March is all about anticipation: admittedly, whitethorn and Prunus cerasifera are doing their thing, and Mahonia is almost over, but, in the Botanic Garden, I don’t imagine I am the only person checking up on the great Prunus yedoensis (the Yoshino cherry) on the Main Lawn, of which the flower buds are swelling in a manner which is both gratifying and hugely exciting. If nothing goes wrong in the way of storms or severe frosts, this will be a vintage year for the Garden’s greatest poster child.

The Yoshino cherry in its glory a couple of years ago (Credit: Cambridge University Botanic Garden)
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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Sadly, the moment has arrived. Yesterday, I packed up my mug, my spoon and my jar of decaffeinated coffee and left my lovely workplace for the last time. This, as my devoted followers (I can dream, can’t I?), will be aware, is my second retirement, the first having taken place almost exactly seven years ago, and in rather less happy circumstances.

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Brother of the More Famous Jan

One of the treasures of the Fairhaven Bequest at the Fitzwilliam Museum is the series of twelve flower paintings, one for each month of the year, by van Huysum. Until a few days ago, I had assumed that the artist was Jan van Huysum (or Huijsum; 1682–1749), whose vases of flowers, blooming together on his canvases in a way that they do not always do in real life, are found in art galleries all over the world. But then it was pointed out to me that this sequence was in fact created by Jacob or Jacobus van Huysum (1687/9–1740), a younger and lesser-known brother of Jan.

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Two Graven Stones

I had a Grand Day Out in London this week, not the least of its grandeur being my success in walking from Pimlico (where the plane trees have suffered remarkable pruning) to the Garden Museum at Lambeth, then back past Westminster and New Scotland Yard (where an anti-Boris and Cressida demo was taking place, with very witty banners), then on to the Strand, to Somerset House, and finally to Covent Garden, without getting lost, thus at least (and at last) beginning to fulfill one of my Retirement Resolutions of nearly six years ago, to get to know London better on foot rather than underground. Ironic that I have done this as the date of my second (and probably last, but who knows?) retirement looms.

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Jane Dormer

Back in the autumn, I had the happy experience of wandering around the Palazzo Ducale at Mantua, drooling over the Mantegnas, though rather less appreciative of the efforts of Giulio Romano. More rooms are open than the last time we visited, and in some of these are portraits (mostly) of known and unknown dignitaries of the sixteenth century, many of them copies of works by the like of Palma Vecchio, Sebastiano del Piombo and other famous Venetians.

There is also this portrait (below), possibly a loose copy of one by Antonis Mor now in the Prado, which is believed to be of Jane Dormer, duchess of Feria in Spain, who began life as a daughter of minor English nobility, and whose fate was entwined with that of Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain.

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The Nuremberg Hesperides

This blog was going to be called ‘The Hand of Buddha’, but, as so often, one thing led to another. The inspiration was found in the Chinese herbal garden at the Hortus in Leiden, which was in good autumnal form a few weeks ago (when it was still possible to travel through France and Belgium to the Netherlands, that is): Siebold, sardonic as ever, was pretending to ignore the blaze of Acer behind him, and the nerines were quite something too.

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Edward of Windsor

I have written before (twice) about the tombs inside SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, but on our visit a few weeks ago, Him Indoors pointed out something we had missed on many previous occasions – on the wall of the Chapel of the Crucifix is the tomb of an individual called ‘Edward of Windsor’, who died in 1574.

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Not So Much a Blog Post …

More a sales pitch, to be honest. Long-time readers may remember that I usually have a stall at Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge in aid of the wonderful charity EdUKaid. This year, for the second year running, it has had to be cancelled, but a smaller event is being held on Petersfield and Donkey’s Common, this Saturday, 6 November, from 10 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. I will be in the trusty Red Gazebo on Donkey’s Common, selling hedgehogs and Christmas decorations, and would really love to see you there!

Very many thanks, Caroline

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Dawson Turner

I have just discovered, down the side of the metaphorical sofa, another large piece in the fascinating jigsaw of who knew whom in the Victorian artistic and scientific community. Dawson Turner (1775–18580 was a Great Yarmouth man, his father being a local merchant and banker, and after a local education, he went up in 1792 to Pembroke College, Cambridge (it may have helped that his Uncle Joseph was Master at the time). It appears that, like Darwin after him, he was destined for the church, but in fact he left without graduating in 1794, shortly before the death of his father. (In spite of this, he styled himself ‘A.M.’ on the title page of his first book.) In 1796, he entered the family bank (Gurney and Turner) in Yarmouth, and in the same year he married Mary Palgrave, whose family came from Coltishall, Norfolk. 

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Plant of the Month: September 2021

At this time of year, the colchicums are at their best, spreading out (usually under trees) in Cambridge University Botanic Garden in an apparently effortless, though brief, display. Come to think of it, I am not sure if I have ever knowingly seen a colchicum leaf? Once the flowers have done their autumn thing, the plants go dormant until the leaves grow up the following spring, by which time they are not very noticeable among the other burgeoning greenery.

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