The Pliny of Switzerland

I vaguely knew of Conrad Gessner (often spelled Gesner) as a botanist, but it wasn’t until I was tracing the taxonomy of the bluetit a few days ago that I became aware of his wide-ranging work across the fields of natural history, medicine, bibliography and philology. Reading more about him has made me realise what a polymath he was, but also how much the development of his talents depended on the good will of a remarkable number of people. Continue reading

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The Bluetit

One of the upsides of the lockdown (from my own purely selfish point of view) is that I have been able to spend much more time watching the birds in my garden, at a time of year when they are of course at their most active. Many people have commented on the joy of hearing birdsong without the constant background rumble of traffic: at the moment, a local blackbird sits in a tree overhanging the garden and kicks off at about 4 a.m. (or so I am told by Him Indoors, who says he wakes him up) continuing on and off throughout the day and even after dusk. Continue reading

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Plant of the Month: April 2020

Greifswald, now in the province of Vorpommern-Mecklenburg in Germany, is one of those coastal cities in the Baltic which have always been part of the Debatable Land of north-central Europe. It is closer to Malmö and Copenhagen than to Berlin, and only 50 miles from the (now) Polish border, and to have an understanding of its long and complicated history you need at least a glancing acquaintance with the equally complicated history of the Griffin Dukes of Pomerania and of Bolesław III Wrymouth of Poland, who blinded his brother in one of those family wrangles that were so common in the middle ages. Continue reading

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Jonas Webb, the Southdown Man

I imagine that most people these days, if they have heard of Babraham at all, know it for the Babraham Institute, a research campus at which the nineteenth-century Babraham Hall (it had several antecedents) sits in the centre, and which, most tragically, has just lost its Director, Professor Michael Wakelam, to COVID-19. Continue reading

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W.P. Milner

Last autumn, I wanted some new/different narcissi for my pots. (Tulips were already organised via the annual terrifying over-spend at Chelsea: many thanks, Mr Blom, they are looking wonderful!) So I went off to the local garden centre, where I found very few bulbs indeed – a general shortage resulting from the dry spring and summer last year? But they did have bags of N. ‘W.P. Milner’, so I got one. Continue reading

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Naturalists of the Three Counties

It is an article of (my) faith that the ‘Three Choirs Counties’ – Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire – are the most beautiful and amazing part of England. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered quite by chance all sorts of things connected to each other in that area (and beyond) of which I had no idea … Continue reading

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Well, the plan was to be writing from lovely Lucca to mark the fifth anniversary of La Vita Nuova, but fate has decreed otherwise. Instead, I sit contemplating the garden, and will shortly be going with Him Indoors on a bracing – though of course socially isolated – walk through @CUBotanicGarden . Some sunshine would be nice … Continue reading

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