De Hortus Botanicus
De Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is one of the world's oldest botanical gardens. Originally established in 1636 as a herb garden for physicians and apothecaries, today the collection includes over six thousand species. We visited on a sunny morning; the foliage was sparkling with dew, and chubby bumblebees wove amongst the blossoms.
My friend Julia recently sent me an article that does a great job of summarising the strange history of botany and feminism in Europe in the 18th Century. Any sort of academic enquiry was traditionally dominated by men, and nowhere more so than in biology and botany. The conceptual sexualisation of plants, and particularly flowers, meant that within a conservative society, women with interests in botanical practices were labelled as promiscuous harlots. Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) penned a poem, The Loves of The Plants, in 1791 in an attempt to revitalise the Linnaean system of taxonomy. While this served to perpetuate the gendered metaphor of nature, it helped to inspire a wider interest in botany as the Enlightenment dawned. The underlying curiosities that had sparked such consternation trickled into the mainstream, and botany became one of the most fashionable pursuits of the time.
From giant Oaks, that wave their branches dark,
To the dwarf Moss, that clings upon their bark,
What Beaux and Beauties crowd the gaudy groves,
And woo and win their vegetable Loves.
Today, the world is so much smaller. It seems as though there is not much left to discover. No time to stop and smell the roses. But even so, a quiet moment in a garden, observing the fruits of the immemorial relationship between the kingdoms of Animalia and Plantae is always time well spent.
- L L