Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"An aberration of the human mind"

I'm currently reading a book about the history of Kew Gardens. Being described in the blurb as "the authoritative reference work on Kew" one can imagine that the book is not a laugh a minute. But Kew does have a very interesting history, including a continuing fight over whether the Gardens should concentrate on botanical research (the desire of Sir Joseph Banks, and Sirs William and Joseph Hooker, along with many other Directors of the gardens), or be a pleasure gardens for the masses.

During the time of the Hookers (1850s to 1880s) pressure from various Commissioners of Works meant that the Gardens had to provide floral entertainment for the masses. Neither Hooker was over-keen on allowing the public into the gardens beyond strictly controlled times. Jospeh Hooker was concerned that the public, if given more time in the gardens "...resorted to the woods for immoral purposes in great numbers". Both Hookers wanted to maintain the status quo of only allowing the public in after noon, to allow serious botanists and students the morning for studies without the masses getting in their way.

But, over-ruled, the masses were allowed in for extended opening times. And to entertain them (perhaps to keep them out of the woods?), the Commissioner of Works demanded bedding displays. These displays were described by William Morris as "an aberration of the human mind" (hence the title of the post).

I quite enjoy the municipal* bedding displays at Tatton Park show (below and centre) and when seen out and about (bottom photo).

But I'm not sure about their presence in a botanic garden. I shall be sure to check for any aberrations when hopefully SomeBeans and I visit Kew for the second time ever in the summer.
If you want to have a go at creating your own aberrations this summer, this link has some designs for you to try.

*To be honest I just love the opportunity to use the word 'municipal'.


Anonymous said...

Dear Happy Mouffetard, I was much interested to read your brief summary to the background of the gardens at Kew and had no idea of the debate which went on in the early years concerning the admission of the public.

I have very mixed feelings about municipal displays having once witnessed a horse's head created out of plants [Ophiopogon p. 'Nigrescens' used for the mane] for a show, possibly Malvern, by Torquay Borough Council. It left nuch to be desired.

HappyMouffetard said...

Hi Edith, the horse's head sounds rather disturbing! Thanks for visiting.

Rothschild Orchid said...

I rather like Captain Hook and the crocodile. Trouble is I've never seen any good municipal plantings, they usually comprise of tatty marigolds and acidic coloured conifers around here.

(You are right, municipal is a cracking word!)

Anna said...

An interesting post HM. I must confess that I have never been to Kew and must remedy that sad state of affairs one of these days. Municipal - baths come to mind:)

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

How ironic, the Hookers did want people doing the horizontal bop in the woods. I just can't relate to the whole bedding thing, although it is fascinating from an anthropological point of view.

Joanne said...

HM an interesting post I hope you enjoy your trip to Kew. The last time I went was with my daughter and her boyfriend who comes from The Gambia, it was fascinating going into the Tropical house with him because he was able to tell me so much about the plants and trees there, many of which he grew on his land, but he was also able to talk about the uses they made of them particularly medicinal uses. Rebecca is making a book of all his trees and shrubs and documenting with photos and notes really quite fascinating. He has most of all the native trees that grow in The Gambia on his land but many of the compounds nearbye are bought by Europeans. They clear the land and so lose the native trees and folliage. From his photos it is quite a little oasis.

Ms B said...

Just a little warning so you can look or avoid the 'aberration' as you see fit, there are always bedding displays in front of the Palm House. These vary quite dramatically in what sort of planting they use, particularly the summer displays from fruit & veg through frothy & loose to the more traditional.

Sadly I have never seen anyone who has "...resorted to the woods for immoral purposes in great numbers". I must look harder!

Kew is one of my regular haunts.

Meredith said...

Yikes! That is definitely not my style... although I wouldn't go so far as to call them "aberrations of the human mind."

Personally, I found it giggle-inducing that the "Hookers" were against immoral activities in the woods...

Victoria Summerley said...

Great post! Personally, I think Kew has got the balance just about right. I love the idea of botanical gardens as places of study, but I think they become better "gardens" - as opposed to collections of plants - if some thought has to go into display and design.
But if I were you, I would "resort to the woods" to some extent. My one complaint about Kew, especially when it's busy, is that if you stick to the paths, you're constantly having to jump out of the way of some vehicle or other.

VP said...

One of my google alerts is Municipal Planting!

I'm having a re-think about them. People get awfully sniffy about all that colour, but I'm wondering if it's actually what the majority of people actually want, even though I'm not sure about them myself. Sheffield Uni are doing some interesting research into the subject.

As for the horses head, dragon et al. bring 'em on. I've loved all the examples I've seen of these so far, because they make me giggle. And sometimes giggling's just what's needed!

Any idea when you might be gracing Malvern BTW? We're queuing up to meet you :)

HappyMouffetard said...

RO - that's the problem. I think they have the potential to be eye catching, humorous, educational and so on, but are often just dull. Understandably not high on a Council's budget.

Anna - yes, it's somewhere I've been once and really want to go to again, hence me deciding I would like SomeBeans and I to go in the summer, to celebrate a significant birthday.


Joanne - what an interesting project.

Ms B - I shall be sure to avail myself of the aberration in front of the palm house, and get some photos.

Meredith - LOL! That one went over my head as I was writing the post.

Victoria - thanks for the advice, though I'm now nervous of wandering round the wooded areas - I shall feel the disapproving eyes of the Hookers on me!

VP - that's a good point. I think that flowers certainly attract people, but whether the more traditional carpet bedding is preferred over other types of planting would be interesting to know. At least traditional bedding looks neat and well cared for and is changed regularly, which a lot of people will notice. Not everyone will appreciate the frosted winter seedheads of prairie planting - neat rows of pansies make it look as though the area is loved, or at least cared for.

Dawn/LittleGreenFingers said...

I'm with William Morris. These displays seems to render plants secondary to everything else which is wrong on so many levels.

Having said that, I do quite enjoy municipal panting in France - they seem to do it with a little more Va Va Voom...

Ian said...

I have a rose which I always refer to as 'The Municipal Rose' as its often seen growing on traffic islands and other similar locations. It has hairy stems, is bushy and has lovely dark pink blooms. It forms a part of our fragrant archway, the entrance to our front garden from the street.

Andrea said...

Hi, i am new here, and i found it elegantly amusing! I also have some inelegantly displayed human aberrations in mine. haha