How Orchids became a Librarian’s Nightmare

Renanthera coccinea, the first orchid in Bateman’ collection.
photo from Flickr by Luiz Filipe Varella, 2017

It maybe a strange title but this is really the story of a rich young man and his passion for plants or rather one particular kind of plant.  James Bateman was the grandson and son of rich industrialists who had made their money out of  steam power, coal and iron. They owned mills and mines before moving into banks and land. All this meant  James did not have to lift a finger to be, and stay, rich, and that he could indulge his love of  plants.

His parents were keen gardeners at their home, Knypersley Hall in Staffordshire and even as a student at Oxford James was collecting and learning about plants. In particular he visited the nursery there of Thomas Fairburn who had been gardener to Joseph Banks. Fairburn introduced him to orchids:

“Of course, I fell in love at first sight, and as Mr. Fairburn asked only a guinea for his plant (high prices not yet in vogue), it soon changed hands and travelled with me to Knypersley, when the Christmas holidays began. I had caught my first orchid….”

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Visiting a Duke 18thc style…

At the end of last year I wrote  about the travel journals of John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington. His diaries are, unlike most 18thc published writing, quite informal in style , probably because he  had no intention of putting his thoughts into print.  Whereas most of his contemporaries write of  the almost constant wars that form the background to this period or the political situation of the days, Byng  virtually  ignores such mundane matters.

John Byng by Ozias Humphry, 1796 from The Torrington Diaries

Instead he concentrates on  the English countryside and its people, enjoying himself as an interested observer of little details.  He describes the buildings, gardens  and landscapes he visited, and the people of all kinds  he met, and not always in the most flattering way.   Take for example his visits on what he called “A Tour in the Midlands” in 1789….


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Arundel Castle and the Collector Earl’s Garden

DM June 2018

I’ve been meaning to write about the gardens of Arundel Castle since I visited last summer with friends from  the Birkbeck Garden History Group and discovered the new[ish] Collector Earl’s Garden with [amongst other things]   Oberon’s Palace, a floating crown, and an amazing stumpery. I added it to the long list of possible future posts but something else always got in the way.  However, my memory was jogged sharply when I discovered an account of the castle’s grounds – rather less than flattering – by John Claudius Loudon in 1829.

The main question now is whether to start with the good or the bad review…

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Austin & Seeley

Many months ago I posted several pieces tracing the story of  Eleanor Coade and her artificial stone,  which ornamented  elite buildings and gardens in the later 18thc. A later post looked at the work of Mark Blanchard and John Blashfield  two of her successor companies, and today is a look at yet another: Felix Austin, who was much admired by John Claudius Loudon.

As is so often the case very little is accurately known about Austin or his story, but what is clear is that after an independent start  he went  into partnership with John Seeley and their company, Austin & Seeley, became one of the leaders in the field of architectural and garden ornaments by the mid-19th century supplying every one from the middle classes to Queen Victoria herself.

from Select Specimens of Austin and Seeley’s Works in Artificial Stone, June 1841

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Gardens through the letterbox…

A brightly coloured old postcard on a market stall caught my eye the other day , and it turned out to be one of a series of “Famous Old Gardens” produced sometime in the very early 20thc by the firm of Raphael Tuck.

detail from a card of Drummond Castle

This series of cards are all in a very distinctive style, so I decided to track down Mr Tuck and more of his garden postcards to see if  they’d make some light reading for the Saturday morning breakfast table, and indeed they do!

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