Ole Worm

I was prone to nominative determinism for more than half a century before I knew what it meant. A children’s biography of Grieg in my primary school library (who now remembers this series by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher, which included Franz Schubert and his Merry Friends and Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia?) had a famous violinist say to the young Edvard, ‘You have made the voice of Norway sing!’

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On 7 October every year, I remind my faithful Twitter followers of the anniversary of the battle of Lepanto in 1571, at which the Ottoman Turkish fleet was comprehensively defeated by the combined forces of the Holy League – the Papal States, Spain, Venice, Genoa, the Knights of Malta, and various Italian duchies. After some argument among the allies, the command of the League’s forces was given to Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of Charles V, and thus Philip II’s half-brother, but the bulk of the fleet was Venetian, under the leadership of the Capitano da Mar, Sebastiano Venier.

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Plant of the Month: September 2020

Given that the Equinox has just happening, and that it has just come to my attention (belatedly, I concede) that we ought to be calling a large number of asters Symphyotrichum instead, I thought I’d have a look at the Michaelmas daisy. I don’t grow them, with the exception of a rather pretty, delicate one which persists in the front garden, and which I don’t remember planting. In my distant youth, it was (along with buddleia and ragwort) one of the first plants I learned to distinguish, since it grew prolifically all over the bomb-site (I told you my youth was distant) which was the wonderful adventure playground for all us local children. Continue reading

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Samuel Egerton

We were having a nice mooch round the (startlingly quiet) Ca’ Rezzonico Museum in Venice a few days ago, when I noticed, among the various local grandees immortalised in oil or pastels, a portrait of Samuel Egerton (1711–80). There was no further information available, but having gone back to the (temporary) Palazzo Hedgehog to look him up, I discovered that he had many intriguing links, familial, political, artistic and social, all over England. Continue reading

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Plant of the Month: August 2020

The name ‘acanthus’ was taken by Linnaeus from the Greek ἄκανθος, used by Aristotle among others to mean a prickly Mediterranean plant (today A. mollis), imitated in the Corinthian columns of Greek architecture; the related ἄκανθα means ‘thistle’. The family of Acanthaceae was first assembled by Antoine Laurent de Jussieu, and refined in 1847 by Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (1776–1858), the German botanist who described almost as many species as Linnaeus himself, and who after a distinguished academic career, lost his posts and honours after the 1848–9 revolutions, and died almost penniless. Continue reading

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The Eight Wonders of the World

One of the many ways in which my day job has changed during lockdown is that, instead of spending a lot of effort being polite to people on the phone, then slamming it down and shouting ‘Why don’t they look it up on the website instead of wasting my valuable time???!!!’ to my long-suffering colleagues, I am doing lots of proofreading, and, as a result, finding out all sorts of new Stuff. Continue reading

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The Unhappy Countess

I was lured into reading about the melodramatic and unhappy life of Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749–1800), by the National Trust, who said, on its website on Gibside, one of her many homes, that she was a botanist. Further investigation revealed that she had been carefully educated, in botany among other subjects, by her father, George Bowes, coal magnate and MP (1701–60) who had built the spectacular landscape gardens at Gibside, but that once she became, by his death, probably the richest heiress in Britain, she had rather less time for this interest. Continue reading

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Plant of the Month: July 2020

The other day, I found myself standing under a Broussonetia tree in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden (so happily now reopened, though you do have to book), and was reminded of my oft-repeated note to self to find out more about this paper mulberry, at one time so important to the civilisations of the Far East and the Pacific, but now in many places an invasive ‘weed’, with pollen so toxic that it is a severe danger to those with allergies. Continue reading

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Object of the Month: July 2020

This was going to be Object of the Month for November 2019, but various unfortunate events from a database problem up to Covid-19 have rather got in the way. However, onwards and upwards! Continue reading

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Captain Gurle

I came across the name of Captain Gurle (also spelled Garle and Garrle) in the excellent Economic History of the English Garden, by Sir Roderick Floud, a really cracking book, with eye-opening figures about the importance of gardening in the English economy since 1660 or thereabouts, but written in a way that an innumerate moron (i.e. me) can actually understand. Continue reading

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