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.
Right outside of the actual gardens is the Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives building.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
For you Harry Potter fans… it also has an illustration of Mandrake root!
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 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.
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.
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!
My favorites in England have got to be the roses…
It was a beautiful afternoon with perfect weather and I highly suggest going! Even the food was good!