Xmera / Garden History / Nurseries: Cypher's Exotic Nursery, Cheltenham

Cypher's Exotic Nursery, Cheltenham

James Cypher was born in Tetbury in 1827, the son of a labourer. By 1851 he was gardener to Miss Elizabeth Savage of Tetbury Lodge, a substantial villa with extensive grounds and substantial glasshouses in the Christchurch area of Cheltenham. From the early 1860s James Cypher regularly appeared among the prize winners for stove and greenhouse plants at horitcultural shows in Gloucestershire, Bath and Wales.

Follwing the death of Miss Savage in 1866, James Cypher set up his own nursery on the Queens Road near the Midland railway station. The site had formerly been used to provide clay for brickworks. He specialised in greenhouse and exotic, decorative plants. By the 1870s the nursery had become Cypher's Exotic Nursery, His sons William and Francis joined the business as apprentices, while their sisters Elizabeth, Georgina and Mary worked on the floral decorations that were a substantial component of the nursery's output. He also took on his nephews as apprentices, after the death of his elder brother John. In 1881 the nursery of J. Cypher & Sons employed 17 men and 9 boys. The production of orchids, particularly Dendrobiums, became a speciality of the nursery. By the time James Cypher died in 1901, the Exotic Nurseries had 70 large glass greenhouses and employed 60-70 people in greenhouses and on garden work. One obituarist recalled:

'From an exhibitor's point of view Mr Cypher was the Grand Old Man of horticulture...At many of these shows I have seen three to five large vans closely packed with valuable plants, his greatest efforts, probably, being expended in the direction of Shrewsbury every August'.

In 1901 management of the Queens Road nursery was taken over by Frank Cypher (d. 1914) and his cousin James John Cypher (d. 1928), who had married his cousin and Frank's elder sister Elizabeth (d. 1920). John James Cypher established a reputation for hybridising orchids and served as a member of the RHS Orchid Committee. In 1911 he was awarded the RHS Victoria Medal. In 1912 the nursery received second prize for their display of orchid hybrids at the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition, held at Chelsea.The following year received a silver cup for their orchid display at the first Chelsea Flower Show. The nursery continued after the death of John James Cypher, but in 1933 part of the land was sold off for building. The remaining nursery was liquidated in 1960.