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Given how popular apples are in Europe and the USA, it’s surprising to discover they actually originated in Khazakstan, and were brought south and west with traders through Persia, Greece and to the Roman Empire. It was the Romans who introduced apples to Britain, and British settlers who brought them to the USA.

Johnny AppleseedAccording to American folklore, Johnny Appleseed was a lovable eccentric who distributed apple trees throughout Ohio and Indiana. He went barefoot, dressed in sacks, wore a pot on his head and canoed up and down rivers and streams, handing out apple seeds along with advice about eating an apple a day and appreciating nature.

In truth, John Chapman – Johnny Appleseed’s real name – was a businessman who moved to the new state of Ohio in 1803, along with other settlers. To claim land there, you had to plant an orchard of 50 viable fruit trees. Everywhere Chapman thought people might settle, he planted apple tree nurseries, then sold the seedlings to new arrivals. Chapman was not America’s first eco warrior. He was making money.

clipping gold foundOn 24 January 1848, at Sutter’s Mill on the American River in California, a carpenter named James Marshall picked up a chunk of gold the size of half a pea. So began the California Goldrush. Within months newspapers were reporting the find, and would-be miners headed west to look for gold themselves. In 1849 prospectors - nicknamed “Forty-Niners” - flooded in from all over the world, coming by lengthy ship voyages or taking the difficult, dangerous overland route across the USA.

California grew rapidly from a population in 1848 of about 8000 immigrants (not counting Native Americans or Mexican “Californios”) to almost 100,000 by the end of 1849. San Francisco had been a small town of 800 in 1847; by the end of 1849 it had grown to 15,000, and by 1851 34,000.

Sequoia Giant sequoias are huge trees with thick, tawny red bark, and are native to California. They are not the world’s tallest trees – that prize goes to their cousins, the coastal redwoods, the largest being 115.61 meters (379.3 feet) high. However, sequoias have wider trunks, up to 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter, and grow to almost 91 meters (300 feet) high. This means they have the largest mass of any tree.

William Lobb was an English gardener who, along with his brother Thomas, was hired by Veitch Nurseries to travel the world, collecting plants and their seeds to send back to Britain.

With global exploration introducing a taste for the foreign, Victorians were beginning to plant trees and plants from all over the world to make their gardens more interesting and exotic. Nurseryman James Veitch sent Thomas Lobb to Asia, while William travelled to South America, where he sent back begonias, salvias, nasturtiums and many other plants now common in Britain.

After South America, he headed north to the West Coast of the USA and began sending back a wide variety of pines and fir trees to meet the demand for unusual conifers.

In 1853 Lobb heard about the giant sequoias discovered the previous year at Calaveras Grove, and went to see them. He knew immediately that the trees would capture the public imagination. After collecting seedlings and cones, Lobb accompanied his finds back to England. Soon sequoias were being planted in country estates all over Britain, where you can still see them today, though they need another thousand years to grow as big as the Californian sequoias.

In 1854 Lobb returned to California, but his health was starting to deteriorate. He broke ties with Veitch Nurseries, travelled less and less, and died in 1864. He is buried in relative obscurity near San Francisco.