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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Monday, 17 August 2009

We Went Away

We have not long returned from a couple of days away camping in our 1971 Blacks of Greenock ‘Good Companions Major’ tent. We are the second ever owners, having purchased it recently from its original owner in York. Older readers will remember the good old days of camping, with the rich scent of canvas above your head and near pitch black in the inner tent safely tucked under the flysheet. We motored to the Gower, an area we have been to on a number of occasions being not to far away from home for a short stay but isolated on its peninsula far enough away from the main landmass for the water to be blue and the invading arcades, ye oldie’s and the like to yet have moved in.

Fresh from a first nights sleep under canvas we set of on Saturday morning for, reportedly, a particularly stunning isolated beach. Over the winter the path had eroded, its not global warming, just a lack of investment in our coastal defences causing the demise of our route but eventually over rocks and through gorse we made our way. The beach was beautifully isolated, soft golden sand surrounded by rock pools and the rumbling sea in front of us; with a hint of sun there was nothing for it but to strip off and head for the sea. Now battling waves for a fewhours is tiring work, not to mention making you a bit hungry. So we made our way over the rock pools to find lunch, literally! I had noticed on our scramble down to the beach a host of wild marjoram, salad burnet and some plump blackberry’s. From the rock pools we had easy picking of winkles, mussels, clams and cockle’s, lunch with the aid of some collected up drift wood was served, Sean ate the salad, and I predominately ate the shell fish.When we go camping we like it basic and often imagine how good it would be to pitch up on the coastal paths away from the people in blissful isolation. On this trip we stayed in a new site to us, it was just a field backing on to the cliffs and coastal walks.

Looking over the rock pools it struck me of the wealth of food available and what fun we had collecting up our lunch, considerably more fun I regret to say than our weekly trip around Waitrose. Lovely as it is.

During the afternoon we went for a walk along the coast and were rewarded with the sight of a cliff face covered in deep magenta heather flowering amongst the Gorse interjected with cranesbills and more marjoram. The smell of the gorse was heavenly and the cliff looked like to was covered in gold. From the coastal face of the rocks we walked through a drift of oak, and hawthorns all gnarled and bent over by the fierce winter gales which must mercilessly beat their way inland from the sea. I also noticed a lot of bay seeded almost everywhere along with little holly seedlings and Eupatorium topped with dusky pink flower heads.

Sunday after breakfast cooked outside the tent, saw us take to the waters again and never tiring of wandering with our faithful four legged companion’s, well one out of the two because the other is not in the best of health and has to travel a la rucksack, we again headed out over the rocks until late in the afternoon.

Sadly the weekend was over fair to quickly, and eager plans of our next snatched break were happily hatched as we folded, tied and packed ourselves back into the car for the trip home, joining us on the way back was some seeds I collected of lavatera arborea, there are no lighthouses on the Gower so I suspect it has blown in from the neighbouring Devon coast, once an important livestock food its got itself a bit of a bad name especially on the islands of Scotland, but as we grow the variegated species I will give it go, for comparison if nothing else.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

What’s in a Name 1.1.2

Sometimes you stumble over information and think, gosh! Sometimes you see or hear something,which takes not only your breath away but transports you to another placein your mind. I’m not sure after such a build up this will do either of those things but you never know!

Monarda’s are an unusual plant, always stunning in pictures, some even manage to pull it off in the flesh, for which we adore their showy pom-pom like rich flowering bracts. Often they sit trying thier best, in our climate not to be blighted by mildew and look generally miserable with one or two weak flowering spikes. At the nursery I have in equal measure a stunning looking M. Beauty of Cobham and very sorry for its self M. citirodora. Monarda’s are named after Nicolas bautista Monardes.
His works included Dialogo llamado pharmacodilosis (1536) amongst roughly seven others with the most well known Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de naestras, or translated into the rather historically joyful, ‘Medical study of the products imported from our West Indian possessions’. Published first in 1665, and enlarged over 3 further editions in 1569, 1774 and 1580. Monardes was a botanist and physician who was extremely well known at the time, his survey of medical plants was printed in English in 1577, 1580, and 1925 where is names was changed to ‘Joyful News out of the New Found World’

Information about the chap is scarce but whats more interesting to me is the sense of adventure such works spark in the mind. Its easy to forget the extreme conditions the explores would have encountered on their trips to new lands, the plants they brought back would have been very exciting, think only of plants such as Dahlia brought back firstly as a possible edible crop, just like Funkia, what a lovely named plant better known to us now as Hosta which was also originally brought to Europe as a vegetable which can be steamed and eaten in a similar way to Spinach.

Imagine the long sea voyages, and the untouched, virgin landscapes, awaiting the somewhat sea weary, free of sight of modern conveniences they must have been filled with a mixture of trepidation, excitement and bewilderment all at once. Its no wonder so many of these travellers returned to inspire great social change across the face of Europe in the 1700’s.

Gooseberry Bergamot Jelly on Foodista

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Whats in a Name?

Recently, I bought yet another mathiasella, why they dislike my garden and refuse to live and offer up their jade green flowers to me remains a mystery however that is a side issue and if anyone else has enjoyed unbridled success - let me know!

What I love about taxonomy and botanical nomenclature is the story behind the words and mathiasella has a particularly good one. The plant is native to Mexico but was discovered rather recently in 1954 and named in honour of Mildred Mathias.


Born in Sappington, Missouri in 1906. Her father was a teacher and her intense love of study showed it’s self early. Whilst still at senior school she was the first student to enroll at the newly established Junior College of Flat River and each day would attend her high school typing class at 7.30 am before catching a train to college. In 1923 Mildred registered at Washington University in St. Louis and went on to major in mathematics before transferring on to botany earning an A.B in 1926 & a Ph.D. in 1929 while conducting her graduate research at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Her doctoral dissertation, then aged 22, was a taxonomic monograph on Cymopterus and the relatives of the carrot family (Umbelliferae). New world umbellifer were at that time fairly unknown but Mildred’s work was set to change all that. During the summer of 1929 Mildred in a trusty Model T Ford and two companions traveled across the western United States to visit numerous communities of Umbelliferae. From 1929 through to 1939 she carried on her study often unpaid only stopping to marry Gerals L. Hassler in 1930. From 1939 she was joined in her work by Dr Lincoln Constance at the University of California, Berkeley and together, from 1940 to 1981 they jointly published over 60 scientific papers on Umbelliferae of the New World. Together they wrote descriptions of over 100 new species and several new genera. Her expertise on umbellifers earned her international recognition in taxonomy and when I studied at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh you certainly could not talk about Umbelliferae without mentioning her name. In 1964 she became the first woman President of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.

From the early 1950’s Mildred started publishing her first articles on Californian horticulture. She along with other leading horticulturalist started introducing a diverse palate of botanically interesting and diverse sub-tropical plants onto nurserymen and gardeners in the coastal & desert areas of southern California. With such a strong taxonomic background she was a staunch advocate of correct scientific identification and nomenclature of horticultural material and her education displays at gardening shows won many awards.


In 1956 Mildred Mathias was appointed director of the Botanical Garden at UCLA and served there until retirement in 1974. This position provided a platform for tireless work to the great benefit of institutions across California and she attracted a huge following from amateur gardeners to landscape designers and the public at large. From the late 1950’s through to 1964 Mildred joined Dermot Taylor to collect and screen plants from tropical forests for new medicines. She traveled from Zanzibar to Amazonian Peru and Ecuador to name a few, learning from local herbalists and medicine men along the way. These efforts earnt her the accolade of being named Medical Auxiliary Woman of Science Award in 1963. Working in the tropics Mildred was acutely aware for the need to preserve these vast resources and spoke critically about the careless destruction of rain-forest's, becoming a major voice and later President for its first 10 years of the Organisation for Tropical Studies. Amongst this work during the same time she also championed conservation work in California and amongst the accolades this work brought were: Merit of Award of the California Conservation Council in 1962 and The Nature Conservancy National Award in 1964.


Her long career earned accolades and awards through to 1993 when she was named as Distinguished Economic Botanist by the Society of Economic Botany. Other awards included Award of Merit by the American Association of Botanic Gardens in 1976, Medal of Honour from the Gardening Club of America in 1982 and becoming the first executive director of the Association of American Botanical Gardens & Arboreta from 1977 to 1981.

From 1974 to 1994 she had led 53 groups with a thousand participants, to foreign natural areas of horticultural interest and gardens in over 30 countries. Her last tour, at the age of 88, was in November, 1994, to Chile. Sadly Mildred Mathias died on 16th February 1995 leaving a glittering path behind her built on a insatiable appetite for horticultural knowledge.


So I ask whats in a name? Sometimes you may just think ‘What a long complicated illegible name this is, why can’t it just be called tea-cup flower!’ but that would do a huge inservice to the people who’s life's work and obsession it is identifying and naming plants - and they do deserve some recognition surely?

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