself has put down roots and shown dramatic growth too, establishing a nursery in High Barnet. And I have found that because Lyndon rears his seedlings in London, they are acclimatised to the conditions which improves their chances of thriving in my garden.

In particular, Lyndon has become famous for his spectacular pelargoniums, especially the deep crimson “Lord Bute,” which I have spied in many of the discerning gardens of the East End over recent summers. The copyright that exists on more recent strains sent Lyndon back to propagate nineteenth century cultivars, more hardy and pest resistant that their modern counterparts.

Starting from one trolley in Ezra St Market, Lyndon has now ascended to Alfred Dunhill in Mayfair. “Just as the nineteenth century aristocracy gave their gardeners free rein, these clients let me do what I want, and they love the idea of it being a small nursery, supplying plants grown up the road. I plant them up four times a year, and last time I was planting at Alfred Dunhill, someone from Claridges came to speak to me…” confided Lyndon proudly, his green eyes shining in eager anticipation of what might follow.

I thought of Lyndon when I visited the magnificent fern garden at Malplaquet House, so it was no surprise to discover that he supplied the ferns and is the principal plant supplier to Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, landscape designer and gardener to the Queen – collaborating on many of his projects.

Lyndon is a popular character in the market, renowned for his relaxed, droll humour and fascinating mixture of plants, always quick with a cheery greeting and eager to strike up a conversations with customers who share his horticultural enthusiasms.

“It has re-ignited my interest in London. I don’t come here to make money, it’s a social event. I’ve gone from meeting people as customers, who have become acquaintances and then friends,” admitted Lyndon with a sentimental smile, expressing his affection for Columbia Rd, “From here, everything has snowballed and that’s why I have such high regard for the market.”

Lyndon Osborn’s pelargonium “Lord Bute,” photographed in my garden last Summer.

Portrait of Lyndon Osborn copyright © Jeremy Freedman

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg T permalink
    October 10, 2020

    Pelargonium cuttings are EASY!
    Cut off with sharp secatuers, scrape a small piece of the stalk, to expose all the surface layers, dip in hormone rooting powder, shake off excess…
    Put cutting into pot of potting compost, having “dibbed” a hole, which you have part-filled with sand. Firm down well.
    Water lightly in a well-lit place, tempreature above 10°C

    They will grow.

  2. Pauline Taylor permalink
    October 10, 2020

    I love stories about plants and nurserymen so thank you GA, and the photo of your garden is lovely Lord Bute looks gorgeous. As I know i have mentioned before my great grandfather, Owen Charles Greenwood, was a nurseryman and garden contractor with a nursery and a florist’s shop in Upper Clapton. I am fortunate enough to have photo postcards of the shop and to have heard first hand accounts of it from my aunt and her cousins. All of them told me that it had a fountain inside which was surrounded with ferns. I also have photos of a man who worked for Owen which his granddaughter sent to me, and they show a very smartly dressed upright gentleman who always wore a carnation in his buttonhole. My grandparents also grew fruit and flowers which were taken up to London on the train to be sold in the shop, my father told me how they used to wrap figs in tissue paper to protect them and how he would have to take this produce to the station and put it on the train. Life was simpler and I suspect happier then.

  3. October 10, 2020

    Thanks, GA, what a cheering piece on a dreary day! I can’t get to Columbia Market as often as I would like, but my daughter was planning to go today, so I’ve hastily sent her the link.

  4. October 10, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, that was an interesting piece about Lyndon Osborn and his nursery career. He sounds like a fine fellow.

    Again, I had to look up a word – ANTIPODEAN: Antipodean relating to Australia or New Zealand (used by inhabitants of the northern hemisphere).
    Example “Antipodean wines”

    That was a stunning pic of the “Lord Bute” pelargonium in your garden. His name brought back memories of a past trip to Wales. While in Cardiff, we toured his castle and learned that “the Bute family brought power and prosperity to Cardiff, which they turned from a sleepy backwater into one of the greatest coal exporting ports in the world.”

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