James Lye with his fuchsias in the walled garden at Cyffe Hall, Market Lavington, n.d.

James Lye was an esteemed Victorian horticulturalist, experienced grower, exhibitor and hybridist of fuchsias.

James is attributed with introducing around 110 fuchsias during his career. There is further research to be undertaken because sometimes cultivars appear under similar names. These could be the same cultivars but with different names because of how they were advertised at the time in different publications (Nursery Catalogues, Horticultural Press, etc.). There is also a question around why some cultivars have the prefix ‘Lye’s’ and others do not, is this how James named them, or how the Nursery Catalogues and Horticultural Press termed them so they were easily identifiable as being introductions from James Lye.

Several of James’s fuchsias display what is now considered as the ‘Lye Hallmark’ which is a rich creamy white tube and sepals with a dense wax-like texture. All of James’s cultivars with white tubes and sepals have corollas in a variety of colours from Salmon-Orange to Pink.

The other aspect of fuchsia growing, which James is associated with, is the growing of fuchsias in the style of pyramids. It was reported that some grown by James were between 9 and 10 feet tall with a base diameter of 4 to 5 feet.

As a consequence of his prolific exhibiting and growing style over the years, he was described, in the press of the day, as the ‘champion fuchsia grower in the West of England’.

Although James is well known now for his Fuchsias, his work with Potatoes and Pelargoniums is less recognised. This is because the varieties of the Potatoes and Pelargoniums he raised have been replaced by newer cultivars over time and hence their association with James is less, unlike his Fuchsias which today still rank amongst the very best in cultivation.

Research to date has provided us with evidence that James had been a gardener since at least 1849. The specific date he started working at Clyffe Hall is not clear but the first documented evidence is the 1861 census which lists James as a gardener at Clyffe Hall.

The 1861 census also provides us with evidence that James’s father, Richard Lye, was also a gardener at Clyffe Hall and Richards’s sister, Elizabeth Lye, also worked in the gardens. It is therefore possible that the Lye Family had a longer working connection with Clyffe Hall than we originally thought.

We have no evidence of when James retired but it may have been when his employer, Hon Mrs. Louisa Hay, died in 1898. We know from the 1901 census the occupation listed was Retired Gardener. From the information available we know that he had a career based at Clyffe Hall for over 40 years.

James was also involved in community life in Market Lavington during his time at Clyfee Hall. He was instrumental in the founding of the Horticultural Society and, along with Hon. Mrs. Lousisa Hay, the creation of the Fete which was held on the grounds at Clyffe Hall and he also took an active role in the Parish Council from the early days of its creation.

Click on the links below for more information about the different aspects of James’s life: