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William Purdom was born on the 10th of April at Heversham near Kendal but he spent most of his childhood at the Lodge, Brathay Hall in Ambleside, where his father, William, was head gardener. After leaving school at 14, Purdom's first four years of gardening training was under his father's tuition, before joining Low Nursery of Enfield, and then the Veitch Nursery of Coombe Wood.
In 1902 Purdom applied for a student position at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew where he stayed for six years before being chosen to lead a plant collecting expedition to China in 1909 planned by Veitch and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts. He returned to England in 1912.
Reginald Farrer heard of Purdom's achievements and determined to travel to China to collect plants with Purdom as his assistant. He chose Kansu / Gansu in northern China as it was hoped that this area would yield alpine plants suitable for the British climate. The dangerous and difficult expedition took place between 1914 and 1915 and was funded by Charles Hough of White Craggs, Ambleside and William Groves of Holehird.
Farrer returned to England in 1915, but Purdom elected to remain in China to become a forestry advisor to the Chinese Government. He died in November 1921 in Peking / Beijing after a short illness at the age of 41 while working on a comprehensive forestry survey for the Chinese Railways.
Biographical information on William Purdom was compiled by Margaret I. Perkins, Hon. Archivist for the Lakeland Horticultural Society.
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