The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Botanical Gardens, and Their Value in Education.
by the Rev.W. Tuckwell.
Botany is the science which deals with plants; with their structure, physiology, habits, economy, geographical distribution. A botanical garden is a museum of living plants, not only brought together in illustration of scientific conclusions and for the convenience of scientific study, but arranged and classified systematically in beds and borders according to accepted natural affinities.
European botany dates from the revival of learning in the sixteenth century. For many years it was a study rather than a science; it aimed neither at investigating plant structures nor discovery of plant relationships. To describe the external characteristics of plants bearing an economic and especially a medical value, was the highest ambition of Turner, Gerarde, Parkinson, the fathers of English botany. Thus Fuchs, in whose honour long afterwards was named the fuchsia, described, in 1542, the plants then used in medicine; Gesner, twenty years later, wrote on the tobacco and sugar cane. L'Obel, discoverer of the lobelia, botanist to King James I., was the earliest to classify plants roughly in families according to the superficial appearance of their flowers. A great advance was made in 1583 by Andrew Caesalpin, gardener to Pope Clement VII., whose name is still commemorated in the caesalpinia of our greenhouses and shrubberies, and who first divined that classification must be based upon the number, figure and relative position of the fructifying parts. After slumbering for a hundred years, his discovery was taken up and amplified by Dr. Robert Morison, in 1678, and by John Ray, in 1682. Meanwhile the microscope had enabled Grew, in England, and Malpighu, in Italy, to establish the sexual system of plants, and these paved the way for the Systema Naturae of the great Linnaeus (1735), whose followers, Jussieu, Decandolle and Lindley, established the "Natural System," and finally elevated botany to the position which, both as an intellectual pursuit and a educational instrument, it is admitted to hold to-day.
The earliest pursuit of botany was accompanied by the establishment of botanical gardens, subject at first to the limitations which beset the prescientific imperfection of the study; collections merely of medical or of curious plants, of the olive, Jesuits' bark, banana, tea and coffee shrubs, caper, cinnamon, nutmeg. The oldest private garden of which we possess a record belonged to the celebrated John Gerarde, about 1590, being attached to his house in Holborn; the next to John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I. Maintained after his death by his son, it fell later into neglect, but their herbarium, with other curiosities, was bequeathed to Elias Ashmole, and formed part of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. Tradescant's name survives in the pretty tradescantia or spiderwort, familiar to every gardener, and especially interesting to microscopists as exhibiting, when highly magnified, the rotation of the cell-contents in hairs attached to the stamens. At Oxford, too, was founded, in 1632, the first public garden in Great Britain, known at its creation, known even within my own memory, as the "Physic Garden." It was purchased and presented to the University by the munificence of the Earl of Danby, surrounded with a lofty wall, and entered by a noble gateway, the work of Inigo Jones. Double yew hedges, crossing at right angles, divided it into four square plots, which contained the plants; over the meadow entrance predominated two monstrous figures in clipped yew, which, shorn of their giant feathers, still exist. When during the Plague Year the Court abode in Oxford, King Charles II. was wont to saunter amongst its borders, escorted by the supervisor, Bobart, an eccentric being of great botanical erudition, who walked the garden followed by a favourite hound, goat, stork, carrying a caduceus, and wearing a long beard, which on Saint's-days he was wont to tag with silver thread. It was ruled by successive eminent botanists, Morison, Sherard, Dillenius, Sibthorp, Daubeny. Linnaeus visited it in 1736, demonstrating to a chosen band of scientists the new system with which his name was to be connected. Botany is little studied or cared for to-day in Oxford: but the ancient garden still flourishes, under its admirable curator, Mr. W. G. Baker, loveliest perhaps of all the lovely spots in lovely Oxford.
In 1673 the Chelsea Physic Garden, obtained on a lease from Lord Cheyne, was laid out by the Apothecaries' Society, and remained for a century the only botanical garden in London. Evelyn, who saw it in 1685, speaks of it in his diary with enthusiasm, as already enriched with "Innumerable varieties." In 1722, Sir Hans Sloane, the ground landlord, conveyed the site to the society in perpetuity. His marble statue, by Rysbrach, unkindly disfigured by ravages of rain and smoke, occupies the centre of the garden. One of its earliest curators was Philip Miller, author of the Gardener's Dictionary, whose catalogue in 1730 enumerates 500 plants. His monument is to be seen in Chelsea churchyard. Amongst its professors in the present century was Dr. Lindley, whose lectures are still recalled with enthusiasm by a few old surviving botanists. After his death, the teaching fell off in interest, and the garden, comparatively disused, seemed likely to fall into the jaws of the brick-and-mortar giant. This calamity has been averted; the grounds are re-constructed, and able curator, Mr. William Hales, appointed; and we may hope to see them once more filled with students, and justifying as well as commemorating the munificence and foresight of the founder. For years past I have never visited London without a reverent pilgrimage to the fine old place, nor can anyone rejoice in its regeneration more sincerely than myself. A few relics of its antiquity still remain. The last of the four cedars, one of the original trees brought from Lebanon to this country, is dying and awaits its doom; a noble Oriental plane has dwindled since its water supply was cut off by the Embankment, and now stands nearly dead; the great maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba, will be or has been removed to make way for new buildings. But a large walnut, a buckthorn (30 feet in height), a dense shrubby styrax, and a koelreuteria (one of the finest in this country, with spreading foliage and clusters of yellow bloom), still stand and flourish, while on the walls are a vigorous wistaria, and a pomegranate which has flowered freely in the past dry summer.
But what, you will say, has all this to do with Education? That I am going to explain. Long ago, early in the sixties, I found myself headmaster of Taunton school, and determined to make botany part of the curriculum. My assistants, Oxford or Cambridge men, knew nothing about it, and I found that I must teach it myself. No public school had hitherto introduced it, nor was any educational book available, except Lindley's Descriptive Botany. I laid down two principles; one, to avoid the seven-leagued words, so dear to the pendant, so cruel to the pupil, ridiculed in Crabbe's Preceptor Husband; the other, to ensure that whatever entered the ear should be manifest at the same time to sight and touch; that all parts and organs described should be actually in the pupils' hands, while every record of systematic groupings and natural affinities should be promptly verified by examination of the growing plants.
It was clear that, before we could begin, a botanical garden was essential. To lay out a piece of ground in parallel strips, and to stock it with necessary specimens, formed the first half-year's work. Dear old Baxter, of the Oxford garden, presented me with some 50 well-chosen plants; the older boys eagerly joined in searching for, bringing home and planting, from common, river-bank, and fertile Quantock hill-side, such other types as I selected; and before long a sufficiency was arranged and labeled, leaving the gaps to be filled up later on. So at last we began in class, each boy with knife, shilling lens, and type schedule before him, the walls of the class-room hung with Fitch's diagrams, and a large sheet of the Natural Orders conspicuous in front. For every lesson, plants were brought in from the garden and distributed; blank schedules were given out to be filled in after the lesson with descriptions of selected plants, and the class always adjourned to the garden beds for a brief clinical lecture on the specimens we had demonstrated.
It became at once the most popular of our school subjects; classes not yet taught, clamoured for admission; boys brought in plants from half-holiday walks to be placed in flower-trays, holding each 18 small bottles of water, with scientific and English names attached. Some asked permission to undertake the care of particular orders in the garden, many returned from home after the summer holidays with roots of plants out of their own neighbourhoods which they did not think that we possessed. Visitors came to see the garden, and to be present at the lessons. I remember how the present Archdeacon Wilson, then a master at Rugby, contributed interesting facts to a lecture on the Papaveraceae, and I preserve a letter from Dean Farrar, asking for a description of our specimen flower-trays, that he might introduce them at Harrow. Outsiders in the town craved the crumbs which fell from our children's table. I gave a course of lectures to some twenty ladies and gentlemen, many of whom passed the South Kensington examination, and whose graceful recognition of our joint labours, Ottley's splendid folio of facsimiles from the Italian masters, holds a cherished place in my library.
In 1869, reading a paper before the British Association on Physical Science in Schools, I was able thus to summarise our five years' experience in the teaching of botany and of other sciences:--"The system has brought about this result first of all, that there are no dunces in the school. In a purely classical school, for every promising scholar, there are probably two who make indifferent progress and one who makes no progress at all; and a certain proportion of the school, habitually disheartened, loses the greatest boon which school can give, namely, the habit and the desire of intellectual improvement. By giving importance to abstract and physical science, we at once redress the balance. Every boy progresses in his own subject; some progress in all; no one is depressed, no one thinks learning hateful. Secondly, the teaching of science makes school-work pleasant. The boys' evident enjoyment of the scientific lesson rouses the emulation of other masters. They discover that the teaching of languages may become as interesting as the teaching of science. They realize--a point not often realized--the maxim of Socrates, that no real instruction can be bestowed on learners, by a teacher who does not give them pleasure. Lastly, the effect on the boys' character is beyond all dispute. It kindles some minds which nothing else could reach at all. It awakes in all minds faculties which would otherwise have continued dormant. It changes, to an extent which we cannot over-estimate, the whole force and character of school life both to the learner and the teacher. It establishes, as matter of experience, what has long been urged in theory, that the widest culture is the noblest culture; that universality and thoroughness may go together; that the system which confines itself to a single branch of knowledge, does not gain, but loses incomparably, by its exclusiveness; that observation, imagination, and reasoning may all be trained alike; that we may, and we must, teach many things, and teach them well."
Time passed away; my life of school teaching ended, to be followed by more than twenty years, not quite at an end, of school examining for the Oxford and Cambridge delegacies. An effective examiner is not only an inspector of results from the past, but a professor of stimulation for the future, instilling new ideas and kindling fresh enthusiasms. In many schools, I found attempts more or less developed at botanic teaching, and in every case I offered, with thankful acquiescence mostly, to lay out a school garden, and to stock it partially with plants, which I was accumulating in my spacious Warwickshire home. Before me, as I write, are the plans drawn and carried out, on spaces ranging from half-an-acre to a few poles, in the Edgbaston, Llandaff, Oxford, Preston High Schools, in private schools at Bournemouth and at Bromsgrove. I schemed also the botanic department of the Wolverhampton Park, of the Jephson Gardens at Leamington, of the Co-operative Society's ground at Warrington, together with private gardens not a few; and down to the present year I have sent away annually hampers or rarities, spared from my own collection in autumnal replanting, to old and new horticultural clients. But I wish to lay stress on the fact, that in every case where a school garden was by my advice created, the botanical work showed immediate marked improvement, and teachers were eager to attest the general effect of the experiment on the general intellectual energy of the girls or boys.
Well then, parents and teachers, who wish to stimulate, educate, awaken, charm you children, I have tried to give you, out of my long experience, a plan which meets the case. You will ask me how you are to set about it. That is a fair question. Witty Dean Mansel used to say that if a man cannot be definite he had better be dumb-in-it, so here are definite suggestions.
First, set aside a piece of ground in garden or adjoining field; the more the better, but a small piece will serve. I once laid out for some girls in their fathers' garden, a border against a wall, twelve by three yards in extent, and put into it more than a hundred plants. Divide the beds not less than two feet wide, severed by paths eighteen inches wide, of gravel or of ashes, not of grass. This is a minimum; give rather more width to both if you can afford it. Then put in your plants two feet apart; be sure that all are named on labels eight inches long, writing the names, Latin on one side, English on the other, from the blunt end of the label, and mark with larger labels the beginning of a fresh order. Now get Oliver's Elementary Botany, and Anne Pratt's Flowers of the Field. The first will tell you, with much more besides, the genera which each order contains; the second will identify flowers gathered in your children's walks. Then take the accompanying Table of Orders as a guide for planting, observing that the more important orders are printed in italics. Finally, if you adopt my plan, and I can be of any further service, do not hesitate to write to
Your veteran well-wisher,
Order 1. Ranunculaceae
Subdivision II. Calyciflorae
Order 1. Leguminosae
Division II. Monopetalae or Corolliflorae
Order 1. Caprifoliaceae
Division III. Apetalae
Order 1. Polygoneae
Class II. Monocotyledones
Order 1. Orchideae
Division II. Glumaceae
Order 1. Cyperaceae
Class III. Acotyledones
Order 1. Filices
Proofread May 2011, LNL
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