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This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, renowned plant hunter, naturalist, botanist and Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. On a recent visit to his home town of Halesworth, Suffolk, I discovered a modern day band of enthusiastic gardeners who are planning a big celebration of their famous ancestor.

Joseph Dalton Hooker as a young man

You may know that one of my voluntary activities is as a judge for the Green Flag Award- the bench mark for good public parks and gardens around the U.K. and beyond. I was honoured to be asked to visit Halesworth Town park recently a small public park in the centre of this old Suffolk Market town, jointly in the care of the local Council and ‘Halesworth in Bloom’, a group of volunteers who have spearheaded many improvements and projects to make the park and wider town a place of horticultural excellence.

During my visit i was shown round the Park and had the chance to learn more about the voluntary effort being put into this very impressive public park, and was also very pleased to see the energy and skills being put into marking Joseph Hooker’s bicentenary; this includes some special plantings in the Park with Hooker associations and a trail around the town and park featuring places, plants and other Hooker associations. The following text is unashamedly lifted from very informative Trail Leaflet produced and which will be launched in the town on 30th June, Hooker’s birthday.

Nepenthes x hookerianum- illustration by Anna Lu to be shown at the forthcoming botanical art exhibition in Halesworth

‘Joseph started attending his father’s botany lectures at Glasgow University at the age of seven! This stood him in good stead when he came to identify and record thousands of both new and known plants. To go on his first voyage of exploration circumnavigating the Antarctic he had to qualify as a medical doctor. He was also an accomplished amateur geologist, a geographer, meteorologist and cartographer, as well as a botanist. He was a skilled writer, artist and botanical illustrator, recording everything in his fascinating journals. He was able to measure and record air pressure, humidity and altitude, and to estimate the heights of mountains so accurately that his mapping of the Himalayas is the basis for all modern maps of the area.

An illustration from Hooker’s ‘Botany of the Antarctic Voyage’

He travelled on foot, sometimes barefoot when it was slippery. In India and Sikkim he travelled by elephant, pony and boat. He endured many biting insects and leeches, and braved man-eating tigers and crocodiles, as well as suffering altitude sickness. As is evident from his Himalayan Journals, he needed to be an intrepid walker and climber.

‘I staid at 13000ft very much on purpose to collect there seeds of the Rhododendrons & with cold fingers it was not very easy…. Botanizing, during the march is difficult. Sometimes the jungle is so dense that you have enough to do to keep hat & spectacles in company, or it is precipitous …. one often progresses spread- eagle fashion against the cliff, for some distance, & crosses narrow planks over profound Abysses, with no hand-hold whatever.’

His collection of thousands of plants, now carefully preserved at Kew, together with his studies of plant distribution linked to altitude, climate and isolation on the many islands he visited, was of significant importance to Darwin, with whom he corresponded regularly.

Rhododendron argenteum

Joseph Hooker, although he was eight years younger, was a close friend of Charles Darwin. They had met fleetingly when Hooker was 21 and was preparing for a long expedition on HMS Erebus as assistant surgeon. When Hooker returned in 1843, Darwin wrote welcoming him back, urging him to compare the flora of the different regions he had visited. Hooker drafted a paper showing the striking similarities in the plants across the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. This was a long time before continental drift had been mooted. Darwin was impressed. So began a close friendship, with Hooker helping Darwin with his botanical collection. As Hooker was preparing for his expedition to the Himalayas in 1847, Darwin wrote:

‘Farewell! What a good thing is community of tastes! I feel as if I had known you for fifty years….’

Hooker knew that Darwin had spent many years collecting material in support of his theory of natural selection, and that Darwin had been devastated when he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 coming up with the same idea. Hooker and Thomas Henry Huxley persuaded Darwin to publish a paper alongside Wallace’s setting out the theory. That done, Darwin rapidly finished On the Origin of Species, which he had been preparing for so many years. It was printed the following year.  Their friendship ranged from science to domestic matters. In 1862 Hooker wrote to Darwin asking if his wife could recommend a good cook but she must be beyond the ‘the age of flirtation’. Darwin noted what a pity it was that natural selection had not produced ‘neuters’ who would neither flirt nor marry. After Darwin’s death in 1882, Hooker successfully lobbied for Darwin to be buried in Westminster Abbey and was one of the pall bearers at the funeral.

Joseph Dalton Hooker in later years

William and Joseph Hooker (father and son) were Directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew – William from 1840 to 1865 and Joseph from 1865 to 1885, nearly half a century between them. They were both keen plant collectors and highly accomplished artists. From 1806 to 1820 the family lived in Halesworth, where Joseph was born in 1817.

Sir William Jackson Hooker was originally from Norwich and came to Halesworth in 1806 when he had invested in a Halesworth brewing business. He was given a house here and a management position. There are still imposing maltings in the town such as those that now house The Cut and Kings Motors. The Cut Arts Centre retains the barley hopper in the Malt Room Art Gallery. William’s maltings remained in operation until the 1960s. However, he never had his heart in this enterprise and preferred to roam the countryside in search of wild flowers or, nearer to home, to cultivate orchids in his own hot-house. It was the age of the amateur naturalist and collector, and William and later his son Joseph were among the greatest in this country.

Sir William was able to become Professor of Botany in the University of Glasgow without any scientific qualifications because of his specialist knowledge picked up in the field and his published work.

At the University he was paid to give lectures to those studying medicine because most remedies were plant based. He built up a high reputation, producing many important illustrated reference books. As a result he was made the first Director of the Botanic Gardens at Kew. As Director, William increased the size of the Gardens to 300 acres and set up a library, a Museum of Economic Botany and a herbarium, as well as the remarkable Palm and Temperate Houses.

The Palm House, Kew

He used his links with the royal family to good effect and raised significant funding to develop the Botanic Gardens at Kew. Both he and Joseph were outstanding networkers who knew everyone important and used these contacts effectively to leverage what they wanted in the interests of botany and the Botanic Gardens. They also encouraged many other important plant collectors and William, with wealthy patronage, established a superb Arboretum. William’s only regret was probably not being able to travel more. His early expedition to Iceland was his only major scientific journey. He encouraged his son, Joseph Dalton Hooker, who went as assistant surgeon and botanist on a four-year expedition circumnavigating the South Pole and visiting New Zealand and Tasmania. To be accepted for the voyage Joseph had to get a medical degree.

Later, he collected in India, the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet, Morocco, the Atlas Mountains, Palestine and Syria, as well as undertaking an 8,000 mile journey across the USA. In the Himalayas he climbed Donkia mountain, which at 19,300 ft was the highest that anyone had ever reached at that time. On his travels he collected 25 new species of rhododendron, many magnolias, including Magnolia campbellii, and thousands of other specimens.

Rhododendrons at Heligan, Cornwall, grown from seed provided from Hooker’s travels

Joseph’s 150-year-old plant collection is currently helping in the reintroduction of original species to the Falkland Islands. The Hookers’ collections (Herbaria) consist of many thousands of plants at Kew and are highly prized.

As well as succeeding his father as Director of Kew Gardens, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was awarded the Order of Merit, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, Companion of the Order of the Bath and the Presidency of the Royal Society. In 1858 George Bentham published his Handbook of the British Flora while working with Hooker at Kew. When Bentham died he left the Flora to Hooker, who edited the later editions. These, known as ‘Bentham and Hooker’, were used by university students for the next hundred years.’

2011 stamp issue to mark the 100th anniversary of Hooker’s death

Plants in Halesworth associated with Hooker:

  • Allium hookeri – small white allium

  • Crinodendron hookerianum – Chile lantern tree, evergreen climbing shrub

  • Deutzia hookeriana – scented shrub with white and pink flowers

  • Himalayacalamus hookerianus – blue bamboo

  • Inula hookeri – yellow daisy-like perennial

  • Iris hookeri – small blue iris

  • Polygonatum hookeri – creeping alpine with pink flowers

  • Rhododendrons (Sikkim) – Hooker was influential in starting the Victorians’ rhododendron mania by bringing back over 25 species

  • Salix hookeri – dune willow

  • Sarcococca hookeriana – sweet scented winter box

If you’re able to visit Halesworth on 30th June you are in for a horticultural treat as the Hooker Trail is launched. There’s also going to be a special exhibition of botanical art (from 1st July). For that matter, I’d recommend visiting the town at any time as it’s a wonderful example of local people playing a hands on role in creating a vibrant and beautiful community.

Hooker’s grave in the churchyard of St. Anne’s, Kew

Further information:

Joseph Dalton Hooker

Halesworth Exhibition of Botanical Art

The Hooker bicentenery in Halesworth

Halesworth in Bloom- the Hooker Trail

Old School Gardener

 

Green Flag bandstand flagI’ve been a Green Flag judge for a few years now – I judged six parks and green spaces this year, including Eaton Park in Norwich (see picture below). I recently attended a ‘Debriefing’ session to hear how this year’s judging went .

Eaton Park, Norwich

The scheme- which promotes good standards in public parks and gardens- celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year and I and fellow judges were told how the scheme continues to grow in its reputation and reach; this years aw spaces in several continental countries being inspected for the first time as well as increased numbers of both applications and successful awards across the UK.

The scheme, managed by Keep Britain Tidy, saw 1,686 parks, cemeteries, universities, shopping centres and community gardens meeting the high standard needed to receive the Green Flag Award or Green Flag Community Award, the quality marks for parks and green spaces.

And this year, for the first time ever, an NHS hospital – The Royal Bournemouth NHS Foundation Trust – has achieved the Green Flag Award standard, joining recipients Blue Water Shopping Centre in Kent and Peak Forest Canal in Whaley Bridge.

The Green Flag Award judges- there are more than 700 – volunteer their time to visit applicant sites and assess them against eight strict criteria, including horticultural standards, cleanliness, sustainability and community involvement.

SkeltonGrangepond_headerWe heard how a university grounds in Finland was the first space to be judged there this year and how more are expected to apply in 2017. We also heard about judging experiences in Ireland and a first judging for a length of Canal. This year’s awards went to the following areas:

I and my fellow judges were delighted to receive a specially inscribed copy of  ‘Great British Parks’ by Paul Rabbitts as a ‘thank you’ from the organisers. The next round of applications is now open; find out more here.

Old School Gardener

 

Victoria_park_fountain_1Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, London, has beaten off stiff competition to be crowned the nation’s favourite park in this year’s prestigious People’s Choice Award, with a record breaking 32,694 votes being cast.

In second place was Mote Park, in Maidstone, Kent and in third place was Margam Park, in Neath, South Wales.

In the vote, organised by the Green Flag Award Scheme, which presents Green Flag status to the best open spaces in the country, Victoria Park came out on top against a staggering 1,482 parks and green spaces in the annual poll. The park has won the Green Flag Award on four occasions.

Victoria Park, now a two time winner of the People’s Choice Award, and also runner up in 2013, is London’s oldest and most important historic parks, visited by millions of Londoners for nearly 170 years.

The park is the largest in Tower Hamlets at 86.18 hectares in area and has one of the highest visitor numbers of all the London parks with around 12 million visits per year.

The Park proposed in 1841

The Park proposed in 1841

Wikipedia offers some interesting facts on the Park’s history….

The original Park was laid out by notable London planner and architect Sir James Pennethorne between 1842 and 1846. The land had originally been parkland, associated with the Bishop’s Palace, but by the mid-1800s had been spoiled by the extraction of gravel, and clay for bricks. It was opened to the public in 1845.he Bridge Association can be seen inside these alcoves. A Lido opened in 1936 and reopened in 1952 following damage during the Second World War; it was closed in 1986 and demolished in 1990. The bathing pond, unused for bathing since the 1930s, is now popular with anglers.

In the latter half of the 19th Century, Victoria Park became an essential amenity for the working classes of the East End. For some East End children in the 1880s, this may have been the only large stretch of uninterrupted greenery they ever encountered. Victoria Park’s reputation as the ‘People’s Park’ grew as it became a centre for political meetings and rallies of all types. Although any one could set up their own soapbox, the biggest crowds were usually drawn to ‘star’ socialist speakers such as William Morris and Annie Besant.

 This description by J. H. Rosney, correspondent for Harper’s Magazine (February 1888) evokes a scene:

‘On the big central lawn are scattered numerous groups, some of which are very closely packed. Almost all the religious sects of England and all the political and social parties are preaching their ideas and disputing […]

On this lawn the listener, as his fancy prompts him, may assist on Malthusianism, atheism, agnosticism, secularism, Calvinism, socialism, anarchism, Salvationism, Darwinism, and even, in exceptional cases, Swedenborgianism and Mormonism.  I once heard there a prophet, a man who professed to be inspired by the Holy Ghost; but this prophet ended by being locked up in an asylum, where he will have to convert the doctor before he can recover his liberty.’

The tradition of public speaking in the park continued until well after the Second World War, and was still later reflected in politically oriented rock concerts. And it is still not uncommon for marches or demonstrations to begin or end in Victoria Park. On 26th June 2014, a campaign to revive the Speakers’ Corner at Victoria Park was launched and a campaign to recreate the well-known tradition of free speech and debate in Hyde Park in East London’s Victoria Park was launched earlier this year.

VictoriaParkStitch2Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said:

“I am delighted Victoria Park has reclaimed its title as the UK’s best loved open space. It is our flagship park and a fantastic asset which is enjoyed by thousands of visitors and residents alike.”
Councillor Shafiqul Haque, cabinet member for culture, added: “The council works hard to ensure all parks and open spaces are maintained to an excellent standard and the borough has six Green Flag Award winning parks to be proud of. I would like to congratulate the parks team for their dedication and commitment as our parks provide essential recreation, play and leisure facilities.”

The park draws in more than 275,000 visitors a year to enjoy festivals and events which attract international superstars and boasts of a year round community programme. Facilities at the park include children’s play areas, boat hire, both summer and winter football pitches, cricket practice nets, bowling greens and tennis courts, as well as several sports clubs.

Three and a half billion visits are made to parks every year across the UK and they are vital part of communities. The Green Flag Award is a way that the public can be assured they are visiting a clean and well managed green space.

Victoria_Park_London,_West_Lake_Panorama_2013

The People’s Choice Top 10 and votes cast were:

1. Victoria Park  (London Borough of Tower Hamlets,England) 13212
2. Mote Park (Maidstone Borough Council, England) 3689
3. Margam Park (Port Talbot County Borough Council, Wales) 3640
4. Cassiobury Park (Watford Borough Council, England) 1695
5. Kings Park (Bassetlaw District Council, England) 1627
6. Whiteknights (University of Reading, England) 1565
7. Bute Park (The City of Cardiff Council, Wales) 687
8. Clissold Park (London Borough of Hackney, England) 642
9. Valentines Park (Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure Ltd, England) 618
10. Millennium Country Park (Marston Vale Trust, England) 464

Old School Gardener

HACO

Help pick the UK’s favourite park in an online vote. A record breaking 1482 parks and green spaces this year received a Green Flag Award and people are now urged to vote for their favourite. The annual People’s Choice Award is now open – giving the public the power to decide which one of the 1482 Green Flag Award sites should be named Park of the Year in an online vote.

To vote:
• Visit www.greenflagaward.org
• Select your country/region on the interactive map
• Find your favourite park or green space
• Click the ‘vote for this site’ button

Paul Todd, Green Flag Award Scheme manager, said:

“Following a record breaking year for the Green Flag Award we are now asking the public to decide which of the 1482 parks and green spaces deserves the coveted People’s Choice Award 2014.”

The vote will close at noon on 30 September and the winner of the 2014 People’s Choice will be announced on 16 October.

Green Flag Award home page

The Green Flag Award was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the UK’s best green spaces. It is the standard for parks and recognises well-managed, high-quality sites that meet the needs of the community.

All Green Flag Award winning parks and green spaces are entered into the annual People’s Choice Award vote, which last year saw thousands of votes recorded and resulted in the crowning of Margam Park in Neath Port Talbot as the People’s Choice.

Old School Gardener

MartineauGardens_homepage

The Green Flag Award® scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. It was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country.

The first awards were given in 1997 and, many years later, it continues to provide the benchmark against which our parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a benchmark of excellence in recreational green areas.

Entries for the Green Flag Award® are open to parks/green spaces located in the UK. We are also currently piloting the scheme in The Netherlands and Germany.

To apply go to Green Flag Award website

 

Old School Gardener

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