Niels Baggesen’s Golden Lonicera

One of the most extraordinary aspects of a cultivar is that every single plant now in existence has been propagated from the very first…
And in the case of Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ AGM that is even more extraordinary because this beautiful, easy and indestructible hedging plant (actually a member of the honeysuckle family) now graces gardens and public spaces in its millions across the temperate regions of the entire globe. So how did it come into being?
The story starts in south west China in the early 1900s where and when the famous plant hunter Ernest Henry Wilson found the green foliaged Lonicera nitida in the wild and introduced it to the UK in 1907/8. However, this example did not flower and failed to catch on. More interest was shown when it was re-introduced in 1939 following another, unrelated, expedition. This time, it did flower.
Meanwhile, in Denmark, sometime in the second half of the c.19th, a certain Niels Immanuel Baggesen was born. Before the century was out, he made the journey to England where he spent the rest of his life. In the 1890s he was working at Ladd’s Nursery in Swanley, Kent and, by 1900, was a gardener at Kew. From there he moved to Cardiff where he set up a nursery of his own. He married and had two sons, Harald and John, who finally joined him in his last horticultural business, a nursery called The Shack in Pembury, Kent. The London Gazette of August 6th, 1926 contains a list of aliens to whom certificates of naturalization have been granted by the Secretary of State, and whose Oaths of Allegiance have been registered in the Home Office during the month of July 1926. The list includes Niels Immanuel Baggesen; Denmark; Nursery Foreman; The Shack, Pembury, Kent. 26 July 1926. The Shack closed in 1970.
In the 1960s, Baggesen was working with Lonicera nitida from the second introduction when he noticed that one stem of one cutting was golden – and every single example of Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ you see today (including all of ours), originates from this single cutting. You might say that Baggersen was lucky that this genetic fluke happened to land on his bench, but there is nothing lucky about recognising potential and then being curious and patient enough to find out. The best plant breeders have the best eyes. Besides, there was no room for error – if Baggesen had failed to take and propagate that single cutting, the opportunity, and the plant, would have been lost.
The story, though, is tinged with sadness. Baggesen received no recognition during his lifetime. Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ only started its well-deserved conquest of the world’s gardens after the nursery had closed and was only recognised by the RHS in 1993 with an AGM after his death. During his life, he made numerous attempts to gain this coveted award after its introduction around 1967, but was repeatedly rebuffed. Bitterly, he put this down to snobbery.
He was an elite plantsman but never a member of the elite. He deserved better and though his horticultural legacy would have been assured even if it rested solely on Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ AGM, he also introduced (among others) the false cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Pembury Blue’ that enjoys similar popularity. Nobody can be that lucky. It also gained its AGM in 1993.