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Flower Nation: Invaders, Migrants and Weeds in the British Garden
Sat 21 May, 2016 @ 10:45 am - 4:15 pm BST
An event every week that begins at 10:45 am on Saturday and Sunday, repeating until Sun 29 May, 2016
This exhibition is a response to this theme by Howard Sooley, the photographer and film-maker, who first depicted gardens in iconic images of the garden of his friend Derek Jarman at Dungeness. He has included personal references such as the plane trees which criss-cross the sky outside his studio in London Fields, and cites as a favourite book ‘The Englishman’s Flora’ by Geoffrey Grigson (1955).
2016 is Visit England’s ‘Year of the English Garden’ and ever since the age of Queen Elizabeth I the garden has been a symbol of British identity.
However, the garden is also a symbol of Britain’s exchanges with the wider world: each of the flowers, trees and shrubs pictured in this exhibition has been introduced from abroad. The bryony, whose red berries are seen here, is the only plant which may, possibly, be a ‘native’.
‘Britain and Ireland have the poorest native flora in western Europe’ Dr Noel Kingsbury, University of Sheffield.
The horticultural richness of British gardens is owing to a prosperous gardening culture and a temperate climate in which plants from across the globe will flourish; it is also a consequence of a history of trade, navigation, Empire, and war.
The seeds of the carnation are said to crossed the English Channel in building stone for William the Conqueror’s castles, while in the 16th-century the bulbs of tulips and snowdrops – and the seeds of the horse chestnut – were brought by merchants trading with the Ottoman Empire. The daffodil is first recorded in Britain in 1629, at a time when John Tradescant – whose life inspired the Garden Museum – was about to become gardener to King Charles I. Tradescant travelled in military expeditions to France, and to Algeria, in order to collect plants, and sailed to Russia. His son, also John, sailed to America, a new hunting ground for plant collectors. The American sycamore hybridised with the oriental plane to become the ‘London plane’ which you see outside the window of this gallery.
In the 19th-century plant collecting was at the forefront of Empire: the magnolia which is flowering in London streets is native to the Himalaya, where plant collectors of Kew Gardens climbed mountain passes beside surveyors, engineers, and soldiers.
Today these plants live in the communities which we call gardens.
- Detailed directions to the venue
- The exhibition is in the Devers Room