Library, Art and Archives blog
Welcome to Kew's Library Art and Archives blog. Here you will find information about Kew's collections, services and fascinating work which is taking place within the section and also meet the Library, Art and Archive staff who will provide regular updates with news from projects they are involved in, treasures they have discovered and exciting new developments planned for the future. Donate now - Help Kew look after its art and heritage
Did you find what you were looking for?
Hello! This is Craig Brough, Information Services Librarian, with my colleagues Marie Humphries, Lizbeth Gale and Tracy Wells. We are a small team within Kew's Library, Art & Archives. The kind of things that we deal with include:
- requests to use library material and providing responses to general enquiries,
- supplying library material for visitors to enjoy and producing copies of this in both paper and digital form,
- providing guidance to visitors on how to use the Library Catalogue, on what we have in our collections, and also on what is available in other libraries and on the web.
Many people see Kew as being synonymous with horticulture, but it is actually the case that our library collections are richer in material on wild plants in their natural habitats and the explorers who brought them to Europe. We also hold materials related to ethnobotany (the cultural and economic value of plants) and the genetic makeup of plants.
So, if you are visiting another part of the world and are interested in its flora, we may be able to give you an idea of what you might find there. Or, if you discover an interesting object made from plant fibre or wood and wish to know more, we may have this documented. If you are interested in how plants have been used in medicine, we can help here too.
To get in touch, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 20 8332 5414.
- Craig -
- For further information about Library, Art & Archives see our webpages
- Search the Kew Library Catalogue online
- Full Library contact details and visitor information
1 comment on 'Making the most of Library Services at Kew'
Hello, I’m Michèle Losse Assistant Archivist at Kew. With Valentines Day around the corner, I thought I'd write about some of the love letters that I've found the Archives. You may have thought that most of the correspondence contained in our Archives relates to botany and plant collecting. I discovered however, that many correspondents also discussed personal matters, such as the subjects of ‘wives’ and ‘marriage’!
(Image: Roger McLassus; this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.)
In times gone by, quite a few ladies accompanied their husbands on expeditions, and they were keen to talk about this in their letters. Mary Livingstone, the wife of missionary and explorer David Livingstone (1813-1873), accompanied him on many of his adventures. In December 1861, during the Zambesi Expedition in South Africa, Livingstone wrote to Sir William Hooker ‘My wife is I believe now on her way out here after a 3 years unexpected separation’ (DC 60, f.179). He had clearly missed her when she had needed to return to England due to ill health. Unfortunately she died of fever the following year, contracted whilst on the expedition.
Another botanist, William Keit from The Natal Botanic Gardens in South Africa, wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker saying that he does not yet have an assistant but that he has ‘treated myself to a wife’ (DC 190 f.791). I'm not sure whether in this instance it is love or necessity which drove him to matrimony!
In 1877, Sir Joseph Hooker left his beloved wife Hyacinth for a trip to America to visit his old friend Asa Gray and to undertake a tour of North America for 11 months. The letters he sent to Hyacinth show how much he enjoyed the trip but also that he missed her: ‘I do long to see you again and stroke your face. I am as anxious to be back as you can be and begin to count the days. I am most anxious to hear of you.’ In another, ‘this is my last letter to you from America, I am pleased to go, for I am wearying to be home and with you’ (Hooker/Gray letters JDH/2/22).
Photo of Frank and Jean Kingdon-Ward
Frank Kingdon-Ward was the last of the great plant hunters in the 20th century. His first marriage to Florinda Norman-Thompson in 1923 had failed after 14 years; Frank was away on expeditions for at least 10 of these years, and Florinda didn’t share his passion for plants or far flung shores. When Frank met Jean McKlin, in 1947, it was love at first sight; she was much younger than him and despite her parents’ opposition, they married. He provided her with the adventure she craved for, and she accompanied him on his expeditions.
Letter from Jean Kingdon-Ward (FKW/1/38)
The Kingdon-Ward collection contains many letters to and from Frank as well as photographs and diaries; these are by no means ‘technical’, they contain a wealth of information and observations as well as many references to Jean which show how fond he was of his new wife ‘my 63rd birthday. Darling Jean had a lovely birthday surprise for me…’ (FKW/1/21). Jean herself gave her husband a moving letter after their return from one of their expeditions in 1948: ‘Thank you so very much sweetheart for a lovely three weeks plant hunting .. I love you with all my heart for ever and ever, oh so much darling..’ (FKW/1/38). Reading this I really felt I was intruding into their personal lives...
- Michèle Losse -
- For further information about the Archives, see our webpages or contact email@example.com
- For details of papers held in Kew's Archives on Joseph Hooker and Frank Kingdon-Ward, and other collections see our lists in The National Archives' Catalogue
- More papers on Frank Kingdon-Ward held at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
- More papers at the Royal Geographical Society, including photographs
- More about Kew's historical links overseas
4 comments on 'Love in the Archives'
Here is another little taste of what we have come across in our work digitising Kew's Directors' Correspondence collection. Robert Blake White is an interesting character who wrote to Kew Gardens c.1868 to 1899. His letters concern such diverse subjects as the collection of native Colombian artefacts, or 'grave goods', to his own forthright opinions on gardening in synch with the phases of the moon.
White went to work in Colombia in South America as an engineer and he writes of his travels throughout the country, the things he saw and the collection of artefacts he made on his way. His letters mention chisels, clay whistles, earthenware musical instruments and pottery goods, which he offers to send to Kew, along with interesting plants he found. Many of the fruits and seeds White collected are in Kew's Economic Botany and Herbarium collections, and some of the artefacts mentioned by White in the Directors' Correspondence were later transferred to the British Museum.
Sketches of some of the antiquities White has seen; two pottery jars and the heads of two gigantic stone figures at San Augustin, Colombia.
Gardening by the Moon
White's letters also reveal that it wasn't just plants and artefacts he picked up in Colombia, he also adopted some of the local ideas about farming and cultivation. A letter White wrote from Palmira in 1896 explains his belief that the moon has a profound effect on both the flora and fauna of the tropics, where the seasons are less distinct. His theory is that plants grow under the influence of the new moon and rest for the remainder of the lunar period. He gives a list of 13 practical rules for lunar planting. White believed all these rules should be followed by horticulturists and arboriculturalists, for example: tree resin should be collected at the new moon for a greater yield and medicinal plants should be harvested after the full moon to benefit from their full potency.
'Gardening by the moon' has a long tradition. The ancient Roman scholar Pliny observed in around AD77 that: "it is a point most religiously observed to insert the graft during the moon's increase" [Naturalis Historia 17.24 trans John Bostock and H.T. Riley]. White's letters to Kew, hundreds of years later, give the very same advice. Some gardeners to this day hold to the practice of lunar planting and farmers' almanacs have an established tradition of using lunar cycles to guide their calendars.
What do you think?
White's botanical practices may seem to be founded purely in tradition but his letters do display an effort to ground his theory with scientific reasoning and he bases it not only on inherited wisdom and superstition but on his own observations during the thirty years he spent in Colombia. Perhaps those of you with green fingers or veggie patches have your own planting traditions? We're interested to hear what you think, so please leave a comment below if you have an opinion on lunar planting, or just tell us about what you get up to in your gardens...
- Ginny -
- See Robert Blake White's letters to Kew Gardens in full and explore what else is in the Directors' Correspondence collection online at JSTOR Global Plants Initiative
- Meet the Directors' Correspondence digitisation team
- For further information about the Kew Archives see our webpages
- Building a global network - Kew in South America
- Explore Kew's Economic Botany collection
- Discover Kew's Herbarium
2 comments on 'Colombian curiosities in the Directors' Correspondence at Kew'
Happy New Year from the Archives Team! I’m Hannah, the Archives’ Graduate Trainee and I’m here to tell you about this year’s Archives Awareness Campaign (AAC) and about some of the fantastic documents we have in the collection at Kew.
AAC is an annual event that promotes an exploration and celebration of the wealth of archive treasures available to you! Archives throughout the UK are offering exciting and unusual interpretations of their archive material in exhibitions, displays, talks and articles.
This year the AAC theme is ‘Take Flight’. My interpretation of this theme has given me the chance to delve into the world of insect life here at Kew, revealing a variety of information about butterflies, moths and other insects, as well as vibrant and remarkable works of art in the Archive and Illustration collections.
A plant collector’s notebook from the nineteenth century would not usually create much interest from the average reader. However, one such notebook in the Archives is not what it seems. Colonel Francis Hall, the botanist and plant collector, produced a colourful volume of botanical and entomological drawings in his collecting notes from an expedition to Ecuador. The volume, received by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1880, contains vibrant illustrations of South American plants, as well as drawings of moths, butterflies, spiders, and caterpillars, one of which is displayed here.
Sir Joseph Hooker, dedicated botanist and director of Kew 1865-1885, spent several years collecting information and conducting experiments on insect consuming plants. His unusual insectivorous collection includes newspaper cuttings, a research diary with diagrams and correspondence from his close friend Charles Darwin. At this time Darwin wrote the first well-known thesis on carnivorous plants he wished to visit the Gardens at Kew to see examples of plants from the mimosa genus that were capable of rapid movement, much like the Venus fly trap.
Insect management plans and research carried out in more recent times show the continuing importance of insects for plants and animals in the Gardens. A management plan of butterflies in 1992 showed that some eight species of butterfly had ceased to exist at Kew Gardens since 1906. The plan recommended new seed mixtures and grass cutting regimes to increase butterfly numbers, and animals further along the food chain such as bats.
Insects are also found in works of art in the Illustrations collection. The botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian famously illustrated key stages in the life cycle of insects against the background of its host plant. Her art of illustrating metamorphosis have earned her the title of the ‘first lady of ecology’. Not only do her paintings have scientific value, but they are undoubtedly vibrant and beautiful. In other illustrations you can find swallowtail butterflies, carpenter bees, longhorn beetles, and even a flea! If you are interested in insects and plants or would like to know more about this wonderful collection then you can contact the Illustrations Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hannah -
- Learn more about the Archives Awareness Campaign and see what is happening in an Archives near you at the AAC website
- For further information about the Archives see our webpages or contact the Archives Team at email@example.com
- Read about Kew's Darwin Letters and the Appeal to raise money for them on our blog
3 comments on 'Archives 'Take Flight''
Sir William Thiselton-Dyer
Director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1885 - 1905
The Library, Art & Archives at Kew will be closed to visitors between Thursday 24th December and Monday 4th January inclusive. We will of course do our best to respond to email enquiries sent to firstname.lastname@example.org over the festive period, but unfortunately we won't be able to take telephone enquiries.
We wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a very happy and prosperous New Year!
- David -
0 comments on 'Season's Greetings from the Library, Art and Archives Team'
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains many millions of items within its collections. Find out about the diverse teams who look after these collections and make them accessible.
- Archives team
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
- Library Information Services team
- Preservation team
Suffragettes at Kew: Fascinating stuff. Love the old headlines. . by: Neil
History of art in the Directors' Correspondence: the painting of an iconic Kew image: Hooker is my favourite Fellow, He was a lab bench man and it is fitting that he should also be celeb ... by: Brian S. Hartley FRS
Letters from India: some extracts from Joseph Hooker's historic correspondence.: Hi Judy, thanks for your lovely comment supporting the work of the project. Your great grandfather w ... by: Virginia, RBG Kew archive
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