Plant hunters' letters found in box
7 September 2012
Letters from some of the Victorian era's most celebrated plant hunters have turned up among paperwork stored in boxes in a barn at Borde Hill, an RHS Recommended garden in West Sussex.
The letters were written by botanist explorers such as George Forrest, E H Wilson and Frank Kingdon-Ward, who provided many of the plants used by Colonel Stephenson Clarke to create the garden in the 1930s.
'We'd been hunting for the lost correspondence for some time,' said his great-grandson, Andrew Stephenson Clarke, the present-day owner of Borde Hill. 'Only by chance did our head gardener Andy Stevens discover the papers hidden among other storage in an old barn.'
Among the 50 letters are a request from Kingdon-Ward to Col. Clarke for sponsorship for his expedition to the Himalayas in 1936, and a note from George Forrest sympathising over losses caused by a sharp frost in April.
Many tell of the challenges and hardships of travelling through remote corners of China, Burma and Tibet. In one letter, George Forrest describes the chaotic situation in China during the Communist revolutions and counter-revolutions of the 1920s, where 'every road is infested by armed robbers' and he has to bypass incessant heavy fighting.
Others are more reflective: a letter from E H Wilson shortly after publication of his 1927 book 'Plant Hunting' refers to the book as 'the most ambitious work I have undertaken' and comments, 'Privileged to travel over much of the earth's surface, I believe that the knowledge gained in twenty-three years of plant hunting belongs not to myself alone but to all interested in plants – in the trees, shrubs and herbs which strew the earth with loveliness.'
It's hoped that once the letters have been examined and analysed they can go on display at the garden next spring.