Spring is bulb season at Kew. From the carpets of the small, blue, bell-like squill to the tall straight tulips with their simple form, there are bright primary colors everywhere.
What was it like in regency times?
Rhododendron Dell, originally known as the Hollow Walk, was formed at the edge of the Thames out of its flood plain. Famous landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed it in 1773 in the shape of a horseshoe and planted hundreds of mountain laurels along it, which gave it the nickname of Laurel Walk.
The Dutch House, or the royal palace with its Dutch architectural style, doubtless had many flower gardens enjoyed by the royal family who frequently stayed there. In springtime, tulips, narcissus, squill, and hyacinths were popular bulbs. Since the tulip craze in the Netherlands in the 17th century, the hyacinth, also originating from Turkey in the 1500s, became very popular to cultivate in the 18th century and regency England.
I’ve included some photos of my own garden flowers to give you an idea of what visitors to the royal gardens at Kew might enjoy in the early 1800s.
In researching my current WIP (Work-in-Progress) I needed to find a botanical garden for my hero and heroine to tour. I had the Chelsea PhysicGarden all lined up.
Chelsea at the time of the regency was an outlying suburb of London, very close to Mayfair. In fact all the land around Chelsea and Brompton as you were leaving London was dedicated to commercial nurseries since the soil was quite fertile. Many of these were walled gardens. Chelsea Physic (meaning healing) Garden was a renowned herbal garden right by the Thames.
However, I found out that the garden was off limits to women until later in the 19th century!
I had one other choice, although it was farther from London: Kew Botanical Gardens, which is about ten miles southwest of the center of London.
The late Georgian period (last half of the 18th century) was a great age for botany in England and other parts of Europe. England was ahead of much of Europe because of its great colonizing efforts and intrepid navy and merchant ships sailing the seas. Often these ships carried botanists aboard who collected all kinds of seeds and plants to bring back home. (Remember the ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, in the movie Master and Commander?)
One of the greatest botanists of the time, Sir Joseph Banks traveled with Captain Cook on his first voyage and brought back many specimens from the South Seas from this trip. In the 1790s, King George III (before going mad) was very interested in agriculture (hence his nickname “Farmer George”). It wasn’t just an idle hobby. He hoped to use the new plant discoveries in the different parts of the British empire to improve the agriculture economy of the British empire. One successful example of this was the importation of the recently discovered breadfruit from the Pacific to the West Indies (Jamaica) as a cheap, starchy foodstuff to feed slaves.
From the early 1780s, Banks became an adviser to the king for Kew Gardens. Banks was responsible for making it into a world class botanical garden. He sent collectors on various ships going overseas specifically to bring back seeds or plants from every continent on the globe. He is credited with bringing back himself or through these collectors the peony, hydrangea, mimosa, acacia, eucalyptus, lotus flower, tiger lily, and bird of paradise.
In 1789, a seminal work of botany Hortus Kewensis was published by one of the curators of Kew Gardens. It listed all the plants cultivated in the Kew Botanical Gardens up to that point, which was more than 5,000! Another important thing about both the catalog and the garden was that they used the relatively new plant classification system called the Linnaean System developed by Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, the naming of species. It is the system we’re familiar with today of giving plants a Latin name and grouping them in descending orders of family, genus, species, etc.
This just scratches the surface of the field of botany during the time of the regency. For more reading on the history of Kew Gardens or the science of botany, here are a few sources:
Lovely heroine, Jessamine Barry, daughter of a vicar no less, is tempted, and gives in to vanity when she allows a flattering knave to draw her away from her standards.
You may have noted my journalistic headline-style title, and the 30 word summary with which I started this post. I don’t know if I got your attention, but the book “A Heart’s Rebellion”got my attention as a wonderful read. And since it has simmered in my heart and mind for a few weeks, a marvelous truth-filled spiritual theme has surfaced from the book’s delight-filled sea of lavish plot, setting, and characterization.
The hero, Lancelot Marfleet, is a Christlike man. However, he is not deliciously handsome like so many romance heroes. But from Scripture, we learn that our Lord himself was not particularly attractive or handsome:
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him,
nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”
The heroine is Jessamine Barry, who sidetracks onto a tangent of worldliness, seeking satisfaction in being admired by a man…any man.
She reminds me of Folly, a name which could be used for Jessamine as she leaves her family home for the bright lights of London. She also discards the teachings of her youth:
“The wisest of women builds her house, but Folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1
Lancelot, in his Christlike way, shows grace to Jessamine, is patient, long-suffering, and kind, even when she is not. He ultimately rescues her from her sin and gives her a way out. He draws her to himself in love and completely saves her. For me, this chain of events makes this book even more worthwhile for the picture of redemption shown through the character of Lancelot.
To celebrate the release of A Heart’s Rebellion, author Ruth Axtell will be giving away two copies of her book. The first giveaway ended Monday, March 24 at midnight, and the second ends Monday, March 31 (today) at midnight. To enter the giveaway, answer the following question in the comments below:
Giveaway Question: The hero in A Heart’s Rebellion, Lancelot Marfleet, has a hobby, which is botany. What is a famous botanical garden in London, which existed in regency times?
Also, If you’ve read the book, did you notice any other Christlike attributes of the hero? I’d love to read your comments on this post, Thanks for your time, Susan Karsten