Sir Joseph Banks

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Friday 19th June 2009 was the 189th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential people of the 18th century [...] Sir Joseph Banks.

Rosa banksiae 'Lutea'Friday 19th June 2009 was the 189th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential people of the 18th century. While 189 is not a very sexy anniversary, I feel that he was such an extraordinary fellow that he should at least receive a passing nod every year. So, all hail Sir Joseph Banks.

For those who don't know, he travelled with Captain Cook on the Endeavour in 1768. This voyage landed in Australia, New Zealand and the Tahitian Islands. When in Australia he (along with Daniel Solander and Dr.Herman Sporing) made the first collection of Australian flora, introducing nearly 3,500 species new to science (including eucalyptus). He also travelled to Newfoundland and, slightly less dramatically, he and Solander also trawled the Isle of Wight, Scotland and Iceland looking for new plants. His Florilegium was eventually published between 1980-1990 and took up 35 whopping great volumes.

He will be remembered by gardeners not only for the work he did setting up Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but also for the 75 different species of plant named after him, including an entire genus, the banksias. These are evergreen shrubs, found mostly in Australia, with wonderful conical flowerheads. Banks is also commemorated by Rosa banksiae  (named after his wife, Dorothea) and R.banksiae 'Lutea', a pale yellow version, which is a stunning climbing rose with evergreen leaves and barely any thorns.

However, he wasn't just a gardener and, during his 41 year presidency of the Royal Society, he encouraged innovation in astronomy, exploration, politics (he suggested Botany Bay as a suitable destination for transported prisoners), agriculture, chemistry (including the development of Humphrey Davy's safety lamp for miners,) physics, poetry and geology.

He was also one of the founding members, along with Josiah Wedgwood, of the Royal Horticultural Society, and  is probably the only member of the RHS Council ever to have written an in-depth description of a Tahitian maiden having her buttocks tattooed. For that achievement alone he is worth remembering.

ps If you are in Northamptonshire this weekend then don't miss the Cottesbrooke Plantfinders Fair. It runs from Friday to Sunday in the gorgeous grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall. There will be plenty of fabulous nurseries, a plant swap and the chance to look round the gardens - including the herbaceous borders that I replanted a couple of years ago. I hope to see you there.

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Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2009 at 07:26

I am mightily impressed by the beetle - it looks like something I once made in metal work at school.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2009 at 07:57

And there was me thinking banksias were named after the street artist!

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2009 at 08:28

I knew Rosa banksia lutea was not named in honour of the Bristol artist but I have just planted one in his honour in my Bristol garden - an anonymous thank you for giving us a free art show in the museum. Who knows whether his real name is Banks or if his first work was on the river bank?

Gardeners' World Web User 30/06/2009 at 10:47

I have Photinia that was a mass of white bloom - I assume to be the female of the plant- last week it was coverd in bees-3or 4 different types - too many to count.Can anyone advise - should I now cut it back as the flowers are dying.Would like to see the same effect next year- in view of the shortage of bees.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/07/2009 at 21:25

No need to cut it back unless it is too big for your garden. Enjoy.

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