Ghostly Vegetables (Part 3)

JonesReturning to Charles Jones, and the continuing existence (or not) of the varieties he chose to photograph, we have now arrived at flowers and fruit. Of the images selected to be shown in the book, there are twenty flowers and twenty fruit, as opposed to sixty vegetables: this is roughly in proportion to the trunkful found by Sexton, of which two-thirds were vegetables and the rest a mixture of fruit and flowers. The Gardeners’ Chronicle review of 1905 emphasises Jones’s skill with flowers and fruit: is it too tenuous read into this the possibility that Jones may have produced more images than the prints found by Sexton?

Bulbs and rhizomes include ‘Iris louisiana’, a name confirmed by the great American naturalist and artist John James Audubon, but which these days is a generic name for five species of iris found in the south-eastern United States. Hybrids now come in a wide variety of colours, broadly ‘the Reds’ and ‘the Blues’, but some of the species are endangered because their swampy habitat is both drying out and becoming more saline. Jones’s photograph seems to show the flower as it opens, with the falls not quite free of the sheath.

A modern Louisiana iris, showing the veining visible on Jones's portrait.

A modern Louisiana iris, showing the veining visible on Jones’s portrait.

The summer-flowering Tigridia pavonia is from central America, and was introduced to Britain in 1796. It is most commonly red, but yellow and white forms also exist, and Jones’s photograph is clearly one of these, in which the characteristic spotting at the centre (panther-skin like, hence the name, from Spanish ‘tigra’, the panther) is almost entirely absent.

Tigridia red Curtis 1801

Tigridia pavonia from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1801).

This white variety, with the faint yellow central ring, closely resembles Jones's photograph.

This white variety, with the faint yellow central ring, closely resembles Jones’s photograph.

There are two tulips: Tulipa gesneriana lutea and Tulipa ‘Dom Pedro’. The former (an early introduction, named for the polymath Conrad Gesner (1516–65), known as the ‘Swiss Pliny’) are referred to in an article in J.C. Loudon’s Gardeners’ Magazine (1831) ‘Plan and select list of plants for a flower-garden in the ancient style’. The plant list was supplied by ‘Mr W. Baillie of Dropmore Gardens’ (prop., Lord Grenville, the prime minister whose government abolished the slave trade): the tulips come under the 87 ‘plants for winter and spring’ (another 87 are recommended for summer and autumn). There are numerous varieties of Gesneriana tulips today, their characteristic being very faint streaking of the petals. ‘Dom Pedro’, a brownish purple, introduced in 1911 still flourishes.

Modern Tulipa gesneriana. (Credit: Enrico Romani0

Modern Tulipa gesneriana. (Credit: Enrico Romani)

Tulipa 'Dom Pedro'.

Tulipa ‘Dom Pedro’.

Hyacinth ‘Prince Henry’ (Dutch ‘Prins Hendrik’, introduced 1910) survives in the UK in the National Collection of Alan Shipp at Waterbeach near Cambridge. Meanwhile, the grape hyacinth Muscari comosum ‘Plumosum’ is an oddity: now (apparently) known as Leopoldia comosa, none of its varieties seems as feathery or as pale as Jones’s version.

Hyacinth 'Prins Hendrik'.

Hyacinth ‘Prins Hendrik’.

This modern Muscari doesn't look as plumey (or as light-coloured) as Jones's.

This modern Muscari doesn’t look as plume-like (or as light-coloured) as Jones’s.

Two roses feature: ‘Captain Hayward’ and ‘Mrs John Laing’. The former, a Hybrid Perpetual bred by Henry Bennett (1823–90), was named after the captain of the first ferry to cross the English Channel from Folkestone to Boulogne, in June 1843. It is still counted one of the best of the ‘old’ roses, while Mrs Laing also survives, now offered by David Austin, the doyen of old rose breeders. She is another Bennett introduction, from 1887, and named for the wife of a fellow horticulturalist.

Captain Hayward.

Captain Hayward.

Mrs John Laing.

Mrs John Laing.

I could go on, through chrysanthemums and dahlias, hollyhocks and poppies, Stokesia and cannas, but I think the most intriguing single flower is ‘Begonia Single White’, a furry-stemmed, almost flat flower, and remarkably unlike the notion of begonia that springs to mind today. I would be very interested to know if it’s really a begonia at all?

On to fruit: plums ‘Monarch’ and ‘Grand Duke’ (both still going strong), and ‘Quillin’s Golden Gage’, which seems to be a (?modern) typo for Oullins Golden Gage, discovered as a chance seedling at Oullins near Lyon in the 1850s.

A Monarch plum displayed.

A Monarch plum displayed.

Oullins Golden Gage.

Oullins Golden Gage.

Among several apples and pears included is the Lemon Pippin (which Robert Hogg refers to in The Fruit Manual as ‘a very good apple, either for culinary or dessert use; … being sometimes so much like a lemon as at first sight to be taken for that fruit’.

Modern lemon pippin.

Modern Lemon Pippin.

He considers it of considerable antiquity, being mentioned by Ray among other early botanists. (Incidentally, Hogg also lists a Lemon Pippin bred by T.A. Knight: a good dessert apple, but ‘it shrivels before Christmas’.)

There are two cherries, ‘Red Bigarreau’ and ‘White Heart’. The former deep red fruit is enormously popular in France, and has led to many hybrids: I suspect it may be this that we harvested one memorable late spring in the Loire valley and preserved in a Kilner jar of brandy – a taste combination which I’ve never been able to repeat, although this year’s red fruit combo is looking/smelling quite promising, and is based on cherries bought at Ely’s French street market last summer …

This modern variety of the French bigarreau is called 'Summit'.

This modern variety of the French bigarreau is called ‘Summit’.

In contrast, ‘White Heart’ is one of those pale, peachy fruits that never look as though they are quite ripe (and may thus better survive the predations of birds?).

Cherry 'White Heart'.

Cherry ‘White Heart’.

One strawberry features, called ‘Leader’: a very ugly shaped fruit by our fussy modern standards, and I can’t locate it anywhere: possibly not surprising, as strawberries are so prone to virus that many early varieties had a very short existence.

Malus 'John Downie'.

Malus ‘John Downie’, good for jelly.

More unusually, the fruits also include crab apple ‘John Downie’, still perhaps the most famous variety, ‘perfect for crab apple jelly’; and Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree (named by Linnaeus). I didn’t know that these fruits were edible (except to birds), but apparently it is possible to make both jams and liqueurs from it.

Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree, showing both flowers and fruit.

Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree, showing both flowers and fruit.

Whether it was grown by Jones for this purpose, rather than merely as an ornamental, is not clear. The tree grows in the Mediterranean, but is also found in south-west Ireland, from where plants were sent in the 1580s to the earl of Leicester and Sir Francis Walsingham.

It will be interesting to explore further in the National Archives for mentions of copyright in Jones’s photographs, and perhaps find names of other images, not yet discovered but perhaps not undiscoverable … meanwhile, I will continue to drool over the selection in my book.


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