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Visit London’s Other Botanical Garden
Visit London’s Other Botanical Garden
06 APRIL 2016
BY: LAURA REYNOLDS
This unassuming Victorian house in Tulse Hill is home to the South London Botanical Institute, a herbarium, library and botanical garden. The garden is the main reason we’re here, but more on that later.
It’s a little-known place, only a small sign outside differentiating it from the other houses on the busy Norwood Road, yet it’s been here for over 100 years.
SLBI was founded by a chap called Allan Octavian Hume in 1910. He lived in Crystal Palace and bought this house as a base for his botanical collection.
Across the hall from this room is the library and it’s a satisfyingly, old-fashioned library, emitting a sort of faded grandeur. Floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves cover each wall, filled with books about botanicals, from funghi to mosses. Some leather-bound tomes are as old as the Botanical Institute itself, while others have only been published in recent years. A table sits in the centre of the room, where the public can make use of the reference library on days when the house is open.
Lined with what looks like filing cabinets, the herbarium is home to 40,000 pressed flower specimens, including a poppy pressed in 1898 by Hume himself, which still retains its distinct red colouring. As well as flowers, grass and other plants are stored here, bringing the total up to around 80,000 specimens impressive for a room no bigger than your average sitting room.
The filing cabinets metal, to prevent insects from getting to the specimens were designed by Hume, and the herbarium’s vast collection consists mainly of British plants, reflecting Hume’s own green-fingered interests.
The botanical garden
The focus here is growing plants for scientific interest, so it’s not a landscaped garden. Although the occasional bright bloom rears its head, colourful flowers are few and far between; green is the prevalent colour.
The plants are divided by type; those from South Africa stand opposite plants from Australasia. Native plants skirt the house, and the weed garden provides a home for greenery which may find itself unlovingly removed from most other gardens.
Perhaps worryingly, the poisonous plants almost intermingle with the plants for sale prospective buyers, beware.
The centrepiece of the garden is a pond, roughly 2.5 metres x 2.5 metres in size, sunk into the ground. On this particular March day, it’s awash with frogspawn, although the frogs which produced it are nowhere to be seen. The occasional newt rises to the surface, announced by a trail of bubbles, before disappearing into the black abyss as quickly as it appeared.
Snail trails criss cross the paving slabs, combining with the overhanging plants to demand that visitors tread carefully as they explore.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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