The Prince and the Tomato

La Bourdaisière is just one  small chateau  in the Loire Valley among dozens and dozens of others.  It sits on a rise dominating its immediate surroundings, and in the middle of its parc classé [the equivalent of a registered historic park in Britain] and a 90 hectare estate.  In itself that does not mark it out much from the other chateaux in the region. Its history is, like its architecture, nothing particularly special.  Yet it is has become a remarkable place for one reason and that is its large kitchen garden,  and what now goes on inside its walls.  And that’s all down to a Prince and his tomatoes…

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The Harcourt Arboretum or how to become a millionaire by growing pine trees

In the Harcourt Arboretum

I’m at the Gardens Trust conference in Oxford this weekend and thought it would be nice to blog about something related to our proceedings.  So I obtained an advance copy of the conference brochure which is, as always, packed with first-class background information on the sites we are visiting and the things we’re hearing about.  Unfortunately for me every subject I had vaguely thought would be interesting to write about was already well covered by others far more knowledgable than me, but, since we are to due to visit the Oxford University’s Harcourt Arboretum I thought I could get away with a general background piece on the history of arboretums.

Then I noticed that the University Arboretum had been started in 1835 when Archbishop Harcourt commissioned  William Sawrey Gilpin to design a pinetum for his growing collection of conifers, which were newly fashionable.  So instead I decided to be a bit more specific and investigate when and where  this craze for conifers began : in other words to investigate the history of the pinetum.

After a few minutes of looking through early 19thc gardening books and magazines I saw another reference and serendipity  kicked in…

All images come from the website of the Harcourt Arboretum unless otherwise stated.

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The perfect monastic garden?

Happy St Fiacre’s Day!   [and if you don’t know who he is click on the link! ] which makes it a very  appropriate day for  today’s post which is all about this rather dull looking image on the right.

It might not look much at first glance, just lots of  red ink lines and some brown lettering on five pieces of parchment sewn together to make a single large sheet  [113cm x 78 cm or 45 x 31 inches]. However,  the plan of the buildings and gardens of the  abbey at St Gall in Switzerland is almost 1200 years old making it the  only major architectural drawing to survive from the end of the Roman Empire in the West until the  13th century.

Used in association with other contemporary documentary sources  it offers a real insight into monastic gardens.

 

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“The Agreeable Occupation of Imitating Nature”

Today’s post is quite long but needs just a very short introduction…

What do the thousands of  white roses at Queen Victoria’s wedding have in common with mediaeval nuns, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s head,  what your great-aunt Agatha probably had on her mantelpiece…

…and this small metal box in the V&A?

Read on to find out!

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Burchell in Brazil

“Morenia Pöppigiana”
from von Martius Historia naturalis palmarum [1824-1850]

Two recent posts have looked at the plant collecting and travels of William Burchell in  St Helena and his more famous trek across South Africa.  Today’s looks at the rest of his long life and especially his long plant hunting  trip to Brazil.

Burchell had returned to Britain from South Africa in 1815 still aged only 35 and was feted by all the leading botanists of the day, including William Hooker, then the first Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and later the first director of Kew.  He couldn’t have run the family nursery, even had he wanted to, because his father had leased the land and business to another nurseryman. What was he to do?

It took him ten years to decide, and it was to lead to another extraordinary journey and an even greater collection of botanical and natural history specimens than he had made in South Africa. The Dictionary of National Biography is laudatory:  “His work as a Naturalist has never been equalled … his objective, detailed annotation and brilliant appreciation of nature set science a goal seldom achieved.”

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