Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

About the Hortus

Hortus Camdenensis is an illustrated catalogue of plants grown by Sir William Macarthur at Camden Park, New South Wales, Australia between about 1820 and 1861.  The Hortus attempts to correctly identify, describe, provide a brief history of and illustrate all the plants grown at Camden Park during this period.  Many were listed in the catalogues of plants published by Sir William between 1843 and 1857.  A large number of additional plants were identified from correspondence, gardening notebooks and other documents surviving in the archives.

Hortus Camdenensis is a work in progress.  Vegetables are not yet included but they will be added progressively.  Historical research is ongoing and data will be added via Essays or improved or enhanced Plant Profiles as appropriate.  The Hortus is primarily a work of history rather than horticulture or botany although every effort has been made to ensure accuracy in all data included. Check Announcements under News for further information.


William Macarthur started his garden on the family estate of Camden in 1820 when he was just twenty years old. His original garden was 5 acres in extent and laid out in a geometric grid pattern, with intersecting paths enclosing large rectangular beds, a garden style in vogue at the time. This garden slopes towards the Nepean River and parts were no doubt inundated during flood.

Within 10 years his father John, although seriously ill, began to realise his dream of building a grand mansion in the English Georgian style on the Camden property. William and his elder brother James were managing the extensive Macarthur estates by this time and living at Camden at the home farm of Belgenny.

About 1830 William began preparing and planting a larger garden on the house site, on the top of a low ridge, more than 8 acres in extent and sloping away to the south, east and north. The soil here is heavy clay and William’s gardeners placed about 45 cm of sandy river loam on top of the clay. The layout of this garden is quite different to the original garden (later named the Lower Garden), with curved paths of gravel with formed brick edges and gutters and informal gravel or grass paths winding through the trees and shrubberies. William Macarthur was above all a plantsman and the tree and shrub plantings this design allowed provided a variety of microclimates to suit a wide range of plants. The layout of the House Garden seems to have been all but complete when the house was finished in 1835.

In May 1846 William completed his first glasshouse, 40 feet long and 12 feet wide, heated with hot water. This glasshouse, the Propagation House, greatly improved his ability to raise plants from seed, cuttings and grafts and provided a great impetus to his commercial nursery operations. Additional glasshouses followed; the large Stove and the smaller Greenhouse probably in the 1850s, the exact dates are not known, the even larger Orchid House in 1870, the smaller Cool House probably built about 1875 to house more orchids. A Bush House was also built together with a Fernery with an attractive zig-zag roof, again exact dates not known.

In the early 1840s a sloping area to the south of the house, called The Clearings, became the centre of the then fledgling commercial nursery operations and the Head Gardener relocated there.

The first commercial vineyard was planted in 1820, small, only 1 acre in extent, it was followed about 1830 by a larger one on the river flats, in the area today called the Old Orchard. This part of the estate is now owned by the NSW Department of Agriculture and is part of the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute. This vineyard was not entirely successful and a third, much larger vineyard was planted on sloping ground between the House and The Clearings about 1840. The large sandstone and brick fermentation vats survive on the site of the now-demolished Wine House.

Fruit trees were probably originally planted in the Lower Garden but no doubt orchards were planted outside the gardens within a few years. Certainly by the early 20th century extensive orchards were planted on flat land close to the river, on the site of the second vineyard.

William appears to have taken a typical landed English gentleman’s view of the Camden estates, (known as Camden Park after about 1845), and landscaping operations went well beyond the garden boundaries. Mature native and exotic trees are found lining the roads within the estate, oaks, Kurrajongs, conifers, Chilean Wine Palms and, most notably, Olives, particularly the majestic African Olive. A large woodland, planted mainly with the English Oak, stretched almost from the corner of the Lower Garden to the Nepean River. Hedges of Olive were planted around vineyards and fields and conifers were planted along ridge lines. The nearby family Cemetery, now on land owned by the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, contains many mature trees.

All of these plantings; formal and informal gardens, nursery operation, glasshouses, vineyards, orchards and the estate as a whole provided opportunities for the introduction of a wide range of plants, natives and exotics. William Macarthur was very interested in the acclimatisation of plants and imported many species to see how they would perform under Camden conditions, no doubt in some cases with an eye to commercialisation. Many succeeded but many did not. William was a great believer in having an appropriate mix of plants of ornament and utility in his private collection and in his catalogues of plants for sale.

He had good gardening contacts throughout New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, in the fledgling colonies of Western Australia and South Australia and, after devolution in NSW, in the newly created colonies of Queensland and Victoria. This enabled him to source Australian native plants from throughout the continent. Australian plants were much in vogue in Europe at this time and he put considerable energy into obtaining desirable plants from around Australia, and even from the Pacific Islands, to use as barter with English and European establishments for plants that he considered desirable for the colony of New South Wales, his desiderata.

William Macarthur, guided by John Bidwill and assisted by Edmund Blake, created many new cultivars and hybrids, some, such as Erythrina x bidwillii, not seen before and others, such as his Camellia cultivars, still grown today.

All of these plants are described in the Hortus Camdenensis.

Using the Hortus

The Home Page provides basic information about the Hortus, recent topics and news concerning the gardens of Camden Park and the Camden Park Nursery Group (a voluntary group helping to maintain the gardens), and gives access to Essays on Camden Park, its history, its gardens and on Victorian gardening in general. It also provides six means of entry into the plant database.

Selected Plants in the Hortus provides a rotating sample of plants from the database. Clicking on the plant name brings up the full profile for that plant and provides access to all members of that family represented in the Hortus.

Clicking on Families in the menu bar or Plant Families provides an alphabetical list of plant families represented in the Hortus. Click on any family to bring up a brief description of the family and an alphabetical list of member plants in the database. Click on the plant name to bring up the full plant profile page.

Clicking on Plants in the menu bar or The Catalogue provides an alphabetical list of all the plants in the database with full botanic name and a very brief description. Click on the plant name to bring up the plant profile page.

The Search box enables a search of the entire database, botanic names, common names, authors etc.

The Plant Profile page

Botanical name

The full botanical name is given, the Linnaean binomial plus the author of that name. Varietal or cultivar names, sometimes with author, may also be appended. At any time there may be more than one system of plant classification in use and no consensus on the ‘correct’ name. In the Hortus synonyms are given to ensure that all likely names are included and are searchable. The provision of a reasonably complete list of synonyms is essential in historical research because names are changed over time with increasing knowledge of plant relationships.

A note on plant identifications. Rather frequently there are a number of possible identifications for a plant grown by Macarthur and selecting the correct one requires consideration of all the information available. For example, knowing that a plant came from Kew Gardens makes it almost certain that Macarthur’s plant was the one known under that name at Kew at that time. Similarly, a plant obtained from Loddiges’ nursery is likely to be the plant listed under that name in Loddiges’ catalogues and possibly figured in Loddiges’ Botanical Cabinet. Thus plant identifications are not made from modern sources. The primary source, the original description, is referenced whenever possible, failing that reliable, contemporary secondary sources that include a direct reference to the primary source are used and all other possibilities checked.

Brief description

This is given immediately after the botanical name. It is usually taken from modern sources, such as the Royal Horticultural Society’s Dictionary or Encyclopaedia, or Hortus First, Second or Third, references usually available for scrutiny in larger libraries. This description is intended only to provide a brief overview.

Horticultural and botanical history

Historical information about the plant. This almost always includes a date of introduction to gardening in Britain or elsewhere in Europe. It includes by whom introduced and where whenever that information is available. Quotes from botanical journals and other sources comprise the bulk of the data.

History at Camden Park

Information on this plant’s introduction to the gardens. For every plant profile the aim is to state when it was introduced, from where, by whom and why, but this is not always possible. Some entries describe desiderata even when there is no evidence that these plants were actually grown at Camden Park. But as there are so many examples of desiderata for which there is such evidence, for completeness it seemed best to include all. For plants that were listed in the 1857 Catalogue of Plants Grown at Camden Park a reference number is given. The format is standard, for example T.2/1857. ‘T’ refers to the category, in this case ‘Trees and Shrubs’, ‘2’ is the number given to the plant in the catalogue and ‘1857’ is the year it first appeared. See Category.


Additional information that does not find a logical home in other sections. Other plants that have been given the same name (Linnaean binomial) by another author are always included here.


Usually taken from 18th or 19th century books and journals. The hierarchy of choice for illustrations is; the first colour depiction if of good quality, other early coloured figure or lithograph, photograph of the plant growing at Camden Park, other images or photographs depending on availability. Attribution of the image is given beneath it. Illustrations are not available for all plants.  They will be added as they become available.


The Family name is given with the option of listing all other plants of that Family in the Hortus by clicking on it.

Region of origin

Usually only the general region is given. More data is given for some Australian plants.


An important aspect of the profile. The name used today is often not the name used in the 19th century and the name used by Macarthur often appears under Synonyms.

Common Name

Not given for all plants. The Victorian practice in botanical journals was to provide a literal translation of the Latin binomial, e.g. Lachnaea purpurea — Purple-flowered Lachnaea. Such names are less than helpful and have not been given in the Hortus.

Name in the Camden Park record

The name given in the record, whether Catalogue or Manuscript. Occasionally more than one name appears here. There are a number of examples of introduced plants that are unquestionably the same species as a plant already in the collection under a different name.

Confidence level

With most plants in the Hortus there is a high level of confidence that the identification, description and history given in the Plant Profile are correct. With some there is doubt about one or more of these aspects, reflected in a confidence level of medium or low. An explanation is usually given in the text.


To help the user identify types of plants in the Hortus all plants are placed in one or more categories. All appear in at least one of the categories used by William Macarthur in his Catalogues of Plants Grown at Camden Park. These refer to type of plant: Bulbous and Tuberous Rooted Plants, Cycads and Conifers, Ferns, Fruit-bearing Plants, Herbaceous Plants, Orchids, and Trees and Shrubs. The category of Vegetables and other Esculents has been added although this did not appear in Macarthur’s Catalogues. Vegetables is used in a wide sense to include all esculents, that is, all plants that are, or have been eaten, including spices and herbs, but excluding plants usually placed in the culinary category of fruits and nuts. Cinnamon, rosemary, tea and coffee will be found here, as well as exotic vegetables such as Oxalis deppei, but the commoner vegetables await further research. They will be added progressively. The category allocated in the Hortus is not always the one used in Macarthur’s Catalogues, which were sometimes inaccurate, but the original allocation is always given under History at Camden Park.

A second group of categories, called Utility, is more eclectic and is intended to further help searching for types of plant. Utility categories are: Annuals and biennials, most of which are included in Macarthur’s Herbaceous Plants; Climbers; Australian Natives, important in the context of Australian colonial gardening; Hedging plants, again important in 18th and 19th century gardening and agriculture; Medicinal Plants; and Plants with Industrial Uses. The last two categories are of immense importance when considering why particular plants were introduced. Industrial Plants includes those producing resins, tannin and other such by-products, and plants used more or less directly for such purposes as rope-making and basket weaving, or grown for specialist timber, for spindles or whip handles for example. Generally excluded from this category are trees whose timber is used for construction and other similar purposes because, perhaps not surprisingly, the timber of most trees has found such a use, even if only very locally. Of course mention of timber is made, sometimes in some detail, in the historical notes. Further Utility categories can be added if there appears to be real value in doing so.


Please comment on any aspect of the Hortus. If you have data relating to any part of a plant profile, to correct an error or suggestions for enhancing the profile for example, please provide full bibliographic information to allow your data to be cross-checked.