View previous topic | View next topic


Page 3 of 5
Goto page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5  Next

297278.  Mon Mar 17, 2008 7:22 am Reply with quote

In the 1830s in Britain there was a craze for the dahlia, with over 1500 varieties being developed. The magazine ‘Floricultural Cabinet’ carried angry correspondence on the correct pronunciation; it should be “dah,” since it was named for the Swedish botanist Dahl:

“Nothing but ignorant conceit could have inflicted upon it the pronunciation as if written Daylia - it is at best a piece of affected Cockneyism.”

S: “A little history of British gardening” by Jenny Uglow (Chatto, 2004).

Bleedin’ mockneys!

Links: Fashion

297305.  Mon Mar 17, 2008 7:41 am Reply with quote

In the “heroic” age of plant-hunting, in the 19th century, travelling the world in search of new plants to bring home to European botanists and florists could bring great rewards, but also terrible dangers.

David Douglas had a hard time in North America in the 1820s, suffering from all manner if illnesses, attacks by American Indians, and hunger which eventually forced him to eat most of his finds. He also had his canoe overturned in torrential rapids: “Melancholy to relate, I lost the whole of my insects, a few seeds, and my pistols.” He eventually died, aged 35, “killed by a raging bull when he fell into an animal trap in Hawaii.” On the plus side, he had by then already brought many new varieties of conifers to Britain.

The invention in the 1830s of the Wardian Case (by amateur naturalist Nathaniel Ward) made plant hunting much more successful. Ward noticed a small fern growing beautifully in one of glass jars in which he pupated caterpillars; the jar was sealed, therefore the moisture it contained condensed by day and returned to the plant by night. This breakthrough in creating a microclimate allowed far more plants to be successfully shipped home.

Wardian Cases also became popular in people’s parlours, where they were used to create miniature forests or jungles.

Even once you’d got the plants home, though, they were still in danger. At Veitch’s Chelsea nursery - an early garden centre - the staff wore frock-coats and white gloves, and had to smile calmly as customers destroyed their stock: “As the ladies swept through the displays [in the glasshouses] their crinolines snapped off flowers and damaged plants. Gentlemen brushed glowing cigars in the foliage, grabbed delicate orchids and nepenthes to sniff and peer at.”

S: “A little history of British gardening” by Jenny Uglow (Chatto, 2004).

297321.  Mon Mar 17, 2008 7:59 am Reply with quote

The Glass Tax was repealed in 1845, after which the fashion amongst the very rich for building immense glasshouses, for housing collections of floral exotica, really went mad.

The greatest of all was the Great Stove, built at Chatsworth. It was bigger than most London railway stations.

It took 500 people four years to build. It was heated by eight boilers, consuming hundreds of tons of coal which was brought in by a dedicated tramway.

When Queen Victoria visited this extraordinary greenhouse, she drove through it in a carriage.

After WW1, it became too expensive to maintain, and it was impossible to find enough staff to run it, so it was blown up.

S: “A little history of British gardening” by Jenny Uglow (Chatto, 2004).

Links: Fashion, Follies, Fun

297324.  Mon Mar 17, 2008 8:04 am Reply with quote

At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries “The rich displayed their wealth by their bedding plant list: 10,000 plants for a squire, 20,000 for a baronet, 30,000 for an earl and 40,000 for a duke.”

In 1903, Alfred de Rothschild had 40,418 in 50 glasshouses.

S: “A little history of British gardening” by Jenny Uglow (Chatto, 2004).

Is there a possible question there, which would trick panellists into assuming “20,000 for a baronet” meant “cash for honours”?

297350.  Mon Mar 17, 2008 8:31 am Reply with quote

Gardening books aimed at women were very popular in the mid-19th century; titles included “How to Enjoy a Country Life Rationally" and “Gardening for the Ignorant.”

One of the most famous woman gardeners of the late 19th century was Ellen Willmott, who had gardens in Essex, France and Italy, and employed 103 gardeners. She was said to have over 100,000 varieties of plants. Not entirely surprisingly, her money ran out and she lost it all.

In 1895, Kew Gardens took on female gardeners for the first time. They gardened in bloomers, which drew crowds of sightseers. According to Punch:

They gardened in bloomers the newspapers said,
So to Kew without waiting all Londoners sped;
From the tops of the buses they had a fine view,
of the ladies in bloomers who gardened at Kew.
The orchids were slighted, the lilies were scorned,
The dahlias were flouted, till botanists mourned,
But the Londoners shouted, “What ho there, Go to;
Who wants to see blooms now you've bloomers at Kew?”

Phworrrrrrr ....

Ironically, they dressed like this because the Director, William Thiselton-Dyer, had only been willing to take them on on the condition that they wore men’s clothes so as not to arouse lust in their male colleagues.

A few years later, at the height of the suffragette terrorist campaign, Kew became a favourite target for arson, glass-smashing and general vandalism. The Tea Pavilion was burned down. A gardening magazine of 1913 reported:

Kew has been marked out by the suffragettes as one of the scenes of their exploits. They smashed a quantity of glass in the orchid house, and in a manner that one can scarcely accredit to sane adults, wantonly tried to destroy the plants. Rare and delicate plants, under bell-glasses, attracted the special venom of these feminists.
S: “A little history of British gardening” by Jenny Uglow (Chatto, 2004).

Links: Fashion, Feminism, Firsts.

297425.  Mon Mar 17, 2008 9:52 am Reply with quote

Interesting note: During WW1 -

some gardens were given over to medicinal plants, since Britain had been so dependent on Germany for drugs: now, suddenly, dandelions, marigolds and foxgloves were valued for their healing power, as they had been in the past.

S: “A little history of British gardening” by Jenny Uglow (Chatto, 2004).

303135.  Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:10 am Reply with quote

We’ve discussed elsewhere the introductions of European fauna and flora to colonised countries, and the trouble this causes. Here’s a slightly odd example: in the 19th century, people decided it would be a good idea to introduce bumblebees into New Zealand. Why, no-one now knows.

Bumblebees are very rare outside the Northern hemisphere - being big and furry, they don’t like the heat much. Nobody knows which species were taken to NZ, when, how many ... or how. That last is a real puzzle; in theory, “the shift in seasons should have presented quite a problem.”

But somehow, in about 1895, some bumbles from Kent were released on South Island. Some thrived, some didn't - there are now about four UK species living in NZ. This is another oddity; the bumblebees found in NZ today are not the more common Kentish species.

Two of them are of particular interest, since one is officially endangered in the UK, and another actually extinct. Interestingly, these two are also comparatively rare in NZ. There are now hopes to restock Britain from New Zealand.

Bumblebees in NZ mostly use the same plants they would have used in Britain. These are, of course, plants which were introduced from Britain in the first place - many of which have become dreadful weeds in NZ, causing great damage to native flora - such as lupins and viper’s bugloss. Vast areas of central South Island have been completely taken over by viper’s bugloss. The government is (oh dear, here we go again) currently considering the release of a biological control agent with the aim of eradicating the alien plant.

If that goes ahead, then the only way to save the rare bumbles of NZ might be ... to bring them back home again!

S: Buzzword (newsletter of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust), issue 6, 2008.

303142.  Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:16 am Reply with quote

S: Buzzword (newsletter of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust), issue 6, 2008.

Your copy arrived already? Damn Wiltshire postal service - if it wasn't for them I would have beaten you to the punch on that one.

303147.  Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:20 am Reply with quote

I pay the extra for express, Flash. I hate to be without up-to-the-minute bumble info.

303303.  Wed Mar 26, 2008 1:16 pm Reply with quote

Article in today's Guardian about how Amazon river dolphins use flowers - or at any rate weeds - to woo their mates:

The dolphins that woo their mates with weeds

James Randerson

Amazon river dolphins use lumps of waterweed or large rocks to impress their mates, much as humans might use flowers or chocolates. Scientists believe the animals hold the objects during displays to woo females or intimidate rivals, the first time aquatic mammals have been seen using objects in social displays.

The lead author of the study, Professor Tony Martin of St Andrews University, said he first realised something interesting was happening while observing the animals in the wild in 2003. "I noticed a dolphin carrying a lump of wood or something in its mouth," he said. "I saw the behaviour again a couple of hours later and noted it down." When it happened for a third time he decided to investigate further.

Trawling back through years of observational data on the animals, his team found 57 instances of the behaviour — nearly all were adult males, suggesting that it was not simply play. The animals pick up sticks, waterweeds, rocks and even in one case a turtle. "I realised then that we were on to something. There was more to this than met the eye," he said.

The animals are extremely difficult to study because the waters they live in are full of silty mud which stops researchers from seeing what goes on under the surface. "It's like trying to look through a keyhole at their behaviour," he said. The observations suggest it is the biggest males which can carry the heaviest objects — and they are the ones which father the most offspring. The research will appear in the journal Biology Letters today.

The Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin has been seen using marine sponges during foraging, but this is the first time an aquatic mammal has been seen using objects in social display. The behaviour is rare in mammals, but more common in birds.

The dolphins are increasingly threatened by fishermen who kill them illegally for bait. Dolphin numbers are still high, but Martin is concerned: "In the last five years there's been a dramatic decline — more than 50%. It's absolutely frightening."

305167.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 7:51 am Reply with quote

Q: In the 18th century, how did landscape gardeners move fully-grown trees?

F: With great care; carefully; slowly; etc.

A: They yanked the buggers out of the ground with a bloody great yanking machine called “a yanker.”

When landscape gardening became fashionable, gardeners couldn't simply plant trees and then wait a hundred years for them to reach the desired size. Their rich clients wanted instant results: I want a parade of fully-grown trees all the way along the drive, and I want it now.

Capability Brown invented the “yanker” in the 1740s. It was a wheeled device, supporting a long pole which was strapped to the trunk of the tree; labourers then pulled on the ropes until the pole - and the trunk - were horizontal; the tree was, quite simply, yanked out of the ground like a tooth at the dentist's.

It could then be carted to its new position. Not surprisingly, this crude method had a pretty high failure rate; many trees did not survive the procedure.

It wasn't until the 19th century that William Barron, another great landscaper, came up with a somewhat better method: “the Barron Transporter.” His big career break came in the 1830s, when he was commissioned by the 4th Earl of Harrington to sort out his gardens. The earl and his actress wife lived in complete seclusion, shunning society; his standing instructions to his staff were “If the Queen comes, show her around, but admit no-one else.”

The land at Elvaston, the earl’s seat, was terribly flat and low - very difficult terrain to landscape in the modern styles. In November 1830, the earl told Barron he wanted three cedars - each 12 metres tall - moved to a new position. Oh, and had he said? He wanted it done in February.

The latest developments in yanking involved digging trenches around trees to encourage new, compact root systems. But there was no time for that. Anyway, Barron didn't reckon a yanker could cope with such huge specimens. What was needed was a method of removing the trees with a large root-ball of soil still attached, rather than the bare-root approach which yanking involved.

His new machine was mounted on a four-wheel cart, and was thus able to lift the trees vertically on lever-operated ratcheted windlasses. Using this he was able to move the three cedars successfully, and then a few months later he moved another - this one 16 metres tall.

The earl was delighted, and told Barron to get on with finding trees, the bigger the better, and using them to transform Elvaston's flat landscape. Immense yews, some of them centuries old, were brought distances of 30 kilometres. Thousands of trees in all were relocated, using restless machines in great numbers. The pleasure gardens at Elvaston, “practically non-existent” in 1831, were, by 1851, bountiful and elaborate - great avenues of yews; monkey puzzle trees; every known species of conifer; and 18 kilometres of evergreen hedges. This “instant” yet mature garden was viewed as something close to a miracle.

The earl’s successor, by the way, finding himself on his uppers, opened Elvaston to the general public (sometimes claimed to be the first commercial stately home tourist attraction). The price of admission was very high - three shillings - but nonetheless thousands paid up. The earl spared his blushes at the vulgarity of it all by claiming that the money went to “charitable purposes.”

The Barron Transporter was widely taken up, despite its obvious disadvantages: it required immense quantities of human labour, and because the trees were carried upright, the choice of routes was often tricky: you couldn't go under bridges, for instance.

Barron’s most famous tree-move took place in 1880. The authorities at the church in Buckland-in-Dover wanted an ancient and massive yew (mentioned in the Domesday Book, and now thought to be at least 1700 years old) moved “62 metres” from where it was threatening a wall. The move was generally considered impossible, but Barron swore he could do it. His plans made headlines throughout the world - such a thing had never been attempted before, even by him.

Hundreds of sightseers and reporters flocked to the churchyard - and Barron charged them half-a-crown to watch! The 55-tonne tree was successfully moved; it was a wonder of the age. Even Barron, who had been far less confident in private than in public, admitted that all his other jobs had been “Chickens compared to the Buckland Yew.”

S: “Gardeners, gurus & grubs” by George Drower (Sutton Publishing, 2001)
Some Buckland Yew pictures here:

Links: Firsts; Fashion

305325.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:25 am Reply with quote

The titles of books were so delightfully long in the old days ... this is the last work, published in 1747, of a famous plant hunter:

Collection of 85 Curious TREES and SHRUBS,
The Produce of NORTH AMERICA;
IRELAND, and most Parts of EUROPE, &c.
Adorn’d with 63 FIGURES on 17 COPPER-PLATES, large IMPERIAL Quarto.


310563.  Fri Apr 04, 2008 8:12 am Reply with quote

The ornamental shrub camellia, a relative of the tea plant, is a large evergreen with large, white pink or red flowers. It’s a common garden favourite these days - but it became so only because of a scandal.

Alexandre Dumas, the writer, was the illegitimate son of Alexandre Dumas, the writer. “Dumas fils” as he is known - our chap - was born in Paris in 1824.

After a youth spent largely on the razzle, he suddenly found himself, in his twenties, broke and hideously in debt. Naturally, being his father’s son, he picked up his pen. In almost no time flat, he wrote the novel “La Dame aux Camelias” published in 1848.

It’s a tragic romance, a weepy, about Camille, a high-class courtesan. But it included one utterly shocking element: Camille indicates her availability otherwise at her trade by wearing a white camellia blossom on twenty-five days of the month, and a red one for the other five. Not surprisingly, the novel became a sensation - and a success.

This was too much for the censors, who did everything they could to prevent the book being turned into a play. They eventually lost their battle with public opinion, and the play opened in 1852. It became, for some years, the most watched and most famous play in the world. Verdi turned the book into an opera - La Traviata - in 1853.

The camellia - which had until then been of interest only to plantsmen and their wealthy clients - became the subject of an international craze, which lasted until about 1870. During those years, plant breeders kept producing more and more varieties to meet demand, and the shrubs themselves went for high prices. Everyone had to have the blooms in their vases and the plants in their gardens.

What made the camellia so significant to lovers of the book, play or opera was that it was scentless; the character Camille was dying (nobly and uncomplainingly) of emphysema (which at that time killed great numbers in Europe and the USA every year); the camellia was the only bloom which did not make her cough.

S: “Gardeners, gurus & grubs” by George Drower (Sutton Publishing, 2001)

310610.  Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:23 am Reply with quote

That's very good; it sounds like the kind of thing that any person of culture (ie not me) ought to know already - I'm sure Sessions would for example, as will Stephen.

We could give each of them a buttonhole to wear.

310622.  Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:46 am Reply with quote

Incidentally, I have a friend who used to work for Bodyshop while Anita Roddick was there and he says she was always coming up with eccentric ideas that they had to somehow knock into the long grass. One of them was that shop assistants ought to wear badges saying, when appropriate: "Hi! I'm menstruating!"


Page 3 of 5
Goto page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours

Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group