William Forsyth

1737 - 1804

Horticulturist. Born in Old Meldrum (Aberdeenshire), Forsyth moved to London in 1763 to work from the Earl of Northumberland at Syon Park, at the time the parkland was being paid out by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Thereafter he moved to the Physic Garden in Chelsea, becoming its Curator in 1771. He brought about considerable development of the garden, with much replanting and the exchange of plants and seeds internationally. In 1774, Forsyth created what is thought to be the first ever rock garden in Britain, using lava brought from Iceland by Sir Joseph Banks and unwanted stone from the Tower of London. In 1779, he was appointed Superintendent of the Royal Gardens at Kensington Palace and St. James' Palace. In this position he did much to cultivate fruit and vegetables, restoring many old fruit trees to health. This he achieved with his 'plaister' (plaster), which consisted of a mixture of cow dung, urine, powdered lime, wood ashes and sand used to seal the wounds on trees after branches or cankerous growths were removed. Forsyth promoted this mixture as a complete remedy, promoting new growth, and was awarded the great sum of £1500 by the Government for his formula in an attempt to improve the quality of the oak trees in the royal forests, which was required for building ships. He published a number of early works on horticulture, including the very successful Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit-Trees (1802), which ran to numerous editions.

He was a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804 and the genus Forsythia is named in his honour. His great-great-great-great grandson is the entertainer Bruce Forsyth.

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