Horticultural endeavours formed an important part of activity from the early days. William Macarthur commenced the setting out and construction of his first Camden Park garden in 1817, and creation of other garden areas and separate orchards followed. Due to commercial necessity William had created a commercial nursery at Camden Park in the early 1840’s. By the middle of the 19th century Camden Park was probably the most important plant nursery in Australia. William had become an outstanding commercial botanist importing, growing and distributing plants throughout the colonies.
From the late 1840’s William Macarthur constructed a number of heated glasshouses and propagation houses which greatly improved the efficiency of his plant breeding operations and increased the variety of plants he was able to grow. William also constructed specific purpose glass houses for the growing of orchids.
At various times Camden Park had extensive and important collections of camellias, orchids & roses along with many rare and exotic trees and shrubs. Many of these plants were either shared and/or sold throughout Australia. William donated many plants to Botanic Gardens including the Sydney Botanic Garden.
An enormous range and variety of fruits were grown on Camden Park. The 1857 “Catalogue of Plants Cultivated at Camden Park” listed under "Plants Bearing Fruit”:
47 varieties of apple, 10 varieties of cyder apple, 7 varieties of apricot, 70 varieties of pear, 26 varieties of plum, 21 varieties of cherry, 20 varieties of peaches and nectarines, 23 citrus varieties including navel oranges and many more including: figs, chestnuts, hazelnuts, guava, loquat, medlar, mulberry, pomegranate, almond, quince, raspberry, and strawberry.
For many years the Camden Park orchard was one of the largest commercial orchards in Australia. The orchards survived until the late 1970’s and in its last decades of operation produced apples, peaches, pears and plums.
Early records also indicate that a wide range of vegetables were grown, many of which are uncommon today. The most up to date varieties were sourced from all over the world via seed catalogues and through personal contacts. A gardener’s diary from a few months in 1843-4 records the planting of the following vegetables and often with multiple varieties: radish, lettuce, capsicum, turnip, lettuce, broccoli, melons, cucumbers, watermelons, celery, endive, onions, peas, sea kale, ginger, eggplant, and cauliflower. Many other vegetables were planted at different times.
The contribution that William Macarthur made to horticulture in Australia was enhanced and multiplied by his ability to share and distribute both his knowledge and his produce. Importantly, William on a periodic basis produced sale catalogues of the plants he grew at Camden Park. Catalogues were published in 1843, 1845, 1850, and 1857.
The Hortus Camdenensis, an online database complied by Colin Mills identifies nearly 3,300 species of plants grown in the Camden Park garden or sold from its nursery from 1820 to the 1860’s.