Botanic Gorgeousness Journal: Plant Hunters
Some things just catch you don’t they?
They snare your imagination and you are caught, like a firefly in a jar.
And we’re all suckers for different things.
You’ll have your own temptations that set your gorgeousness ablaze.
I have mine.
One of my definite irresistibilites are stories; gypsy stories, peasant stories, fairy stories and old folklore and histories.
Dangle a story of old before me, and I’ll be putty in ya hand!
Jonyth is a hot-house of history. Like a cinema projector, she conjured up (in my mind) the days when this place was the Royal Chest Hospital.
I learned about how New Zealand Garden was once the tennis courts and croquet ground for hospital staff …
I found out that the wall that runs between the Palm Garden and the Edulis Courtyard was built to separate the male and female patients (although some patients went to great – and comical – lengths to overcome this barrier …
I discovered all sorts of deliciousness and it had me rolling around like a pollen drunk bumble bee, blissfully immersed in a whole different time of history.
Meanwhile, behind my very serious frown of concentration and scribbling pen, my imagination was wild with realisations of how these fruitful tales could be woven into the VBG Adult Colouring book visuals.
Trying to visualise the grounds of the hospital, I asked Jonyth, “Which trees were here during those days?”
“The fig tree,” she replied, “and also the five tallest palms in the palm garden. These had been given to Queen Victoria by Robert Fortune and she donated them to the gardens.”
I frowned. “Robert Fortune?”
She looked surprised. “He was a famous plant hunter and those palms are the oldest of their kind in the UK.”
And that was it.
I’d been snared.
Total and utter seduction.
Following the meeting with Jonyth, I came home and sitting at the sunny kitchen table, continued with my drawings.
As I did, I listened to everything that I could about the plant hunters of the 18th century.
Whilst my body remained here – in England in 2016 – and my pencil remained firmly on the page, my imagination was taken to remote islands and wild, ferocious terrains.
I travelled in the knapsacks of famous plant hunters who faced disease, starvation, dehydration and all sorts of misfortune, to bring back new species of plants (both ornamental and medicinal) from far flung places on earth.
Then I dug a little deeper into Robert Fortune.
Scottish born, Fortune was a botanist and traveller who brought back exotic plants for British royals and aristocracy. Between 1848-1851, Fortune stayed in China, disguised as a Chinese merchant and performed the ultimate 007 mission. Commisioned by the East India Company to commit corporate espionage, he travelled into forbidden, remote areas of the Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces, stole tea secrets and purchased tea plants illegally from the Chinese.
Using tiny, portable greenhouses (called Wardian cases) Fortune successfully introduced 20,000 tea plants to Darjeeling in India. Many of these tea plants perished but the knowledge that Fortune brought, along with a few Chinese tea workers, allowed the Indian (and British) tea Industry to flourish.
I was just blown away by this story.
Now the idea of plant hunters has coiled its tendrils right into my waking hours.
It’s made me think a lot about how, 150 years ago, nature was so unexplored, unspoilt, untouched.
These plant hunters went out and were the bridge between the western “civilised world” and primitive tribes and wild-lands.
Were they really these Indiana Jones style explorers that could be painted so romantically?
I started to think about plants and the botanical world and how we take for granted so much of what it has done for medicine and the beauty of the gardens we cultivate each day.
It’s made me totally readjust my position to how I see plants …
and also something else that is so infused into our culture
that you’d never even think to accuse it of foul play … let alone explore its dark and corrupted history.
What is this thing?
You wouldn’t believe the story I’ve got to tell you about this innocent beverage that has infused the British Empire for so long.
That will have to wait as my deadline for the VBG Adult Colouring Book is coming up faster than wildfire and I’ve got to get back to my kitchen table.
What is going on in your neck of the woods?
Has Spring sunken her colour into your bones?
I really hope that the sun is shining and the world is good wherever you are at this time!
See you soon!