Chinese Lanterns in the Royal Pavilion Gardens

To celebrate Heritage Open Days 2020 we are publishing a series of blogs researched and written by Brighton Dome's heritage volunteers. The blogs reveal the fascinating stories connecting Brighton Dome's history with the Royal Pavilion Estate and the city.

Of the imported plants chosen by William Townsend Aiton, who was commissioned to lay out the Royal Pavilion Estate gardens, Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) had been grown in England for several centuries and would therefore have been a familiar sight. This is in contrast to the newly arrived plants from China being propagated at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, where Aiton lived and worked.

Chinese Lanterns have small, bell-shaped orange flowers and are also known as Bladder Cherries or Winter Cherry. They are included in the Royal College of Physicians Garden of Medicinal Plants as the ripe fruit was used as a diuretic and in 1652, the botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recommended its use for kidney and bladder health problems.

The plant’s selection is a relic of the 16th century fashion of developing botanical gardens in Western European cities, when plants were collected from Central Europe, temperate Asia and Japan. No doubt the hardy perennial nature of the plant, as well as its ornamental and oriental appearance, made it an ideal choice to complement more recent arrivals collected by French missionaries and 19th century plant hunters, many of which we now take for granted in residential gardens but were once status symbols in landscaped parks. See if you can spot Chinese Lanterns growing in the gardens outside Brighton Dome to this day.

Written by Heritage Volunteer Judy Woodman

Discover more heritage stories and find out more about our future.