You can travel the world through the plants in our Gardens. By the early 1700s plants from five* different continents could be found growing in England.
Plants had been gathered and collected over time for their economic potential as crops or medicine, or for their rarefied beauty and shown off by the rich and powerful,or subject to scientific scrutiny.
While the time of the great 19th century plant hunters was still to come, the variety of plants, their very ‘exoticism’ was valued over and above more modest plants which might have been grown and used for centuries.
Today in the Gardens they all mix together, from little ‘weeds’ to flamboyant dragons. We are so used to some, we forget that their origins may be far, far away or from a long time ago.
Re-finding the wonder – and recognising our luck – that we are so entwined with, and dependent on, other places in the world is perhaps one of the humbling outcomes of the current crisis.
…. And the music?
In 1738 George Frederick Handel premiered his opera, Xerxes, in London.
As with many theatrical productions of the time the ‘idea’ of the countryside was shifting from that ‘uncivilised place’ which is dirty, smelly and dangerous, to being a pastoral idyll, a place of purity and innocence.
Handel – a German composer who spent most of his life in London – reworked an older Italian song by Cavalli and Bononcini. The opera is about the ancient King of Persia, Xerxes. Here the American countertenor, Christopher Lowrey sings, in Italian, with a group of musicians playing instruments made variously in Paris, the Netherlands, Florence and Germany.
Like our Garden…a composition made beautiful because the world comes together in it.
Maybe you will like the music too.
(feel free to donate to the musicians)
By the way, the character is singing the praises of a Plane tree (Platanus orientalis ) – No, I don’t think we have one ..
*Five continents not 7 in the Gardens. Westerners had not reached Australia by the 1760s, and Antarctica,was a bit harsh
“It is the bounden duty of those who have the smallest space to cultivate, to do so
intensively, that the brave may be fed and that the lifeline of the Atlantic be not unduly
To mark the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, Matthew Biggs looks into the origins and success of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign set up during WWII by the British Ministry of Agriculture.
Here below is his fascinating article sent from the Organic Gardening Catalogue
Click on the link to the catalogue to find the full article
The 75th Anniversary of Digging for Victory – ‘Fighting on the Homefront’
“At 11.15 on Sunday 3rd September 1939, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. With European ports closed, Britain’s supplies now had to come from across the Atlantic. But within hours, the Battle of the Atlantic also began, with the intention of starving Britain into submission.
In 1938, 55 million tons of food were imported by shipping and 90% of all onions from Europe – there was a vast chasm to fill. Now there was a war to be waged on the Home Front; the fight to feed the nation.
On 12th September 1939 a ‘leader’ in the London Evening Standard, by young journalist, Michael Foot, concluded with the phrase ‘Dig For Victory’. It rapidly became a rallying cry for all. There was an urgent need to educate the public and encourage them to ‘get gardening’.
The Royal Horticultural Society began lectures and demonstrations, a plethora of pamphlets, books and booklets were produced, Mr Middleton broadcast gardening advice on BBC radio at 2.00pm on Sunday afternoons and Lord Dedham, from the Ministry of Agriculture, announced the intention to create half a million allotments, raising the number to 1,330,000. All available land was to be used to feed the nation; stately home lawns, railway sidings, sports field’s, the moat at the Tower of London, lawns in front of the Albert Memorial, even a bomb crater in the grounds of Westminster Cathedral where all turned over to vegetables.
Everyone was encouraged to grow brassicas to replace vitamin rich citrus and bananas and to make their own compost heaps; the introduction of National Growmore in 1942 increased productivity in poorer conditions. They also began to wage war against another arch enemy – pests.
One vital crop was onions. In 1943, the Horticultural Committee of the Red Cross Agricultural Fund introduced a scheme to increase production by forming onion clubs of 12-20 members, who should aim to cultivate ¼ acre between them, to be sold to the NAAFI or Admiralty contractors, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross. If every allotment holder in the country gave 7lbs, 5 000 tons of onions would be produced.
Despite the pressures, an American Professor who visited England, in 1942 was astounded by the health of the people and at the end of the war, the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign deemed a success.
Growing your own is still the only way to capture the flavour, freshness and natural goodness that kept Britain fighting fit until VE day. Let’s celebrate ‘Dig for Victory’ once again. Growing your own fruit and veg has many benefits – from saving money, reducing food waste and your environmental impact, to improving your physical and mental health through gentle outdoor exercise.”
Matthew Biggs trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been a professional gardener for over forty years and is a regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. He has guested on numerous TV and Radio programs and has written books on a range of horticultural subjects from houseplants to vegetables.
a morning meditation piece
As steals the morn upon the night
And melts the shades away:
So Truth does Fancy’s charm dissolve
And rising Reason puts to flight
The fumes that did the mind involve
Restoring intellectual day.
Written and first performed in February 1740. So cold that February, apparently, that the theatre owners had to reassure their audience that there would be fires and blankets – just like here in the Gardens!
Another beautiful song that I’m sure must have been performed in the tranquil rural retreat of the Gardens.
G.F Handel’s oratorio: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (“The Cheerful, the Thoughtful, and the Moderate Man”) . Based on poems by Milton and Shakespeare’s verses from the Tempest
The pictures here are not our Gardens, but just imagine!
Mark Padmore – tenor Lucy Crowe – soprano The English Concert, Conductor – Andrew Manze Label: Harmonia Mundi, from the Album: “As Steals the Morn (Handel Arias & Scenes for tenor)”.
April 23rd is traditionally celebrated as the birth – and death – day of local lad, William Shakespeare.
It is also a saint’s day in the old calendar: St George’s Day.
St George, with his dragon slaying and masterful horseriding is a very popular saint- being a patron saint not just in England, but also Georgia, Ethiopia, Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia, Portugal, Brazil, Bulgaria and …….
Our multinational friends at REEP have yet again provided a whole shelf full of lovely games and puzzles to amuse us and those learning English through Gardening.
There are some lovely games and resources about plants mentioned by Shakespeare. Apparently he mentions 180 …I’ve just counted we have about 86 of the in the Gardens click here to go to their shelf of games
download some of the games on in pdf or online
If you take a walk along the top of the Upper Wilderness to the far end and gaze underneath the large Yew tree, you will see the tiny but perfectly formed Cyclamen hederifolium coming into flower. A mixture of pink and white, the tiny flowers appear before the foliage, which as its name suggests is ivy-shaped (‘hederifolium’ coming from the Latin ‘Hedera’ for ivy, ‘folium’ refering to the leave shape). The common name ‘ivy-leaved cyclamen’ is self-explanatory, but its other common name ‘sowbread’ intrigued me. A bit of research concluded that it comes from the fact that ‘The root resembled a loaf and pigs were believed to enjoy eating it’.1
This plant originates in the Mediterranean, and was introduced into Britain around 1596, so would have been available in the early 18th century when the gardens were at their peak.
After the flowers have been pollinated, the stem coils around to take the seed heads closer to the ground, forming interesting little corkscrews underneath the flowers that you can see if you look closely. The reason they do this is not clear, but a possible theory is that ants may distribute the seeds further from the parent plant. All in all, a very interesting plant that is worth a closer look!
1. Campbell-Culver, M. 2001. Origins of plants: the people and the plants that shaped Britain. London: Headline Book Publishing.