An interesting history of the gardenia + the man who gave it its name

Gardenia | Photo via @blissinbloomchs

This conversation was written by Madi Blanford, CHStoday’s digital media intern.

Today, Charleston boasts many beautiful, prominent and stately gardens such as those at Magnolia Plantation + Middleton Place. But back before even the Revolutionary War, Charleston was home to a different garden – Dr. Alexander Garden, from whom the gardenia got its name. 🌸

In January of 1730, Alexander Garden was born in Birse, Scotland. Though incredibly far-removed from the city of Charleston at the start of his life, his career–and a strong aversion to the cold + gloomy weather in the United Kingdom–brought him to the Lowcountry in 1752. Here he enjoyed the much warmer and moderate climate as well as a partnership with a local medical practice. He also pursued his growing interests in botany and zoology.

Garden found immense + immediate success in each of his endeavors, and his discoveries of South Carolina wildlife eventually provided him the opportunity to work with Carl Linnaeus himself–the “father of modern taxonomy.” Garden helped with the classification of a variety of flora + fauna, including the silver bell (or the Halesia carolina), striped mullet, blue fish, corn snake and copperhead. In fact, he allegedly supplied more new species to Linnaeus’s collection than anyone else in North America.

But Garden’s impact does not stop there. He also made great strides within Charleston’s medical field, helping create the city’s first smallpox vaccine in 1760. Despite his numerous contributions to science and the Charleston community, however, his Scottish background proved undesirable in the wake of the Revolutionary War, and the burgeoning country deported Garden, banning him from American soil entirely.

Garden spent the remainder of his life in London, and in honor of his prolific discoveries, Carl Linnaeus eventually named the gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) after Dr. Alexander Garden. Ironically, the gardenia is not one of the many species that Garden discovered, but it’s still quite the achievement to be named after such a beloved + sweetly scented flower.

Garden’s legacy surely establishes him as one of Charleston’s most significant gardens. 😉