Gartenflora 1894, p. 225-229

Eduard Ortgies.
Translated from the original German by Werner Wallner

Eduard Ortgies was born February 19; 1829; in Bremen. According to the wish of his father - who was a dedicated plant enthusiast and owned a large garden - he chose the career of a gardener and started an apprenticeship at the market garden of H. Böckmann in Hamburg on May 1st 1844. Having finished 3 years of apprenticeship he remained till late December 1847 at Böckmann. After that he was allowed by his father to visit the most renowned nurseries at Berlin, Potsdam, Magdeburg, Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt and Hannover. On March 1st 1848 he began to work as an assistant at A. Henderson & Cie., Pineapple Place Nursery in London.

The storm of revolution that right after that rushed from Paris over Germany and Austria (but caused just little waves in England as 'Chartists Movement'), did not keep the young and studious gardener from working diligently on continuing his studies and using the rich possiblilities to augment his knowledge.

In May 1849 he found employment at Chatsworth *, the country seat of the Duke of Devonshire, established with extravagant splendour, world-famous and attracting many thousands of visitors each year because of its great water works, the giant fountain, the conservatory (at that time and probably also now the largest one in the world), its important collection of orchids and many more things. The ingenious creator of this princely residence, Superior Gardener Joseph Paxton (some years later knighted by the Queen for winning the competition for the plans for the building of the World Exhibition 1851 and for the plans of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham), trusted the young German as a sign of his favour and confidence with the care of Victoria regia. This queen of aquatics existed in summer 1849 only as 6 seedlings raised from imported seed at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. Three of these seedlings were donated in early August to the gardens of Chatsworth, Syonhouse and Regents Park, who competed now with Kew for the honour to gain the first blossom of Victoria regia in Europe. In this competition Chatsworth did win. In the evening of November 8th 1849 Ortgies was able to report to his employer that the first bud was about to open. These glad tidings were at once wired to Her Majesty The Queen; also the leading botanists Hooker, Lindley, Bentham and other were informed and invited to come to Chatsworth. The following evening an illustrious society was assembled at the brightly illuminated Victoria-House to attend the second blossom. Newspaper reporters hurried to spread the sensational news of the first blossom of Victoria regia all over the world.

Van Houtte - enterprising founder of a market garden that became soon world famous and also founder of an illustrated gardening journal ("Flore des serres et jardins de l'Europe") that helped at lot to make the Etablissement Van Houtte in Gent flourish - was burning with desire to be the first one on the Continent to cultivate Victoria regia. The head of his plant cultures, Roezl (who later became famous as a plant hunter and introduced many new plants), had met Ortgies in summer 1848 in London. Van Houtte made him write a letter to Ortgies and ask him for a seedling of Victoria; also if Paxton was prepared to agree, he would employ Ortgies on very easy terms and make him head of the culture of Aquatics and Orchids.

Although at that time only four seeds had germinated and Paxton was assailed with requests, he at once agreed to this wish, pointing out that Ortgies, being keeper of the Victoria and raiser of the seedlings, had to be the first to receive seedlings. On April 1st 1850 Ortgies started to work for Van Houtte and a house for the Victoria was built according to his plans. August 6th the Victoria (that until that day kept in a bucket in a small pond) could be transferred to the new large pond, where it found all necessary conditions for prolific growth, and thus made quick progress resulting in a first blossom opening just 4 weeks later on September 5th, surrounded by a retinue of Nymphaea species in full bloom.

By crossing Nymphaea dentata with N. rubra Ortgies gained the first Nymphaea hybrid ever, that was illustrated at Flore des serres 8 t. 775, 776 by the name Nympheae Ortgiesiano-rubra Pl. **). A further success he gained later with the splendid Australian N. gigantea, that he was the first one to make bloom and set seed.

In spring 1851 Van Houtte transferred him to the office and trusted him with the German and English correspondence, the making of the catalogues and so on. Ortgies kept supervision of the aquatic and orchid cultures, on which he had insisted to be not completely bound to the office. At that time Ortgies made business travels to England, Germany, Denmark and so on, and was able to establish a large circle of acquaintances and friends.

In summer 1855 he was called to become Chief Gardener at the Botanic Garden in Zurich, a call he obeyed, although he hated to leave the Establissement and the Van Houtte family that had become dear to him.

His predecessor in Zurich - indefatigably busy Dr. E. Regel, who gained high honours and dignity as director of the Imperial Botanic Garden in Sankt Petersburg - didn't leave him an easy position. The Zurich Botanic Garden, weakly donated, was supposed to raise the necessary funds by selling plants and seed, without neglecting its scientific duties, since it had to provide the University of the canton and the Zürich Polytechnikum (only recently founded at that time) with the necessary plants for lectures.

Ortgies was not only able to achieve the necessary funds by trade, he also made remarkable profits that he was able to use for the renovation of the old conservatories, the building of new conservatories, water supply, a rock garden for Alpines, and so on. Considering his efforts, he received from the High Government on his 20 year jubilee the title of an Inspector and a considerable raise of his salary.

He was especially interested in introducing new or rare plants, and knew to use his contacts to overseas countries. To himself it brought just extra labour, trouble and sorrow; to the cash-box of the Botanic Garden it brought considerable winnings, and to the Garden itself a growth of rare plants (mainly orchids) and reputation in and outside Switzerland.

All the many deliveries by Roezl arrived at the market by intercession of Ortgies. From Zurich he ran a huge import nursery, held many auctions in London and had business contacts with the leading market gardens of England, Belgium and Germany. If Roezl was able to finish his life as a financially comfortable owner of a house in tranquillity - a fate that unfortunately only very few plant hunters have - he owes it all to his diligent and true friend Ortgies.

After Roezl, the deserving traveller Wallis applied for the help of the proven agent Ortgies. Unfortunately Ortgies was able to help him for just a few years, since Wallis soon became ill and was ailing slowly until he closed his tired eyes forever at the hospital of Guayaquil. After Wallis, there were Lehmann in Columbia and Pfau in Costa Rica; both sent their most valuable finds to Zurich Botanic Garden. In between there were Fuchs in Guatemala, Garnier in Cuba, Gaibrois and Bruchmüller in Columbia, and Besserer in Mexico who also used the agency of Ortgies. It will lead too far to discuss the many introductions of the named travellers that were mediated by Ortgies during his 38 years at the Botanic Garden in Zurich. Today, when he retires to private life and celebrates his 50 years jubilee as a gardener in the circle of his family at Kilchberg near Zurich, he will look back with satisfaction on a life full of trouble and work, to which a friendly evening of life may follow!

A number of his friends have assembled to present the deserved man on his day of jubilee (May 1st) with an address and a gift of honour. May he see it as a proof that his honourable ambition, his never resting ardour has found warmest appreciation in the largest circles and in all countries, and this appreciation will be the most beautiful reward to him. We will report in our next issue further upon the celebration.

* Citing Heinrich Fintelmann's description of Chatsworth with Abbildingen in Wittmack's Gartenzeitung 1882, P. 31 and 76.

** The illustration has the title Nymphaea hybrida Ortgiesii V.H. But in the text on page 64 (written by J.E. Planchon) it says Nymphaea Ortgiesiano-rubra and this later name is to be found later everywhere; the illustration is also quoted in Icones Plantarum by Pritzel (but Van Houtte declared as author). Planchon regarded N. dentata at the garden of Van Houtte as different to N. dentata Hooker and called it N. Ortgiesiana, thus the name Ortgiesiano-rubra.

Editor's note: Eduard Ortgies died in 1916.

Eduard Ortgies - Gartenflora 1894, The original German

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