Nine days earlier we had been at Longstock Water Garden for our exclusive fundraising event and what a difference those few days have made. Hostas which were only dark purple spikes showing through the soil were now green with unfurling leaves;
finely dissected leaves of Astilbe were glowing along the water’s edge;
Epimedium and Mertensia virginica (not Pulmonaria – thank you David) were flowering;
Gunnera leaves were unfolding
and pale pink lollipops of Darmera peltata were emerging naked from the pond edges.
This was enough for Roy Lancaster who had joined us for the tour to tell us all about Benedict Roezl (1824-1885), a plant collector who introduced Darmera to this country. Benedict was a ‘character’, a bearded one armed Czech who specialised in collecting orchids in South America and survived more than one near death experience. On one occasion he was set upon by a group of bandits, who thought he was slightly mad and must be protected by God, so they let him go. Sound familiar to anyone?
Roy is of course a plant hunter in his own right and told us how seeing a plant in its natural environment is such a memorable experience that whenever he sees such plants in cultivation, the whole encounter in the wild is brought back to him – even what he had for breakfast that day. I am sure that the members who heard him speak on Saturday evening were well entertained.
PS. Since drafting this piece yesterday, I have come into the library at Wisley where I work as a volunteer, meaning to look up more about Roezl (mostly how to spell his name) and I bumped into Roy going into the Lab. He recommended I look in Alice Coat’s book ‘The Quest for Plants’ to find out more about Benedict. It’s a fascinating book and is available at all the RHS garden libraries. I’m going to borrow a copy and read more about these amazing people to whom we owe so much. So although I missed Roy’s talk on Saturday evening, I had my own special research interview with him today.