One of Britain’s first known black gardeners has been honoured with a rose named after him in celebration of his life.
John Ystumllyn, whose original name is unknown, was abducted as an eight-year-old boy in west Africa around 1746 and taken to Gwynedd, north Wales. There he became a servant in the household of the Wynn family of Ystumllyn, whose estate he was named after, and learned horticulture in the gardens.
He went on to become a respected gardener and the first black person in the region whose life was well documented, marrying a local white woman, Margaret Gruffydd.
Campaigners believe the yellow rose, chosen because yellow symbolises friendship, is the first to be named after a person of colour in the UK.
Zehra Zaidi, the founder of We Too Built Britain, which campaigns to raise awareness of the achievements of under-represented groups, approached the Chelsea flower show winner Harkness Roses with the idea to create the rose in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests last summer. The Hertfordshire nursery has previously bred roses named in honour of the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh.
Zaidi said Ystumllyn’s achievements were important to her growing up as a young person from a minority ethnic background in Carmarthen, south Wales. She said his story also connected with how “so much of Britain, its flora and fauna has been brought over from empire”.
“His story allows us to see integration, to see a more inclusive history of gardening,” she added.
According to a biography written in 1888, a century after his death, Ystumllyn – also known as or Jac Du, meaning Black Jack in Welsh – told how he was captured as a child “on the banks of a stream amid woodland attempting to catch a moorhen, when white men arrived and caught him and took him away with them to the ship”.
Dr Marian Gwyn, the head of heritage for Race Council Cymru, said records showed he was not subsequently enslaved and lived as a free man.
She said: “We have somebody who is torn from Africa and taken to Wales, and despite that trauma makes a life for himself. It’s evident that he did experience racism and that this deeply upset him. But it is clear from many other reports that he was considered to be a fine gentlemen.
“Culturally, I think we tend to always associate gardening with white people. And what we have with John is a black man who made his career out of gardening in the middle of the 18th century. That’s significant because it overturns our idea of who a gardener is.”