Blog post

Edward Augustus Bowles, the 'crocus king'

Horticularist, gardener and collector

colour photograph of gardens and Myddelton House
by
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Edward Augustus Bowles was a horticularist and gardener with a passion for plants.

E A Bowles was born in May 1865 at Myddelton House in Enfield, a town to the north of London. This was his family's estate for more than 200 years. His ancestors were Huguenot refugees who escaped persecution in France in the 17th century. Their wealth expanded over the centuries. By the mid-19th century, they were known as philanthropic landlords and employers.

black and white photograph of garden at Myddelton House

Bowles lost the sight in his right eye at age eight. He was described as being 'too delicate for public school' thus spent much of his childhood at Myddelton before attending Cambridge University reading divinity.

Bowles became a voracious collector. As a child, he began by collecting butterflies and moths. He pursued this further at Cambridge, joining the 'Bug and Tick club', later becoming a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society.

colour image of dried and pressed leaves
dried flower specimen

Bowles was a keen traveller, especially to Europe and North Africa, and brought many plant specimens home with him. Following his first trip abroad, in 1890, he began to develop the garden of Myddelton House with a rock garden with alpine plants.

black and white photograph of a rock garden
specimen of a flower

His great love of plants led Bowles to write about them, publishing articles and books throughout his life. His first publication was a trilogy on his garden through the seasons. He accumulated an extensive botanical and horticultural library. He was also a self-taught artist, producing paintings of plants and flowers.

cover of book 'My garden in spring' with illustration of daffodils

In 1891, Bowles started his collection of crocuses. By 1901, he was growing 135 named species and varieties. His love for crocuses led him to write a book about their cultivation and variety, gaining him the nickname 'the crocus king'.

specimens of crocus flowers
colour photograph of yellow crocus flowers

Bowles' encyclopaedic knowledge of plants led to him being appointed as a Vice-President of the Royal Horticultural Society and receiving the Victoria Medal of Honour, their highest award.

In old age, Bowles' vision deteriorated badly and he could no longer see plants properly. His intimate plant knowledge meant he was still able to identify many by smell and taste.

colour photograph of gardens and Myddelton House
colour photograph of gardens with many flowers
colour photograph of a blue plaque at Myddelton House

E A Bowles died in 1954. In the 1950s, he had ensured his garden would be preserved for future generations. Important plants were bequeathed to the London School of Pharmacy, with his paintings becoming part of museum collections.

Horticulture United Kingdom