He formed a partnership with Thomas Hibbert in 1830 in a florist business in Philadelphia. They imported rare plants and flowers, especially the rose.
After Hibbert’s death he began a seed business, along with the nursery and greenhouse business. The business in Philadelphia started out as Robert Buist's Seed Store, selling gardening supplies, potted plants, shrubs, small fruits, and rose bushes. By 1837, the growing business relocated to 12th Street below Lombard; and in1857, the company moved to a location on Market Street. And in 1870, it expanded to 67th Street near Darby Road. The Buist farm, Bonaffon, was located in the section of Philadelphia through which Buist Avenue now runs.
"View of Robert Buist's city nursery & greenhouses No. 140 South Twelfth Str. Phila. 1846 / Wholesale & retail horticultural & agricultural warehouse No. 84 Chestnut St. below 3d. St. south side. We invite an inspection of his stock either at his warehouse nurseries or seed farm. Seeds, fruit & ornamental trees, implements & books of every description for the garden, farm or pleasure ground. Orders promptly attended to & every article warranted to be what is represented."
Advertisement depicting a bird's eye view looking northwest at Robert Buist's enclosed nursery and greenhouses on Twelfth Street, south of Lombard Street. Two long rows of hotbed frames extend west from Twelfth Street and run the length of Rodman Street behind a three-story building marked "140." Men and women stroll along the central walk that separates the two rows of hotbed frames inside the grounds, accessed from Twelfth Street by the entrance gate adorned with the proprietor's name "R. Buist". Outside of the nursery, several men and women converse on the sidewalk. One of the men holds a driving whip, and is presumably the driver of the stalled horse-drawn carriage in front of the entrance. Another driver stands in front of a team of horses pulling a covered cart, grasps the reins, and leads them along Rodman Street toward a man attempting to rein in a rearing horse. Also shows men, women, children, and dogs on the sidewalk. A few trees dot the empty landscape behind the nursery. Buist established his business in 1828, which was known as Robert Buist Company well into the 20C.
Buist if often credited with introducing the Poinsettia into Europe, after he saw it at Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia. During Buist’s early training at the Edinburg Botanic Garden, he met James McNab, a scientist & artist who eventually became the garden’s director. In the early 1830s, McNab traveled to America with retired nurseryman Robert Brown to study plants native to the United States. While in America, McNab visited his friend Buist in Philadelphia. When McNab met with Buist in 1834, he gave the Poinsettia plant to him to take back to Scotland. The garden’s director, Dr. Robert Graham introduced the plant into British gardens.
Buist was reknown for his roses & verbena. He was the author of several books and many catalogues of his plant offerings, among them are The American Flower-Garden Directory (1832); The Rose Manual (1844, 6 editions); and The Family Kitchen-Gardener (c1847).
Buist was obsessed by roses. Gardener & plant historian Alex Sutton tells us that Buist sailed to Europe every year or two to buy new rose hybrids being developed in Europe. He purchased much of his stock from M. Eugene Hardy of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. In 1832, Buist saw 'Madame Hardy' for the first time and he wrote: "Globe Hip, White Globe, or Boule de Neige of the French, is an English Rose raised from seeds of the common white, a very pure white, fully double and of globular form. A few years ago it was considered 'not to be surpassed,' but that prediction, like many others, has fallen to the ground, and now 'Madame Hardy' is triumphant, being larger, fully as pure, more double, and an abundant bloomer; the foliage and wood are also stronger. The French describe it as 'large, very double pure white, and of cup or bowl form." Buist introduced 'Madame Hardy' in Philadephia to his customers, many of whom must have been Philadelphia matrons, as he called them his Patronesses.
In 1839, Buist visited another of his suppliers, Jean-Pierre Vibert, of Lonjeameaux, near Paris, where he found 'Aimee Vibert'. He brought this rose back with him to Philadephia and wrote: "Aimee Vibert, or Nevia, is a beautiful pure white, perfect in form, a profuse bloomer, but though quite hardy doe snot grow freely for us; however, when budded on a strong stock it makes a magnificent standard, and blooms with a profusion not surpassed by any."
Seed storage warehouse of Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist. From an 1891 wholesale seed catalog.
He was active with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, treasurer from 1858-1862 and vice-president for twenty-two years. He died in Philadelphia, July 13, 1880. The family business was carried on by his son, Robert, Jr.