My perpetual calendar indicates that the birthday of John Tradescant is approaching.  Both father and son were avid gardeners in the seventeenth century in England.

I think of the Tradescants because in the early days of building my gardens here in Arlington, I unleashed Tradescantia, a native of Virginia collected by the Tradescants known around here as Virginia Spiderwort. The Better Homes and Gardens website describes the plant thusly: 

Producing small, perfect, jewel-tone flowers, these beauties open over several weeks. Spiderworts bloom freely, but seldom produce the “wow” factor of some perennials. Group them for the best impact. Provide leafy neighbors to camouflage fading foliage. Warm-climate types make dense groundcovers in Southern gardens.

Tradescantia virginiana, Cambridge University ...

Tradescantia virginiana, Cambridge University Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last sentence in this blurb is no exaggeration. Combined with a few other freely reseeding plants native plants, I have no end of Tradescantia in my beds. No wonder I think about them almost daily.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate them or anything, I just don’t want them to think they are the only flower I want in my garden. And yet, when other pampered cultivars fade Tradescantia withstand the heat and drought of summer months gracefully.


Years ago, on a trip to London, I visited the Museum of Garden History in Lambeth. Although I saw many of the plants the Tradescants brought back from Virginia, I don’t remember seeing Virginia Spiderwort in the beds, but did find Virginia Creeper growing on a wall.Virginia Creeper  


 A few paces away, I found the Tradescant gravesites.img084 img083img071 img078


Surprisingly, I also found the grave of Admiral William Bligh. Saint-Mary-at Lambeth was Bligh’s church in London.

Most Americans associate Bligh with the famous mutiny on the Bounty depicted in films, but the Brits know him as one of the heroes of the Napoleonic Wars. Earlier, he was with Cook when he made his famous exploratory voyages of Polynesia/ He returned to collect breadfruit plants for the British plantations in the Caribbean. Later he served with the British Fleet in the North Sea fighting Napoleon (and probably Americans during our Revolution.) Bligh had a most interesting life.  

Notice the breadfruit on the top of his tomb.img075 img076

12 thoughts on “Tradescantia

  1. I’ve tried growing tradescantia without success. I wonder why? I must have known at the time but cannot remember now.
    That’s how it goes, many gardeners find that there are plants which just don’t like them. As a fellow gardener you may believe me when I say that plants have a mind of their own!

    Have you ever read Jane Gardam? She is an English novelist of some repute but not among the famous. The last book in her ‘Old Filth’ (‘failed in London tried Hongkong’) trilogy has recently come out. They are good, mildly literary, amusing and touching novels. Very English) Excellent for the discerning reader who doesn’t like rubbish even during the dog days.


  2. I am delighted. Not knowing about Trandencia leaves me smaller. Great stuff to discover here.

    Yes, this Thursday G is taking me in to the hospital at 0500. No coffee or meds. Yes, I took a lot of sexist photos with a grin on my face.


  3. No kidding? I had no idea he was with Captain Cook on his journeys. Every time I think of Bligh I think of Marlon Brando. The tradescant is quite pretty. I love the color. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that flower before.


  4. Thank you for introducing me to this family from gardening history. It was quite an enjoyable trip for me with your personal experiences adding to the pleasure. Our spiderwort is pretty, but the petals are not as frilly as the Virginia variety.


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