- Anne Pimlott Baker
Fairchild, Thomas (1667–1729), gardener, was born about May 1667, the son of John Fairchild of Alwine, or Allane, Wiltshire, farmer. He was apprenticed to a clothmaker in 1682, but decided to become a gardener, and established himself about 1690 as a nurseryman and florist at Hoxton in the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch, London. In 1704, as well as receiving the freedom of the Clothworkers' Company, he took up the freedom of the City in the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.
Fairchild's gardens, known as the City Gardens, were said to have extended from the west end of Ivy Lane to the New North Road, and to have been greatly resorted to, as much for their delectable situation as for the curious plants there. The vineyard, one of the last to be cultivated in England, was famous, and Richard Bradley, in his General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening (1726), lists fifty varieties of grape grown there. Fairchild's plants included a number of American plants grown from seeds and plants sent from Virginia, by Mark Catesby, including tulip trees, which he distributed widely; Fairchild was probably responsible for introducing the catalpa and was also one of the first to grow bananas in England. He corresponded with Linnaeus, and in 1719 he was the first person to produce an artificial hybrid of the Caryophyllaceae family: Dianthus barbatus, a cross between a sweet william and a carnation pink, known as ‘Fairchild's mule’. He also introduced Pavia rubra, Cornus florida, and other plants, and grafted the evergreen oak of Virginia on to the common English oak.
In 1722 Fairchild published The City Gardener, which described the trees, plants, shrubs, and flowers which would thrive best in London. He stated that pear trees still bore excellent fruit in the Barbican, Aldersgate, and Bishopsgate areas, that in Leicester Fields there was a vine producing good grapes every year, and that figs and mulberries throve very well in the city. He was the first to concern himself with the increase in smoke pollution and the problems caused by this for gardeners in London. He suggested flowers suitable for growing in city squares, courtyards, and balconies, and also listed suitable houseplants. In 1724 Fairchild read a paper to the Royal Society entitled 'Some new experiments relating to the different and sometimes contrary motion of the sap in plants and trees' (PTRS, 1724, 33.127).
About 1725 the Society of Gardeners was founded for gardeners residing in the neighbourhood of London, and Fairchild was a founder member. Meeting every month at Newhall's Coffee House in Chelsea or some similar place, members compared plants they had grown. After a time they produced the first and only part of A catalogue of trees and shrubs both exotic and domestic which are propagated for sale in the gardens near London. This was copiously illustrated by Jacob Van Huysum, but it did not appear until 1730, some months after Fairchild's death.
Fairchild died on 10 October 1729, in Hoxton. At his wish he was buried in Poor's Ground, St Leonard's churchyard, Hackney Road, Shoreditch. He bequeathed £25 to the trustees of the charity school and to the churchwardens of St Leonard's, for the endowment of an annual Whitsun sermon on either the wonderful works of God or the certainty of the creation. From 1873 the administration of the trust was handed over to the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, and the lecturers were appointed by the bishop of London. Fairchild left the bulk of his property to his nephew, John Bacon of Hoxton, who was a member of the Society of Gardeners; but his daughter-in-law, Mary Price, was also a beneficiary.
- H. G. Lyons, ‘The Fairchild Trust’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 3 (1940), 80–84
- R. P. Brotherston, ‘The city gardener’, Gardeners' Chronicle, 3rd ser., 51 (1912), 65–6
- T. Fairchild, memoir, Cottage Gardener, 6 (1851), 143
- A. Coats, ‘Notes on some portraits of British botanists and gardeners’, Huntia, 2 (1965)
- A. Amherst, A history of gardening in England, 2nd edn (1896)
- D. McD., ‘A philanthropic horticulturalist’, Gardeners' Magazine (23 May 1896), 335
- Gardeners' Chronicle, new ser., 15 (1881), 48
- ‘The Dianthus’, Gardeners' Chronicle, 3rd ser., 13 (1893), 546
- G. W. Johnson, A history of English gardening (1829), 191
- private information (1901)
- R.? van Bleeck, oils, 1750, U. Oxf., school of botany; repro. in Coats, ‘Notes on some portraits of British botanists and gardeners’