Eccentric gardeners: one

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I thought it would be interesting to use this blog as an excuse to find out more about the many slightly eccentric people who have helped make gardening as popular and exciting as it is today...

I thought it would be interesting to use this blog as an excuse to find out more about the many slightly eccentric people who have helped make gardening as popular and exciting as it is today so this is the first in an occasional series: if anybody wants to point me in the direction of anyone in particular then feel free.

Dr Philibert Commerson was a French naturalist born in 1727. He discovered a passion for botany while studying law in Montpelier. It was a great time to be a botanist as Linnaeus was beavering away naming things in Sweden and new plants were being discovered and brought back to Europe by the barrowload.

Commerson decided to start his own herbarium which task he set about with great enthusiasm - so much enthusiasm, in fact, that many of his specimens were actually pinched from the local botanic garden.

His big break came when he accompanied the great Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his circumnavigation of the world. As an naval expedition it was not that successful as it might have been; they founded no new colonies and narrowly missed discovering Australia but it produced lots of discoveries for Commerson - not just plants but birds, fish and mammals.

In Brazil he discovered, among many other species, Bougainvillea - a vividly coloured, fast growing climber now happily growing up the sides of Mediterranean villas (he also introduced the hydrangea to France).

Interestingly, when they reached Tahiti, it was discovered that Commerson's valet - Bonnefoy - was actually a woman called Jeanne Baret. Initially Commerson denied all knowledge of the deception but it later turned out that he had been living with Jeanne for the previous four years. He named a plant after her but the name has now been changed from Baretia bonnafidia to Turrea heterophylla (I can't find a picture of it anywhere).

Commerson eventually worked himself to death on Mauritius - having set up a botanic garden (the charmingly named Jardin de Pamplemousses) there and Ms Baret returned to France. She was the first woman to circumnavigate the world, he has a dolphin and a leaf nosed bat named after him.

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Gardeners' World Web User 24/08/2007 at 13:49

Mr Spratt. Your wish is my command, I will investigate. In fact that is a whole new topic: the people after whom plants have been named. Parkdirektor Riggers (a rose), Madame Lemoine (a lilac), Pickard's Schmetterling (a Magnolia) and Wilhelmina Schwab (a fuschia) also spring to mind. The Little Sparta chap was called Ian Hamilton Finlay (who sadly died last year. (I presume that you are related to the great surgeon Sir Lancelot?!)

Gardeners' World Web User 31/08/2007 at 22:09

Thanks James, plants named after people as a topic isn't really what I was driving at, however if you are set on it, how about pieces on the names behind Paeonia "Scarlet O'Hara", Papaver "Miss Piggy", Clematis "Wee Willie Winkie", Dahlia "Spartacus" and Pelargonium "Ipswich Town". Come on the Tractor Boys!!

Yes there is a relationship, however I am a proctologist. My illustrius great uncle encouraged me to start at the bottom and work my way up.

Gardeners' World Web User 10/09/2007 at 20:53

why does a gardener find it useful to know french?

Gardeners' World Web User 27/09/2007 at 17:09

Hi Everyone and Anyone, Bought a beautiful vitis vinifera italia muscat today.... Have palms, olive trees, bay trees in the garden growing more than well. Also have small, very small dicksonia antarctica in garden. Planted this year and doing well... Also olive trees, small olive trees, bushes or twigs in fact doing well. The one that was not protected during the winter has done better than the one one that was wrapped up and sung to over the cool winter nights..... I live in Scotland.. Stevenston...Ayrshire Near the sea.. NOW...When should I plant my 6 foot tree vitis vinifera... would should I do to look after it.. and the same for the 4 foot dicksonia antarctica.. Yours looking for info....

Gardeners' World Web User 24/08/2008 at 13:17

I would like to know when to repot my olive tree it hasn't done any fruiting this year. We keep it in a clay pot, in JI no.3 outside in a covered porch, during the winter, then introduce it to the elements proper around April. It must be 4yrs old. Its only about 18" to 2ft tall. I believe we have repotted once before but can't remember when?

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