Friday, 6 March 2009

Blooming heck!

Today's tenuous link: green. The Festival's palette; the seats at the Guildhall; my ill-advised cords-and-wool-shirt combo today (cor, what a scorcher!); the fingers of the British.

Andrea Wulf (favourite flowers - lupin? Ho ho) presented from her book The Brother Gardeners, adding to the Festival's richly global fare. So far, amongst others, we've had a Pakistani talking about America, we've had a Chinese lady talking about Tibet, we've had a Czech-American talking about Germany. Andrea Wulf is an Indo-German talking about us weirdo, lawn-hoovering Brits.

In the 18th century, a key band of botanists exploited the colonial trade routes to nurture their budding (sorry, so sorry) interests in all things green. Our cast: British Quaker, Peter Collinson; an American horticulturalist, John Bartram (incidentally, another Quaker); Philip Miller, Chief Gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden; Swede Carl Linnaeus; Joseph Banks (of Captain Cook and Mutiny on the Bounty fame); Daniel Solunder, another Swede. Check out the book - they're a dashing bunch.

Theirs is a story of transatlantic fraternal bickering. Their legacy is that of an expansive vista of evergreens and spring shrubs. In Andrea Wulf's words, a 'quiet flower revolution.' Look, I can't pretend to be a gardener. I live in a flat. My wife and I buy pots of basil from the supermarket that last a meal and promptly wither and die on us, as if to say 'you're bad parents, you're bad north-facing fungal people'. No, I'm no gardener. But a quiet flower revolution? Even I can dig that. (Yes, sorry.)

The aristocracy of the day had topiaries and straight lines and something close to a modern German garden - Ms Wulf describes how her neighbours in Germany called the police to report a hedge that was too close to the pavement. In the 1780s though, thanks to these early pioneers of gardening, 'the corset that was imposed on nature was slowly opened.'

Here is an aside: does working in mud mean mind in the filth? I'm thinking of Mr Titchmarsh, whose novels have something of a reputation (nudge et wink). Ms Wulf reveals that Linnaeus 'failed to persuade the British to adopt his sexual system' of classification as it was 'too smutty'. Descriptions of plants as mistresses abound. Cross-sections of flowers' licentiousness. Passion. It's all a bit... seedy. (No, really, I'm sorry). And, speaking of the sexual behaviour of flowers, do you remember yesterday's 'fraternal polyandry'? The blushing beetroot? We're coming full circle, dear friends.

But Britain's relationship with green spaces is complicated and strong. I don't need to tell you - just look at Bath's waiting lists for allotments.

Enough now. It's way past your bed time.

Sam 'The Uncommon' Reader

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