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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

 

PicPost: Ghoulishious

‘Ghost Rider’ via Kew Gardens

alnwick poison garden sign There are many plants that can cause you harm, particularly from the sap or if they are eaten. At Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland a Poison Garden contains quite a few of these – and several had to have their own special licence from the Home Office to be on show! Many plants have medicinal qualities of course (and some otherwise poisonous ones are used in medicines- Foxgloves and Yew, for example). But there is a fascination with the dangerous ones. As the creator of the Poison Garden, the Duchess of Northumberland, says:

‘I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill… I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be.’

alnwick poison garden

Pretty but poisonous- part of the Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens

The garden contains over 100 plants with varying degrees of deadliness. It’s difficult to tell if a plant is harmful from it’s look, as some are beautiful while others look pretty harmless. Many of the plants grown in the Poison Garden are easily recognised as common to the back garden; Foxgloves, Belladonna, Poppies, Laburnum and varieties of Aquilegia for example.

And the nasty things they can do to you are many and varied. Eczema is a chronic inflammation of the skin and causes itchiness. Sometimes this is caused because the victim has an allergy to a particular plant substance. However, serious poisoning from plants in the UK is relatively rare and many plants can be grown safely provided they are treated with respect (and usually wearing gloves).

Foxglove

Foxglove

Younger children under the age of six who are able to walk have an increased risk of poisoning, because they often put things in their mouth without realising they are harmful. Also, as their bodies are smaller they are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of certain substances.

Poisonous plants cause far less harm than might be expected. In ‘Accidental poisoning deaths in British children 1958-77’ (British Medical Journal), Neil C Fraser reports a total of 598 poisoning deaths of children under 10 years of age.

In the period covered only three deaths were attributed to plants.

Even this low number is overstated – one death was due to eating fungi and in another of the three cases eating the poisonous plant was doubted as the cause of death. In the one confirmed plant death Hemlock was the plant responsible.

The report makes it clear that medication, household cleaning materials and cosmetics pose a much higher risk than poison plants.

But illness, injury or irritation can of course be more frequent unless care is taken. The following is a list of some common ornamental plants that are either poisonous and/or a skin/ eye irritant, so remember they should not be eaten and cover your skin for protection if handling them:

Acalypha – Aconitum – Actaea – Aglaonema – Alstroemeria – Anthurium – Arum – Asparagus – Calla palustris – Capsicum annum –  Chelidonium majus –  Chrysanthemum – Colocasia esculenta – Datura – Drancunculus – Euphorbia – Fremontodendron – Helleborus – Heracleum mantegazzianum – Iris – Laburnum – Narcissus – Phytolacca – Primula obconcica – Solanum pseudocapsicum – Spathphyllum –  Tulipa –  Zantedeschia

aconitum

Aconitum (‘Monkshood’)

cuckoopint arum

Arum (‘Cuckoopint’)

Bearded Iris Raspberry Blush

Iris

lily of the valley

Lily of the Valley

More examples of poisonous plants can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society’s and other websites listed below. If you think you or someone else has eaten part of a harmful plant, seek medical advice from a hospital Accident and Emergency Department immediately, taking a sample of the plant with you. Do not try to make the person sick. Likewise if a pet has consumed something you suspect is poisonous seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

Sources and further information:

‘Poisonous plants to be wary of‘- Martyn Davey, Eastern Daily Press, March 16th 2013

Alnwick Poison Garden website

Wikipedia- List of poisonous plants

The Poison Garden website- lots of useful information

Botanical.com- index of poisonous plants

Livescience- 10 most common poisonous plants

Realgardeners- list of poisonous plants with images

NHS- plant dangers in the garden and countryside

RHS- potentially harmful garden plants

Garden Safety- pretty but poisonous plants

RHS Wisley– to seek information about plant poisons (tel. 0845 260 8000- 10am-12.30pm and 1.30pm – 4pm)

Kew gardens – plant poisons information (tel. 020 8332 5792 9am-5pm) General, non urgent inquiries about poisonous pants can be emailed to ceb-enq@kew.org

Old School Gardener

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Crocus 'Jeanne d'Arc'

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

In the wild, Crocus vernus begins to flower as the snow melts in the mountains of Europe. It is native to the Mediterranean from the Pyrenees in the west to the Ukraine in the east, and south as far as Sicily and the Balkans. This spicy herald of spring has a history dating back thousands of years.

Crocus (plural: crocuses, croci) is part of the Iris family and consists of around 90 species. They are perennials, growing from corms. Cultivated mainly for their flowers which appear in autumn, winter, or spring, Crocuses are also cultivated and harvested for Saffron– the spice obtained from the flower’s anthers. This practice was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete.  Saffron’s bitter taste and hay-like fragrance is complimented by its rich golden-yellow hue, used to colour food and textiles.It has been  traded and used for over four thousand years. Iran now accounts for approximately 90 percent of the world production of Saffron. Because each flower’s anthers need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

The name Crocus is derived from the Greek (krokos), which in turn is probably derived from a Semitic or Sanskrit word, which mean saffron or saffron yellow. Over the years the classification of Crocus species has been revised several times, the division of the many species challenging botanists because of the range of characteristics that are available for scrutiny. Some of the species are:

C. aureus = goldencrocus

C. biflorus = two – flowered – the ‘Scotch Crocus’

C. chrysanthus = golden – flowered

C. minimus = smallest

C. nudiflorus = naked flowered

C. ochroleucus = yellowish – white

C. sativus = The Saffron Crocus

C. sieberi = after Sieber, a botanist

C. susianus = from Susa, Persia

C. vernus = spring flowering- the Dutch or Spring Crocuses are derived from this species

C. versicolour = changing or varied colour

The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador who sent a few corms to the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, new garden varieties had been developed. Some species, known as “autumn crocus”, flower in late summer and autumn, often before their leaves appear. They should not be confused with Colchicum, a different genus of autumn – flowering plants.

crocus carpetAt the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in 1987, Reader’s Digest sponsored the planting of 1.6 million corms of cultivated Dutch crocus for their 50th anniversary. A further 750,000 corms of C. vernus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and C. vernus ‘Purpureus grandiflorus’ have been planted since – a visit to Kew to see this ‘Crocus Carpet’ is a must.

Sources and further information:

Wikipedia

The Alpine House – information

National Crocus collection – Wisley

A crocus planter

Crocus carpet at Kew

Saffron

Pacific Bulb Society

Old School Gardener

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PIC00019

‘The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to as Kew Gardens, comprises 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond and Kew in southwest London, England. “The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew” and the brand name “Kew” are also used as umbrella terms for the institution that runs both the gardens at Kew and Wakehurst Place gardens in Sussex.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew… is an internationally important botanical research and education institution with 700 staff and an income of £56 million for the year ended 31 March 2008, as well as a visitor attraction receiving almost two million visits in that year. Created in 1759, the gardens celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2009.

The Gardens.. contain the world’s largest collection of living plants… The living collections inlcude more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is one of the largest in the world, has over seven million preserved plant specimens. The library contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. The Kew site includes four Grade I listd buildings and 36 Grade II listed structures in an internationally significant landscape.’

Source : Wikipedia

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