Tag Archives: Botany

Springtime in Special Collections

The arrival of spring and the emergence of spring flowers (despite the weather), presents an excellent opportunity to highlight the botanical and garden-related books in Special Collections. There is a wealth of information on plants, natural and cultivated, and, whether you want to know the healing properties of a particular plant, which wild flowers are native to Hampshire, or how to design your garden, the answer can generally be found in Special Collections.

Detail of a daffodil from The Botanical Magazine v.1 (1787) Rare Books per Q

The Salisbury Collection contains many 19th-century regional floras, originally collected by Sir Edward Salisbury, a former Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. This material is supplemented by botanical books owned by Walter Frank Perkins, who is better known for his agricultural collection. Lists of local flora, past and present, can be found in the Cope Collection, and in the Rare Books Collection there are examples of 17th and 18th century herbals. Books on the practicalities of gardening and garden design feature in the Perkins Agricultural Library, the Hampshire Gardens Trust Library and amongst the books presented by the Southampton and District Gardeners’ Society.

The range of publications reveals the changing interest in plants and their uses. Herbals arose from the need to identify plants for medicinal and culinary purposes, medieval herbals being derived from those of ancient Greece. By the 16th century, herbals were based on studies of living plants, leading to more accurate descriptions and illustrations. John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum (1640) described over 3,800 plants and was used by apothecaries well into the next century.

The Black Hellebore, used to treat dropsy and jaundice, from John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum (1640) Rare Books quarto QK 77.P (in box)

The 18th century passion for ordering the natural world brought a greater emphasis on recording plants, with local floras listing plants of a particular area and thus contributing to the wider botanical record. Whilst most floras were not illustrated, in his Flora Londinensis, the botanist William Curtis set out to produce a lavish record of the wild flowers growing within a ten-mile radius of London. Each of the six fasciculi published between 1775 and 1798 had seventy-two hand-coloured plates, but despite the quality of the work, the publication proved a financial failure, with public interest in the native flora giving way to a passion for newly imported exotic plants, an essential feature of the fashionable garden.

The Wild Hyacinth or Bluebell from William Curtis’s Flora Londiniensis v.2 (1798) Rare Books folio QK 306.L6

Curtis’s attempt to appeal to this new market was The Botanical Magazine. This first appeared in 1787 and was an immediate success, having over 3,000 subscribers, in contrast to the 300 who subscribed to Flora Londinensis. Much of the success was due to the beauty and the scientific accuracy of the illustrations, the artists working from specimens of plants in Curtis’s own botanical garden. Other books intended for the same market were the  Botanists’ Repository (1797) and New Flora Britannica (1812).

Primula and Paeony from Sydenham Edwards’ New Flora Britannica v. (1812) Rare Books quarto QK 306

As well as descriptions and illustrations of individual plants, there are books of botanical dialogue – a form of botanical instruction, usually between adult and child, and examples of calendars of floras which record dates of ‘leafing and flowering’ of plants, as seen in the observations extracted from the writings of Gilbert White and published as A Naturalists’ Calendar (1795). On a practical level there are gardening calendars which take the familiar form of listing tasks to be undertaken each month. Generally intended for larger establishments, activities are divided into the areas of the Kitchen Garden, Fruit Garden, Flower Garden, Nursery and Hot House. Tasks for April include making hot beds for melons and cucumbers, removing pests from fruit trees by means of a ‘garden water engine’, screening hyacinths and tulips from the rain and forcing vines and peaches.

Design for a Knot Garden from The Country-man’s Recreation (1640) Rare Books Perkins SB 97

With the practicalities of cultivation covered, inspiration for creative garden design can be found in the some of the earlier gardening books and particularly in the books of the Hampshire Gardens Trust Library. This includes histories of garden design by period, country and genre, and has many beautifully illustrated books of the work of famous landscape designers.

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A passion for plants

This week we anticipate Earth Day 2017 with an environmental theme, and highlight some botanical items in the Special Collections at the University of Southampton.  These include printed herbals and floras, dried plant specimens, and a rare example of a 19th-century herbarium. Often charming and beautifully illustrated, they demonstrate that our interest in plants and their habitats is age-old. As a historical record, they have gained in significance over time: we now appreciate that there is a historical perspective to ecological change:

William Curtis, The Botanical Magazine, or Flower-Garden Displayed, vol. 4 p.297 (London 1795) Rare Books Per Q

The botanist William Curtis (1746-1799) brought out the first issue of his Botanical Magazine in 1787.  It was an immediate success with the ‘Ladies, Gentlemen and Gardeners’ for whom it was intended – there were over 3,000 subscribers.  It tapped into the public passion for newly imported exotic plants – an essential feature of the fashionable garden – and much of its success was due to the beauty and scientific accuracy of the illustrations.

W.H. Fitch and W.G. Smith Illustrations of the British Flora: a Series of Wood Engravings, with Dissections, of British Plants, 7th ed. (London, 1908) Rare Books QK 306

This volume was used by Althea Monck, who acquired it in 1909, to create a personal botanical record. The wood-engravings of the plants she observed have been hand-coloured with great delicacy and the date and location noted. The plants identified on these pages were seen at Ash Priors in Somerset and Crowthorne in Berkshire.

Hemp Agrimony, Eupatorium Cannabinum, collected at Shawford, near Winchester in July 1838, from vol. 7 of 8 volumes of a herbarium containing pressed flowers and plants collected and mounted by Emma Delmé Radcliffe, c.1837-52 MS 219 A819/7.

This is an example of hemp, found at Shawford in Hampshire in 1838, from a 19th-century herbarium.  There are eight surviving volumes of this herbarium – from an original eleven – which contain 839 specimens of pressed flowers and plants, gathered principally between 1837 and 1840, mainly from Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Hertfordshire, but with specimens from elsewhere in the south of England and occasional examples from Scotland and Ireland.

The volumes contain plants collected and mounted by Emma Delmé Radcliffe, née Waddington (?1811-1880), the daughter of John H.Waddington of Shawford House, near Winchester. In 1831 she married Frederick Peter Delmé Radcliffe of Hitchin Priory, Hertfordshire, which became her home – a sizeable minority of the specimens are from Hitchin and neighbourhood. Emma mounted these on single sheets of paper, giving their Linnaean class and order, their Latin names (according to the Natural system of classification) and common English names, together with a location and, in many cases, a date. The collection was arranged into volumes later in the nineteenth century, perhaps as late as the 1880s.

While almost all of the specimens were gathered by Mrs Delmé Radcliffe, a few came from other herbaria: detailed research by the late Pete Selby (Recorder for south Hampshire) demonstrated that a few of the Isle of Wight specimens bore the initials of Miss Georgina Elizabeth Kilderbee (1798-1868), who lived at Cowes, and who “features in Flora Vectensis (Bromfield, 1856) as the most prolific contributor of localised records after the author himself.” It seems that Emma and Georgina were cousins and friends who worked closely together on their collections.  While there are references to a Kilderbee Herbarium – this has not survived – and so Emma’s herbarium gives a tantalising glimpse of her cousin’s work as well as a record of botany in Hampshire over 150 years ago.

For more details about the herbarium visit: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/cataloguedatabases/webguidemss219.page

Earth Day 2017 is on Saturday 22nd April: http://www.earthday.org/