Day 26: Kew Gardens

Tuesday, July 21, 2015
We visited Kew Gardens today! Like the title declares!

Kew Gardens is located roughly 10 miles west of London proper (Westminster, the Tower Bridge, and such). We took the overground train from Waterloo to Richmond, and then the underground from Richmond back to Kew Gardens. Those 10 miles took 40 minutes to complete… something amazing for one who lives in small-town Indiana.

Google Maps 2015
Google Maps 2015

Right outside of the actual gardens is the Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives building.

Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives (via K. Emmons)
Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives (via K. Emmons)

We were lucky enough to hear a presentation on Beatrix Potter in relation to Kew’s Library given by Andrew Wilcher. He knew the man, Leslie Linder, who broke Beatrix Potter’s diary code!

Background: Beatrix Potter is famously known as the author of the Peter Rabbit books.

(via biblioimages.penguin.co.uk)
“Once upon a time there were four little rabbits…” (via biblioimages.penguin.co.uk)

She also had an intense fascination with fungi and other plants. She drew many illustrations, consulted with botanists at Kew Gardens, and even presented a scientific paper on the germination of spores to the Linnean Society in 1897, though her theories were dismissed. Now we recognize the truth to her findings.

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda), Beatrix Potter, 1888 (via peterrabbit.com)
Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda), Beatrix Potter, 1888 (via peterrabbit.com)
Fly Algaric (Amanita muscaria), painted by Beatrix Potter, 1897 (via peterrabbit.com, courtesy the National Trust)
Fly Algaric (Amanita muscaria), painted by Beatrix Potter, 1897 (via peterrabbit.com, courtesy the National Trust)

Beatrix Potter wrote in her journal using a completely made up language, though a simple letter for letter substitution. Leslie Linder broke this code and transcribed her journals in 1958.

A page from Beatrix Potter's journal, written in code (via scienceblogs.de)
A page from Beatrix Potter’s journal, written in code (via scienceblogs.de)

The key to cracking the code was the phrase “execution of Louis XVI in 1793.” She left XVI and 1793 in plain English for Linder to research! Isn’t that a bit of real-life spy fiction?

Spot Beatrix Potter's signature! (via K. Emmons)
Spot Beatrix Potter’s signature! (via K. Emmons)

The materials shown to us were no less amazing. Botanical texts are always popular because they often have beautifully colored illustrations. We all know that photographs weren’t available before the 19th Century, so accurately depicted plants in books were essential for identification. “If this plant looks like this picture in the book, it’s poisonous and I shouldn’t eat it! Golly gee, thanks for helping me out book!”

The oldest book in their collection shows what I like to think is a sick man in bed, either from a plant or waiting to be saved by a plant.

“Hortus Sanitatius” from 1370 (via K. Emmons)

For you Harry Potter fans… it also has an illustration of Mandrake root!

“Hortus Sanitatius” from 1370 (via K. Emmons)

The next two show great illustrations of flowering plants at all stages of growth. Photographs can only show a plant at the stage of growth when the photo is taken – drawings can show all stages!

“The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands” by Mark Catesby in 1754 (via K. Emmons)
“The rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya…” by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, 1849-51 (via K. Emmons)

The final is just a really great representation of a title page… and it has to do with plants in America! There are only 30 copies of this book known in the world and each has a different hand-painted title page design.

“Selectarum stirpium Americanarum historia” by Nicolaus Joseph von Jacquin, 1780-81 (via K. Emmons)

So beautiful!

The Herbarium was also really interesting, though we only got to view it for a few minutes. Think of it like a library for dried plants.

Herbarium: a library of plants! (via K. Emmons)
Herbarium: a library of plants! (via K. Emmons)
How they store the plant material (via K. Emmons)
How they store the plant material (via K. Emmons)

You need an appointment to access this library though.

Of course we had to visit the actual garden area too! It was definitely a highlight and a place where you should visit if you have a free afternoon in the London area.

Montage of flowers… GO!

Magnolia (via K. Emmons)
Magnolia (via K. Emmons)
Geranium in the Mediterranean Garden (via K. Emmons)
Geranium in the Mediterranean Garden (via K. Emmons)
Something in the Mediterranean Garden (via K. Emmons)
Something in the Mediterranean Garden (via K. Emmons)

My favorites in England have got to be the roses…

Roses galore! (via K. Emmons)
Roses galore! (via K. Emmons)

It was a beautiful afternoon with perfect weather and I highly suggest going! Even the food was good!

On to Day 27!

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3 thoughts on “Day 26: Kew Gardens

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