May 2022: Val Bourne on ‘Butterflies in Gardens’

CABAHS welcomed Val Bourne to speak at our May meeting, sharing her photographs, experience and knowledge of butterflies in the garden. She emphasised that she is not a butterfly expert (but she knows one!), she’s an organic gardener who has spent a lot of time observing butterflies, their habits and preferences – and, sadly, their decline in recent years.

Photograph of the FSC's Butterfly ID chart

As a starting point, Val recommended a book and a tool: ‘The Philips Guide to Butterflies’ and the Field Studies Council’s butterfly identification chart. Butterfly Conservation also provide a range of identification guides online. Photographs of a wide range of species – 24 different ones have been spotted in the Spring Cottage garden – showed us the beauty of even the smallest, brownest examples!

Val explained how useful even a small meadow area is for many species, how some species rely on quite a narrow range of plants for nectar, and how the timing of a butterfly lifecycle is intrinsically linked to the lifecycle of their food plants. She stated that climate change – causing plants to flower at different times – is demonstrably messing up this synchronisation, so as gardeners it’s important to grow a wide range of butterfly-friendly plants to try to mitigate that situation.

Some examples of butterfly-friendly plants, and the butterflies that particularly need or enjoy them:

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  • Buddleja davidii – known as the ‘butterfly bush’ for good reason! It can attract up to 22 different species
  • Origanum majorana aka marjoram – its nectar is particularly sugar-rich
  • Urtica dioica aka stinging nettle – this plant is especially good for five butterfly species (the Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock and Painted Lady)
  • Scabious – this group of plants, including the field scabious (Knautia arvensis), have a long flowering season and are rich in nectar
  • Sweet pea – especially the perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius) for Brimstone butterflies
  • Cardamine pratensis aka cuckoo flower or lady’s smock – for Orange Tip butterflies (also garlic mustard, wallflowers, sweet rocket)
  • Ilex aquifolium (holly) – for Holly Blue butterflies (also Hedera – ivy – for later in their lifecycle)

Long grass is especially important for the ‘brown group’ of butterflies (which are not all brown!) because they lay their eggs on native grasses. Examples of these are Gatekeepers, Graylings, Small Heath and Marbled White butterflies. This is a group that tends to be smaller and less noticed, but it is worth paying attention as they are as beautiful as the showier, higher flying butterflies on closer inspection.

Val took a number of questions at the end of her interesting talk, and heard about plans for leaving some long grass in Charlton House Gardens and a suggestion from the floor to visit Ladywell Cemetery, which is actively managed with butterfly conservation in mind and occasionally holds butterfly identification walks through Big City Butterflies.

A full house for Val Bourne’s butterfly talk!

Ali


Val Bourne gardens at Spring Cottage in Cold Aston, Gloucestershire and is an award-winning garden writer, organic gardener and lecturer. Her writing appears regularly in the press, and her most recent book is ‘The Living Jigsaw’.

February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

The talk was given by Melanie Aspey, a CABAHS member who has been the Rothschild archivist for 28 years. Providing photographs and documentation from the Rothschild archives, she said the Rothschilds are best known for banking, their art collections, philanthropy and wine, but many of them have also had  a keen  interest in horticulture reaching back to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), the founder of the dynasty, who lived in the Frankfurt Jewish Ghetto.

After the defeat of Napoleon, thanks to their support for the allies, the Rothschild family was able to lobby for the retention of the right for the Jewish Community to buy real estate outside the ghetto. Mayer Amschel’s son, Amschel, considered that building a house would be too ostentatious, but a garden would better serve their needs. Instead he established a garden which he subsequently opened to visitors and for charitable purposes. He spent vast sums on plants, some of which (and Melanie showed one of the plant sale receipts from the archives) he imported from England. Later taken over by the Nazis and bombed by the allies, the garden fell into disrepair but parts have recently been renovated.

Continue reading February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

January 2022: Anne Barnard on Dahlias

Anne Barnard from Rose Cottage Plants nursery in Essex has many years experience of and is a specialist in growing dahlias, as well as exhibiting widely including at RHS shows. Dahlias, which originate in Mexico and Central America, come in a wide variety of colours from pastel to rich reds and mahogany.

Anne described how planting dahlias in summer beds can transform them and suggested how to choose and use them to best effect. Anne said they provide an outlet for personal creativity, style and artistic expression. She used her own garden, field displays in Holland and Chenies Manor as illustrations.

Dahlias had gone out of fashion, but in recent years there had been a revival of interest in them.  Their rich colours were particularly attractive and ‘jewel’ gardens had become common.  Many new and more popular and often exotic looking varieties had been developed. Many originate in Holland and she visited several important and influential growers. She said after bulbs, tulips and alliums have flowered by June/July,  gardens begin to look tired and dahlias wide variety and rich colours give life to the garden and make a good display right up to the first frosts.

Anne went on to describe a wide variety of dahlias:

Continue reading January 2022: Anne Barnard on Dahlias

October 2021: Dr Mark Spencer on ‘Murder Most Florid’

The guest speaker for October was Dr Mark Spencer who gave a fascinating glimpse into his experience of working as a forensic botanist. It became clear that forensic botanists are a rare find throughout the UK and the world.

He explained that from being brought up within a rural farming background in Warwickshire, he studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. However he realised he did not want to pursue horticulture as a job and moved onto studying Botany culminating in a Doctorate looking at the evolution of fungi. While working at the Natural History Museum where he had become an expert on various aspects of botany, he was approached by a Police department asking whether he could help work out how long a body had been in a canal.

He has now worked alongside numerous police forces and an array of other experts such as soil scientists, experts in the study of pollen and forensic entomologists (study of insects) to assist in missing person searches, assessing how long human remains had been in-situ and linking suspects to crime scenes.

As a forensic botanist, Dr Mark Spencer looks for useful evidence using his knowledge of the rhythm, structure and behaviour of plants within their eco-systems. This can range from observation and interpretation of how vegetation is growing at a scene being investigated, to a microscopic identification of fragments of foliage found on clothing, to looking at the stomach contents and understanding the botany within a person’s digestive tract.

He explained how the roots of plants can help provide understanding of how long ago human activity occurred at the scene. Brambles (Rubus fruticosis) can be very useful tools for estimating how long bodies had been lying in woodlands or hedgerows through the knowledge of how they grow at different stages, when they send out side shoots and number of stems produced. I have a feeling that my walks through Oxleas Woods, which are full of brambles, will never be quite the same again!

Sharon


Dr Mark Spencer is an experienced and internationally respected botanist. His expertise covers many disciplines including forensic botany, the plants of North-west Europe, invasive species and the history of botanical science. He works globally as a writer, public speaker and television presenter and has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage. He is also Hon. Botany Curator of the Linnean Society of London. Dr Spencer’s website gives a detailed description of his range of expertise.

July 2021: Dusty Gedge on roof gardens

Dusty Gedge was welcomed to the meeting. Dusty is a professional photographer and green structure and nature conservationist.  He is President of the European Federation of Green Roof and Wall Associations.  He said he was pleased to talk to CABAHS as he was local, Lewisham and Blackheath based, and had done a lot of work in the area. He said he is not a gardener but is involved in plants and soil.

Dusty made the point that green roofs and roof gardens have a local history, firstly showing a photograph of  the 1997-built sustainable green roof  on the now demolished Sainsburys on the Peninsular, followed by  one  of the 2019-built IKEA roof garden. In fact, Greenwich and Lewisham have the second and third most green roofs in London. Nowadays in England, including the City of London, it is planning policy that all tall buildings should have green roofs.

Dusty said that nowadays green roofs are becoming numerous. He showed photographs of a wide variety of them from Europe and the UK. From roofs in parts of Europe where traditionally turf and sedums were used to  modern schemes, including nearer to home  such as the roof garden at the National Theatre.  He said there were 4 types of green roof (intensive, semi-intensive, biodiverse and extensive) and discussed the environment, conditions and maintenance needed for the various types to flourish.

Green roofs and roof gardens are taking soil and plants into the cities.  He referred to ‘plumbing with plants’ using soil and vegetation as they store water, helping to ameliorate floods. They also help in heatwaves and the green space they provide fosters health, wellbeing and social cohesion.

He discussed two projects, the Museum of Home and Design which balances diversity with formal garden design using mediterranean and native plants and then IKEA with its four different sections. He said he would be happy next year to take CABAHS members on a tour of IKEA’s roof garden.

Afterwards, Dusty took questions and was asked by a member (who is also a surveyor) about infrastructure needed to support the roof and prevent leaks. He agreed that is an issue and said there were many structural strategies existing to prevent this happening.  Another asked what would be the effect of wind on tall buildings. Dusty pointed out that the roofs of tall buildings were generally less windy than at ground level due to the funnel effect. He also reassured members that he collects local wildflower seeds in a sustainable way.

Angela


Dusty Gedge is a green infrastructure professional, public speaker, photographer, nature conservationist and social media influencer. He is President of the European Federation of Green Roof and Wall Associations and a recognised international speaker on green roofs, green infrastructure and biodiversity.

Dusty gave several links to useful websites and a podcast, below. He said members are welcome to contact him for advice.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/audio/2015/nov/14/podcast-green-roof-sow-grow-repeat-gardening

http://www.growingontheedge.net/viewtopic.php?p=103296

https://greenrooftraining.com/shed-green-roof-wa/

June 2021: Graham Dear on managing Greenwich Park and the impact of Covid-19

Graham Dear was welcomed to our meeting. He said he was pleased to talk to some fellow gardeners, though he hadn’t gardened himself for many years, as he had moved from being Manager of Greenwich Park to heading up the Greenwich Park Revealed Project (GPRP).  This is a 4-year project aimed at revealing, restoring, protecting and sharing the park’s unique heritage now and for future generations.

Graham said the pandemic had had a profound impact on Greenwich Park and the way it is managed. From March 2020 all recreational activities and events in all the Royal Parks ground to a halt, which resulted in an overall revenue loss of £20million, some 50 percent of annual spend. In Greenwich, the Pavilion Café, boating lake, tennis courts and even the rose garden had to be closed as its gates needed pushing and touching. There was no income from bandstand concerts, filming or car park fees or catering. The park was also unable to get insurance to cover events in 2021.

It had a particularly devastating impact on the GPRP which originally had had a £10m budget allocated to it.  £4.5m was funded by the Heritage Fund which had already begun to be implemented. Graham said he was faced with the challenge of making economies due to the loss of park revenue. He aimed to save £2m, so the GPRP budget has been cut to £8m. The cuts included the Nursery Yard reorganisation and the Sustainable Learning Centre.

Not all was bad though. Closing the through road and avenues was beneficial to pedestrians. Although the park no longer had tourists, there was a massive increase in local visitors to the park – who often arrived by bike or on foot – and used it for exercise and recreation.

Rubbish overflowing in Greenwich Park

Rubbish was an issue but the staff coped well with the challenge and more bins are now a feature of the park!

Visitors were naturally more spaced out because of social distancing needs. An informal poll showed they were much younger as well.  Ethnic diversity also increased by 5 percent.

Graham then went on to discuss the revised plans they had for the park and showed a range of slides to illustrate the programme. He said the GPRP had now begun again.

  1. They plan to preserve, renovate and manage the avenues of trees which have been decimated by diseases, pests and squirrel damage. The horse chestnuts are riddled with bleeding canker and the sweet chestnuts by ink stain disease.
  2. The area around the grand ascent giant steps and parterre banks is to be renovated. Recreating a series of grass steps on the hill leading to the Royal Observatory following the original 17th century design.
  3. The viewing space in front of the area around the statue of General Wolfe is to be increased and opened up. A café will open in the space behind.
  4. The Old Wilderness and deer park community facilities will be enhanced including a new classroom. The deer herd is to be sent on holiday to Richmond Park for 2 years.
  5. Vanbrugh Yard: The area in the SE corner of the park is to be reorganised.  There will be a cafe aimed at taking pressure off the Pavilion Café. The boundaries of nursery yard, will be shifted and opened up to the public.  It will feature a new glass house, kitchen garden, wildlife orchard, volunteer room and public toilet facilities.
  6. The seating in One Tree Hill will be improved.
  7. Car parking at the pedestrian entrance at Blackheath Gate will be removed and the pedestrian entrance will be improved.
  8. The Victorian bandstand is to be improved and a power supply for community events installed.
  9. The wildlife habitat is to be increased and mowing will use a meadow cut rather than an amenities regime.
  10. The Victorian drinking fountains to be reinstated.
  11. Two self-seeded mature trees are to be removed from Flamstead House to improve the view.

Finally, he discussed the park’s engagement with the wider community, including training schemes that were being introduced  such as three year apprentices  and  cultural events such  as the Tramshed and dance. Graham then answered members questions, and was thanked for such an interesting talk.

Angela


Graham Dear is Manager for Greenwich Park. His management has overseen Greenwich Park Revealed, ‘an exciting multi million pound project to conserve and to enhance Greenwich Park’s historic and natural heritage, putting the community at its very heart’.

Afternoon tea at the Garrison Church, Woolwich

Members who came to this event on 5 June 2021 were treated to an interesting talk from Tim Barnes about the history of the Church, and the plans for the future, including a Commonwealth Garden designed by Chelsea gold medal winner Juliet Sargeant. We also saw the crypt and the beautiful mosaics. The award-winning gates feature three flowers of remembrance, the poppy, the forget-me-not (Germany) and the cornflower (France).

May 2021 – Joe Beale on the Changing management of Blackheath, Greenwich & Charlton

Our May talk on Zoom was presented by local naturalist Joe Beale. He discussed the changing management of the local area, including Charlton Park, Greenwich and Blackheath and the impact this is having on local plants as well as lichens and animals.

He discussed the approach to take to habitat management – that there were lots of things worth fighting for. He discussed the need to carry out research and ecological surveys, the need for a conservation action plan and to take conservation action appropriate to the conservation site. Also the necessity to work in collaboration with local residents, communities, landowners, specialists and the local council. He commended the support given by Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces and its willingness to assist.

Joe began by showing a photograph  of the Vanbrugh Pits in 1983 when vegetation there was scarce, but rich in bio-diversity, and now, when it is  dense with brambles and Holm Oak which are killing off the flora and fauna. He  pointed to the need for  pursuing in management a middle path there, including getting rid of the Holm Oak, Cherry and Turkey Oak (as well as the dogs mess!).

Key diverse wild life plants in this area he suggested  were species that needed low nutrient soil e.g. blackthorn plantain and  lichens such as Cetraria aculeata and Chaldonia furcata. He said 29 types of butterfly had been found on the Greenwich Park side of Blackheath in 2010 which was about half of the UK total and 173 species of bees and wasps.

Also found in acid grassland and sandy soil are sheeps sorrel (Rumex acetosella), birds foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), spurry (Spergularia rubra ) and lichen (Cetraria aculeata).

Blackheath and the Greenwich Park side of it is well known for plants and clovers which thrive on soil of of low nutrient value.   Such as hare’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense),  knotted clover (Trifolium striatum), woolly clover (Trifolium tomentosum,)  and clustered clover ( Trifolium glomeratum).

Wildlife included gorse( Ulex europaeus) for the whinchat birds,  ragwort visited by 43 bees and wasps, the  burnet and  cinnabar moths and  small copper butterflies.

Joe said sympathetic mowing was crucial in particular the need to remove the hay to promote biodiversity as it was nutrient rich.  Always have wildness at heart.  Leave the edges of sites, leave verges and banks and mow in rotation.  Expose earth and  deadwood. Consider the food, plants, shelter, nesting and breeding needs of key wildlife.

He described the increase in biodiversity in verges in Blackheath since it has had relaxed mowing as well as Charlton’s Maryon Park. He also referred  to the Wildlife Meadow which is being constructed in Charlton  Park. The policy there of not sowing wild flowers, just digging the area over and seeing  what grows. He  pointed out the value of cemeteries in promoting biodiversity. He mentioned that cemeteries such as Charlton cemetery are expected to be neat and tidy, but, in fact are bustling with wild life and like Charlton they should have an area left to encourage biodiversity.

To help promote and encourage more biodiversity Greenwich Park has also taken a more relaxed approach to mowing and is allowing grass to grow in some areas as well as setting up biodiversity friendly habitats.  This policy has been incorporated into its  multimillion pound Heritage funded renovation programme.  Many CABAHS members are already keen promoters of biodiversity and wildlife. Hopefully Joe’s  enthusiastic talk  will encourage the rest to consider  the needs of biodiversity and wildlife in their own gardens.

Angela


Joe Beale is a naturalist who, in addition to carrying out surveys of local wildlife, giving talks and writing, also offers guided walks. He is across social media platforms with an active Twitter account, updating people on what to see in our area.

April 2021 – Adam Pascoe on creating a garden for all seasons

Our recent Zoom talk featured Adam Pasco, horticultural journalist and editor of Gardeners World magazine for many years, who provided ten tips and ideas on how to create a garden for all seasons that would provide garden interest and colour throughout the year. He used as a backdrop and example his own beautiful back garden in Peterborough which he had created over the last 30 years.  A garden that we amateur gardeners could relate to and achieve.

1) CHOOSE PLANTS WITH STRUCTURE AND FORM: Adam suggested as examples, the Wedding Cake Tree – Cornus controversa variegata,  Hydrangea paniculata, Cardoon – Cynara cardunculus.

2) PICK PLANTS THAT HAVE A LONG SEASON OF INTEREST: He suggested putting the perennial Spanish Dagger – Yucca Gloriosa variegata in a large pot and  surrounding it with annual bedding plants which could be changed each  season.

3) USE PLANTS AND COMBINATIONS FOR CONTINUITY OF COLOUR: For example Phlomis russeliana (AGM) and Nepeta racemosa.

4) ADD FEATURES AND FOCAL POINTS: He gave examples such as seated areas with benches, painted wooden fences, paths, arches and  water features. He gave East Rushton Old Vicarage garden, Barnsdale Gardens, and Old Wallerton Hall as examples.

5) CREATE STUNNING SEASONAL DISPLAYS: So that you have a display in each season.  He gave the red border at Hidcote as an example of a summer display.

6) ADD VALUE ACROSS ALL SEASONS: Also design your garden so that it looks good all the year round. Focus on one area that looks good for one season. Adam suggested Camellia ‘Garden Glory’ Feb – March,  dwarf Rhododendron ‘Snipe’ Feb – March, Camellia ‘Contribution’ Mid March-April, Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ (AGM) – April, Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’ – Spring through summer, Azalea ‘Sheila’ – May, Rhododendron ‘Yakushimanum’ – May, Rhododendrum ‘Surrey Heath’ – May, Kalmia latifolia -Early June, Clematis ‘Oh La La’, Boulevard Series, Hydrangea -Summer into Autumn, Taxus baccata ‘Standishi’ (AGM) -Year round, Tibetan Cherry Prunus serrula.

7) EXCITE THE SENSES: He suggested sensory plants such as Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’ and  Lilium  ‘Pink Romance’.

8) GROW SOMETHING DIFFERENT: He suggested Sophora ‘Sun King’ (AGM),  Hollyleaf Sweetspire, Itea ilicifolia (AGM), Phygelius ‘Moonraker’  and Ptilotus ‘Joey’ for a sunny patio pot.

9) PLANTS THAT ATTRACT WILDLIFE: He suggested Alstromeria initicancha ‘Sunshine’ and Cotoneaster horizontalis for berries.

10) HAVE A STAR PLANT FOR EVERY MONTH:

EARLY SPRING:   Plant Narcissus ‘Tete- a- Tete’, Camellia x Williamsii ‘Saint Ewe’ (AGM) and  Summer Snowflake ‘Leucojum aestivum (AGM) with Brunnera Jack  Frost (AGM).

MID SPRING:  Star Magnolia  – Magnolia stellata,  ornamental fruit and trees e.g   Self fertile Pear ‘Concorde’ (AGM), Epimedium x Perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’.

LATE SPRING:  Rhododendron ‘Yakushimanum’ (AGM), Perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’, Clematis koreana ‘Amber’.

EARLY SUMMER: Roses including ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘The One and Only’, Allium ‘Globemaster’ (AGM). Annual climbers e.g. Sweet Peas, Thungbergia alata ‘Superstar Orange’, Spanish Flag – ‘Ipomoea lobata’, Cup and Saucer Vine –  Cobaea scandens.

MID SUMMER: Astranta major ‘Roma’ (AGM), Echinacea magnus, Lavender Fathead ‘Pretty Polly’, ‘Willow Vale’, L. Viridis.

LATE SUMMER: Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (AGM), Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ (AGM), Sedum Thundercloud’, ‘Purple Emperor’ (AGM), ‘Rose Carpet’, Sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’.

FOLIAGE FAVOURITES THROUGHOUT THE SEASONS: Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (AGM), Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ (AGM), Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (AGM), Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’,  Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ (AGM), Elder – Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ (AGM), Viola ‘Heartthrob’, Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’.

EARLY AUTUMN: Perennial Sunflower – Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ (AGM), Aster x Frikarti ‘Monch’ (AGM), Japanese Anemones ‘Pretty Lady Susan’ ‘Honore Joubert’ (AGM), Prinz Heinrich ‘Pamina’ (AGM) and ‘September Charm’ (AGM).

MID AUTUMN: Autumn colour-  Stag’s Horn Sumach –   Rhus typhina, ‘Kashmir’, Rowan – Sorbus ‘Cashmiriana’ (AGM).

LATE AUTUMN: Crab Apple – Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ (AGM), Skimmia japonica ‘Pabella’ (female for berries).

EARLY WINTER: Silver Birch – Betula ‘Silver Shadow’ (AGM).

EVERGREEN FORM AND COLOUR FOR ALL SEASONS: Japanese Sedge – Carex ‘Evergold’, Helleborus argutifolius (AGM), Skimmia ‘Kew Green’ (AGM) (male), Chamaecyparis ‘Boulevard’ (AGM), Choiysia ‘Aztec Pearl’ (AGM), Choisya ternate ‘Sundance’ (AGM),  Hebe ‘Margaret’ (AGM), Evergreen Fern – Soft Shield Fern Polytsichum setiferum (AGM).

MID WINTER: Mahonia x Media ‘Winter Sun’ (AGM), Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ (AGM), Winter Aconite – Eranthis Hyemalis (AGM),

LATE WINTER: Crocus ‘Tricolor’ (AGM), Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis (AGM).

Finally, Adam suggested garden jobs for April: it is a good time to transplant and split Agapanthas. Also he recommended buying seeping hosepipes, and that timers could be attached to taps. A time too for testing old seeds to see if they are worth using. Take a few, soak in water overnight, dry them and cover them with cling film. Check after a couple of days to see how many  have germinated.

Angela


Adam Pasco launched the BBC Gardeners’ World magazine in 1991 and edited it for 22 years, he currently edits the Waitrose magazine, and has worked alongside gardening icons Geoff Hamilton, Geoffrey Smith and Alan Titchmarsh; he also lectures, is a renowned photographer and runs his own media company, adampascomedia.com

March 2021 – David Marsh on ‘Elephants in the Garden’

At our recent Zoom talk, Dr David Marsh, a garden historian, gave a detailed account of the history of elephants in gardens focusing primarily on menageries  and then on large scale mechanical  elephants. His interest in elephants was stimulated by a visit to a café at the grade I listed Chiswick House and gardens where he noticed a coaster had an elephant depicted on it.

The earliest mention of a menagerie in the UK is in 1199 in the grounds of Woodstock Manor situated on the site of the present day Blenheim Palace.

The monarchs over the centuries were very keen on menageries and  elephants. Elephants were often given as gifts. Henry 111 was given an elephant  in 1255  by the French King which cost £24.14s.3p to feed over a period of 9 months. A colossal sum at the time. So too were Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. James I was especially attracted to menageries.  He was given one by the King of Spain.

Henry VIII set up a  menagerie in the Tower of London where an area was set aside for it.  Over the centuries the menagerie became a tourist attraction. A viewing platform was erected in 1597.  The animals were  sometimes baited to entertain tourists. In the 18th century the  entrance fee was 3p, or if you could not afford it a cat or dog to feed to the lions.

Elephants over the centuries were often fed and housed inappropriately. One was fed wine. Not surprisingly some did not live very long. Henry VIII’s elephant only lived 2 years.

By the mid eighteen century menageries became must have features found in many country estates. There were estimated to be as many as 40 at one point. Though rare that they had elephants. One well known elephant was Sadi who was given to the Duke of Devonshire at Chiswick House by the Marquis of Hastings of India fame as a present.  He even introduced her to the Russian Czar. The animals in menageries  became increasingly varied and exotic. A reflection of  the expanding British empire overseas.

By the early 19th century menageries had also become commercial enterprises.  The Exeter Exchange was set up in the Strand near Somerset House in 1815. One elephant there, Chunee was taught tricks. She was hired out to theatres, but eventually had to be killed as  she  became too dangerous.

The early nineteenth century was the heyday and also the swansong of menageries. The tide turned on Chunee’s death and a more  humane and educational approach was introduced during the 19th century.  George IV  had a menagerie set up at Windsor using  a more enlightened approach.

In 1826 the Linnean Society spear headed by its members,  Sir Joseph Banks, Humphry Davy and the Stamford Raffles founded the present day London Zoo in Regents Park  where the animals were provided with more spacious accommodation within beautiful gardens. In the 1830s William 1V closed the Tower menagerie and its animals were moved to Regents Park. It did not have an elephant so the new zoo quickly bought two.

The Exeter Menagerie was moved to a site in the Walworth Rd by its owner Edward Cross. He situated it in a large beautifully designed and laid out garden. It became a major tourist attraction.

Dr Marsh then moved on to mechanical elephants They were first mentioned by Jules Verne in 1880 and started to be manufactured at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Frank Smith and then in the 1940s and  50s, Frank Stuart , developed and manufactured  and sold world wide large scale mechanical elephants.  They became major tourist attractions. They were also used for advertising purposes, including by Chipperfields Circus.  One in Australia called Nellie played a central part in the  annual Adelaide   Christmas Parade. One huge automaton in Nante took 20-30 passengers  and shot  water from its trunk.  Some still exist. One is in the Bewley Motor  Museum. One was even sold on Ebay in 2011 for £1,600.   Another featured in Jeremy Clarkson’s Top Gear!


Dr David Marsh is a garden historian, lecturer and writer, as well as a trustee of the Gardens Trust, a charity dedicated to the conservation of our historic parks, gardens and designed landscapes. He is an expert on garden history and co-convener of the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes seminars at Institute of Historical Research, London University. A brief introduction to his talks can be found at gardenhistorytalks.com and he also writes a weekly blog for the Gardens Trust.