The Passion of Mary Lawrance

detail of Passiflora serrafolia 

Last week’s post was about the first box I opened from my trolley in the rare Books room of the British Library a couple of weeks back: Mary Lawrence’s Book of Roses. Today’s post is about the second box, which turned out to be a very appropriate choice for Easter week.

Inside the archival box was a slim folio-sized volume with George III’s crest embossed in gold on  the green leather cover.  Turning the first leaves there was  the library stamp of Sir Joseph Banks….

…and facing it a hand-coloured engraving of Passiflora serrafolia or the Notched-leaved Passion flower. Even a cursory glance through A Collection of Passion Flowers made me want to know more.

[All the images are from the BL copy unless otherwise stated]

detail from Passiflora caerulea, the common Passion Flower

Lots of plants have Christian  symbolism, even if they’re not mentioned in the Bible, and one of the enduring talents of missionaries, whether they were with a conquering army or on a proselytising campaign, was to  adapt whatever they found, wherever they were, to illustrate their stories and to provide  evidence for their arguments.

The passion flower is probably the best example of that.  As the Spanish subjugated central and south America, thanks to its extraordinary structure,  it quickly became the symbol of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion all round the world.

 

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A Maiden’s Blush: the first book of Roses

detail of Rosa centifolia, the Bishop Rose

The British Library Rare Books room is not usually the place where people get over-excited, but occasionally there are Eureka moments. Sometimes they’re the result of long patient reference checking when you realise your original hypothesis is true, or ploughing through vast tomes for a good quote to prove a point or grab a reader’s attention and   sometimes they are simply serendipity. Today’s post is one such.

Rosa pendulina, or the Rose without thorns

Following a discussiion in one of the clkasses I teach, I had an idea for a worthy post on how and why women became widely involved in botany in the late 18thc and thought I’d call up a selection of books and magazines by women from the period to see if I could find anything interesting to write about.  They included a couple by an artist named Mary Lawrance who I thought, to judge from her brief Wikipedia entry might be interesting but probably wasn’t going to set the world on fire. See what you think?

Rosa gallica, red officinal rose

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Mechanical Landscapes: The Eidophusikon

detail from a sketch of the Eidophusikon by Edward Burney, British Museum

Last weekend I went to see a modern version of something that in 1776  gripped London like a fever.  But rather than a  medical crisis it was an all-embracing visual  experience: a series of stories that involved  landscape… & not static views of the countryside  rather landscape that moved.

The story begins with the staging by the Swiss father and son team Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz,  of their Spectacle mechanique in Covent Garden.  Originally  watchmakers they had branched out into building other mechanical devices and then travelled Europe exhibiting 4 pieces of their work.   It was to inspire a Frenchman living  and working in London  to develop of one of the strangest of many strange 18thc inventions: the Eidophusikon.

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A Walk Around the World

The first modern public sign of Biddulph’s importance was when it was chosen as the garden to represent the 19thc on commemorative stamps in 1983

Last week’s post on the Geological Gallery at Biddulph was, I hope, something of an insight in to the mindset of James Bateman its creator in the mid-19thc.  Today’s is designed to look at the gardens he created there, partly because both he and his wife were passionate about plants but partly as  a reinforcement of his belief in a divine creator or as modern parlance would have it, an intelligent designer.

photo by Edward Moss

Biddulph  was intended to reveal not just the variety of creation across the globe but also its variety through time. The Batemans reshaped the landscape  to suggest the geological processes which had formed the plants native environments, and then presented the earth’s story from the days of Creation – using fossilised tree ferns in the garden for example – to the rise of the civilizations of Egypt, China and western Europe.

One of the main reasons this was possible was the Wardian case, which, because it allowed live plants to be carried safely and securely on long sea voyages,  had opened up the world to western plant collectors.  Working with Edward Cooke, the Batemans turned 15 acres [6 hectares] of poor quality land  into a showcase for this vast range of newly introduced plants. The result was an extraordinary complicated confection of spaces and planting that defies any simple description. Continue reading

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Orchids, Ferns, Fossils and the Great Flood

We often hear that grand gardens cost money: it’s as true as the old cliché which says “money talks.” But there is a world of difference between a grand garden and a great one.  Great gardens develop when that money meets vision, enthusiasm, knowledge – and a gardener. In the garden I’m going to talk about today and next week there was plenty of all those elements plus a great deal of persistence and more latterly of luck.

Sea Horse Roof finial             National Trust

It is a very special place in many senses and when I was thinking about how to begin describing it here I recalled what John Sales, the former head of gardens for the National Trust said about his first visit in the mid-1970s. “I was totally overwhelmed – in turns amazed, intrigued, excited, baffled and lost in the mixture of styles, moods and plants… here was something entirely different.”

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