Since this project was site based I started with the gardens themselves, with the Rhododendrons and then the people who discovered them. This brought me to plant hunters. This topic really stood out to me and in particular the Victorian era. This was because it was no longer a practical past time, it wasn’t like introducing plants for food as the Romans did to Britain or even sending people for incense as the Ancient Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut did. These plant hunters were risking their lives out of the pure passion of discovery.
I looked into prolific plant hunters and started with those who focused on Rhododendrons like George Forest who discovered over 1200 plants new to science as well as a number of birds and animals. I eventually focused in on Joseph Hooker and Marianne North. They were both around in the same time period, the 1800’s and they both led exciting lives. The more I researched the two the more interested I became in the lives they led, North in particular. They were both inspired by their fathers to travel but when Norths’ father died she decided to carry on traveling on her own. She was the first western traveller to visit certain areas in Japan and took no travel companion from home, going so far as to give people “the slip” and disappearing in the night if they insisted on accompanying her. I found her incredibly interesting and relatively unknown.
She thought of marriage as 'a terrible experiment’ that turned women into 'a sort of upper servant’ and found oil painting as 'a vice like dram-drinking, almost impossible to leave off once it gets possession of one’.
She traveled the world, often alone; painting images of fantastical landscapes that shook her society to the core. She was a celebrity of her time, hiring out galleries for her paintings because she got fed up of so many visitors coming through her doors to see them.
He was director of Kew gardens 1865-1885 but as well as curating and arranging the gardens and expeditions he travelled himself.
In the Himalayas he found 25 new species of Rhododendron and over 7,000 specimens. He travelled in convoy and faced at the best harsh travelling conditions and at worst, imprisonment, in an early form of border control to bring back these plants.