Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: A properly great day


Can you guess whose greenhouse this is?

He's the coolest Englishman who ever lived, including William Shakespeare, who does come a close second. And to anyone who says different, I say: pajamas.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Chas Darwin reading a joint paper to the Linnaean Society concerning his new theory of evolution. This is his greenhouse, full of the insectivorous plants he studied.
Darwin is best known for his work on Galapagos finches, giant tortoises, coral reefs and barnacles. But his studies of plants are less well-known. Perhaps it's something to do with the titles: "Various Contrivances By Which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilized by Insects" doesn't exactly sell itself. And didn't at the time either.

Now New York Botanic Garden have put on an exhibition to get Darwin's botanical work better known. The catalogue is great entertainment for a Darwin-lover like me, including the beautiful teaching charts used by Henslow, his botany teacher at Cambridge; and records of his home "Weed Garden", which involved clearing off turf and recording the species which recolonized.
(Come on! A Weed Garden! It's so cool! Can I get away with that as an excuse to the allotment committee?)

Dsc_1983jpegBut if I don't get to NYC to see the show, I reckon the best way to get in touch with Darwin and his plants is to go to Down House
and see the garden and the greenhouse. The gardeners there have
recently started growing heritage vegetables which just adds to the
atmosphere - as if Darwin just popped out for a walk. (And you can get
really good audioguides narrated by David Attenborough. And even see
Darwin's office with a firefront dog basket.)

We should be celebrating this anniversary, and next year's of the publication of the Origin, with enormous excitement. This is a humungus scientific breakthrough that totally belongs to us in the UK, and which completely changed our view of the world. Break open something fizzy today, even if it's just a Fanta, and please be upstanding for Mr Charles Darwin.

No comments: