## Welcome to Middle Temple Library’s exhibition on Botany at Middle Temple
Plants provide the foundation for nearly all life on earth. The chloroplasts in green plants provide some 70% of our breathable oxygen and sit at the centre of countless ecosystems. By the same token, plants are essential to human life and civilization. Grains, pulses, fruits, and vegetables are staple foods around the world, and the calories from a single species of rice – Oryza sativa – sustain over 3.5 billion people. Plant fibres provide us with clothing, plant timbers provide us with building materials for shelter, and plant-derived compounds still provide the active ingredients in many of our most effective medicines.
Plants also provide the materials for some poisons, which have been used for centuries to commit heinous crimes. Ricin, for example, which is derived from castor beans, was used to poison the Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov in London in 1978. Even nicotine, found in nightshade plants (Solanaceae), can be a deadly neurotoxin when used in large quantities.
The Library’s Rare Book and Manuscript collections provide a wealth of materials to explore the fascinating topic of botany and plants – from sixteenth-century woodcuts illustrating medical botany, seventeenth-century tracts promoting food security, to murder trials. The Archive has a rich repository of documents that also tell the story of botany at the Inn, such as gardener’s bills and photographs. And, of course, the Inn has a beautiful garden with a rich and interesting past and present.
This exhibition links materials from the Inn’s Archives, Rare Books, and Manuscript collections, combined with materials from the garden, to explore the splendid and diverse role that plants and botany play at the Inn. It was curated by Will Beharrell, Librarian at the Linnean Society, and Kate Jenrick and Renae Satterley, respectively Gardener and Librarian at Middle Temple, with the generous support of Victoria Hildreth, Assistant Archivist; Liane Owen, Book Conservator; and Siobhán Prendergast, Conservator.
Joachim Camerarius, De re rustica opuscula nonnulla, 1577
Like many early-modern botanists, Joachim Camerarius the Younger (1534-1598) was chiefly employed as a physician, pursuing a private medical practice in Nuremberg where he later became Dean of the College of Medicine. Botany remained an engaging side-hustle, and this imposing bibliography attempts a classification of the state of knowledge on agricultural matters up to Camerarius’ lifetime. Intriguingly, it lists many works by classical authorities now known to be lost, demonstrating a reverence for the knowledge of antiquity that continued well into the enlightenment.
Joannes de Laet, Novus orbis seu descriptionis Indiae Occidentalis libri XVIII, 1633
Just three crops – sugar, tobacco, and cotton – provided much of the economic impetus for European colonial expansion in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Sugar alone represented nearly 20% of European imports by value by the end of the eighteenth-century, with the annual trade thought to be worth nearly £7m by 1788. Much of that wealth originated in the West Indies, powered by a brutal triangular trade in enslaved people.
The growing importance of this trade can be measured indirectly by the gradual mapping of the territories in which it took place. This 1633 atlas of North America, by the leading cartographer Johannes de Laet (1581-1649), was ground-breaking in its day. It contains the first appearance in print of many now famous place names, including ‘Massachusetts’ and ‘Manhattan’, and many woodcut illustrations, such as this one depicting cocoa beans.
Ole Worm, Museum Wormianum, 1655
With the increasing respectability of the natural sciences came a new kind of gentlemanly pursuit: the creation of spectacular Wunderkammer, or ‘cabinets of curiosity’, in which an unhinged medley of natural history paraphernalia could be presented for the improvement of scholarship and the glorification of its owner.
Pietro de’ Crescenzi, Opera di agricoltura, 1553
Pietro de’ Crescenzi (c.1230-1320) was another natural historian with a day job. Born in Bologna, he worked as a lawyer and jurist for 30 years, travelling all over Italy. However, he is best remembered today for his works on agriculture and horticulture; his Ruralia commoda (written c.1310) would occupy his retirement years and became the first printed book on agriculture when it was first published in print, in 1471. This reworked edition of 1553 covers a compendium of country pursuits including animal husbandry, hunting, and trapping, with eye-catching diversions into astronomy and winemaking.
‘Plant medicine’ is a rather denigrated term these days – with modern pharmacology having mostly abandoned plant-derived compounds in favour of synthetic alternatives – but for centuries plants provided the most effective remedies against a range of human ailments. Many of today’s most common drugs still have a plant-ancestor in their past – from aspirin (willow tree) to opium (poppies), quinine (cinchona) and digoxin (foxgloves) – treating everything from malarial fever to heart disease, and chronic pain.
The Egyptians provide among the oldest recorded herbals* in the ancient world, but for centuries the most influential text in western medicine was the work of Dioscorides. His ‘De materia medica’ (composed sometime between 50 and 70 CE) was unfathomably influential and remained the basis of most scholarly pharmacopoeias for over 1,600 years.
All the books in this case originate from the pre-enlightenment milieu in which Dioscoridean materia medica ruled and includes perhaps the most influential renaissance edition (by Pietro Mattioli). It was not until the early nineteenth-century, and the triumph of the scientific deductive method, that Dioscorides was finally knocked off his perch.
*Books that describe herbs, and their culinary, and medicinal properties.
Pietro Mattioli, Commentarii secundo aucti, in libros sex Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei de medica materia, 1560
If Dioscorides’ De materia medica was the most influential medical text of antiquity, then the Italian translation and commentary by Pietro Mattioli (1501-c.1577) was its most influential edition in the renaissance. Originally published with the modest aim of allowing physicians and apothecaries to identify the plants described by Dioscorides – aided by handsome woodcut illustrations – a translation into Latin in 1554, followed by successive additions, emendations, and corrections, saw it transformed into a vade mecum for any respectable physician. It remained in print for nearly 300 years. The book is open to display the woodcut illustration of ‘Malum punicum’, that is, Pomegranate.
Conrad Gessner, De raris et admirandis herbis, 1555
Conrad Gessner (1516-1565) was probably the most influential naturalist before Linnaeus and is frequently referred to as the father of natural history. He is best remembered today for his monumental Historia Animalium of 1554, but he also wrote several diverting botanical asides. This 1555 work describes the luminescent plants of the mountains, and their medicinal qualities. It is often considered an early work of alpinism. The woodcut illustration is of the plant Drosera rotundifolia, or sundew.
Nicolás Monardes, Simplicium medicamentorum, 1582
Mondardes (1493-1588) was a Spanish physician who published prolifically on medical matters throughout his long life. He was known for treatises that drew on Arabic learning, and the pharmaceutical possibilities of newly discovered cash-crops in the Americas. He was an enthusiastic proponent of tobacco as a remedy-of-all-ills, including–somewhat unfortunately – cancer and lung disease. This book, Simplicium medicamentorum, is perhaps his most influential work, and was printed at Antwerp’s famous Plantin press. It was commonly issued with another work, Garcia da Orta’s Aromatum et simplicum aliquot medicamentorum (1574): an important work on medicinal plants. It is open to show that work’s illustration of a galangal plant.
Prospero Alpini, De plantis Aegypti liber, 1592
Alpini’s ground-breaking study of the Egyptian flora – the first of its kind in Europe – illustrates the problems of marrying new discoveries to the received wisdom of the classical authorities in the early-modern period. Alpini’s attempt to match new species to those described in antiquity was destined for failure, but his precise descriptions – based on specimens he had personally examined – nonetheless provided a useful corrective to the rumours and fables associated with exotic ‘oriental’ plants. His treatise includes the first appearance in print of several now-famous species, including the banana, baobab, and Arabic coffee plants. The woodcut illustration is of the tamarind tree, Tamarindus indica.
Allison Fulton, Amara Santiesteban Serrano, and Jeannette Schollaert have written about tamarind at the Plant Humanities Lab site.
Plants in the legal world
Plants are well represented in the legal world. Legal cases include those on plant theft, the illegal importation of protected species, murder trials involving the use of poisonous plants, ‘sting’ operations on cannabis growers, and the protection of patented genes in plants. There is also a variety of legislation regulating plants and seeds, including the Plant Varieties Act 1997. Additionally, there is a Plant Varieties & Seeds Tribunal that “makes decisions about national listing of new varieties of plants, UK plant variety rights and certain forestry matters”. The Tribunal has been dormant since 1984 as there have been other regulations and methods to resolve the relevant disputes, however.
Certain plant species must be registered on the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Variety Lists. The Controller of Plant Variety Rights keeps a “register of the names of plant varieties in respect of which plant breeders' rights have been granted … and keeps records of plant varieties for which applications for grants of rights are under consideration and for which rights have been granted”.
Forensic botany, or plant forensics, is a branch of botany that analyses plants and fungi in criminal investigations. Such analysis helps investigators link plant evidence with a crime, “such as placing a suspect at a crime scene through analysis of pollen or seed particles found on their clothing” (Katie Avis-Riordan, Kew Gardens). Plant forensics can also be used to help save someone who has been poisoned, by identifying which plant/toxin has been used, and thus also identifying a potential antidote.
Follow this link to listen to a podcast from Kew Gardens on this fascinating topic.
Plants in case law
There is a variety of case law involving plants and botany, including:
R v Singh,  EWCA Crim 2951: the offender had poisoned her victims (one of whom died) using Indian aconite (Aconitum ferox) in a curry.
US v Norris, 452 F.3d1275: George Norris conspired to import protected orchids from Peru into the United States, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
R v. Jones (James),  EWCA Crim 925 : An undercover police officer posed as a buyer in Jones’ hydroponics shop, asking for advice on growing cannabis. Jones explained that it was illegal to grow cannabis, and instead gave the police officer advice on growing ‘tomatoes’. In the appeal, Jones claimed the officer had pressed him to commit an offence – he was originally found guilty of an incitement to produce cannabis, not tomatoes.
Monsanto Technology LLC v Cargill International SA,  F.S.R. 7: “A patent concerning the use of enzymes, which if used in plants conferred resistance to glyphosate herbicide, was valid and had not been infringed by the importation of soya beans grown from seeds carrying the gene for one of the enzymes disclosed in the patent”.
Taylor v Glasgow City Council,  2 SLT 74: A young boy died from eating the berries of an unspecified poisonous shrub growing in public gardens in Glasgow. His father sued the Corporation of the City of Glasgow as the proprietors and custodians of the gardens for damages for the death of his son. The Court dismissed the action as irrelevant; the father appealed.
Arthur Griffiths, Mysteries of police and crime, 1902
Arthur Griffiths (1838-1908) was the inspector of prisons before becoming a prolific author, and “a significant analyst of the history of crime and prison discipline”. This plate shows various poisonous plants that were often used to murder people, including hemlock (Conium maculatum), foxglove (Digitalis), oleander (Nerium oleander), monkshood (Aconitum), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), strychnine (Strychnos), Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), thorn apple (Datura), and opium (Papaver somniferum).
Accompanying this book are dried specimens from the gardens at Middle Temple: oleander and thorn apple.
The trial of Robert Sawle Donnall, surgeon and apothecary, 1817
Donnall was charged with murdering his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Downing. Donnall was accused of serving her a cup of cocoa laced with arsenic. Robert Casberd (1772-1842), a Bencher of the Inn, was one of the prosecuting counsel, and claimed that Donnall had twice poisoned Elizabeth Downing – once on the 19th of October 1816, and the second the day before her death, the 3rd of November, 1816. An autopsy was performed by a Dr. Edwards and Mr. John Street, with Donnall present. Edwards and Street had poured the contents of her stomach into an earthen jug which Donnall, without their knowledge, emptied into a “chamber utensil”, that is, a chamber pot in which there was already some water, thus diluting the contents. Edwards testified that the stomach inflammation he observed in her stomach “could not be produced by any natural cause”. Edwards tested the stomach contents, which showed the presence of arsenic. However, Donnall was acquitted; a maid, Mary Coombe, testified that she drank the remaining cocoa left in Mrs. Downing’s cup.
Shown here is a diagram of the Donnall’s parlour (‘plan of the tea-room’), and the route Donnall took to serve Mrs. Downing her cocoa; the plan was exhibited in court. Drinking cocoa is of course made from cocoa beans. According to English Heritage, it was made by mixing cocoa powder, water or milk, sugar, and egg yolks.
Follow this link for a digital version of the trial account.
MS146, Records of The Society of the Bears
A set of five manuscript records was deposited in the Library on 9 June, 1826. The ‘Society’ was in fact a group of men, mostly barristers from the four Inns who met regularly, starting in 1738, until the ‘Society’ was wound up in 1823. They met to place bets and make wagers on a variety of topics, and held their meetings in taverns and coffee houses, such as Serle’s, located at Lincoln’s Inn, and Will’s located at 1 Bow Street. Will’s was known as the ‘Wits’ Coffee House’, but by the time the Society met there, it had fallen out of fashion. Both Robert Matthew Casberd, the prosecuting counsel, and Charles Abbot, the trial judge in the Donnall case, were members of the Society. Bets were placed, and dues paid, with bottles of port and wine.
Coffee houses were popular social venues in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, attracting men (and sometimes women) from all levels of society. Although known to earlier travellers, coffee as a drink was introduced to England from Turkey in 1652. Coffee is produced by brewing the dried, roasted seeds of the berries of Coffea plants. Coffee was believed to cure headaches, gout, and some skin conditions. Sir Nicholas Lawes introduced coffee to Jamaica in 1728, but its cultivation and profitability relied on the exploitation of slave labour. At the time of his death in 1731, he owned 478 slaves. Lawes’ son Temple is named in one of the draft deeds listed in the Library’s eighteenth-century manuscript of conveyancing precedents, MS37.
Follow this link to access a transcription of all five volumes of the Records, and a list of the Society’s members.
This reproduction frontispiece shows the interior of Dick’s Coffee-House, which was located at no.8, Fleet Street (south side, near to the Temple Bar). The play had an unfavourable depiction of the landlady (Mrs. Yarrow) and her daughter, who were the “reigning toasts of the Templars”, the coffee-house’s main customers. The barristers successfully managed to scupper the opening night production in the Yarrows’ defence. The play begins with lines that will be familiar to any student of the law: “Hah! My dear Templer, well met: Why so pensive pr’ythee? What, just come from nodding over Coke upon Littleton?” According to John Timbs, the location of Dick’s Coffee-House was (partially) the original site of Richard Tottel’s printing house, and in the nineteenth century was occupied by Butterworths. This nineteenth-century print shows a view of the back of the establishment, as seen from Hare Court.
R v Donnellan
In this ‘cause célèbre’, Captain John Donnellan was tried before Mr. Justice Francis Buller in Warwick in 1781 for the poisoning of his brother-in-law, Sir Theodosius Boughton. Donnellan was married to Boughton’s sister and heir Theodosia. Boughton was a known womaniser, and had been infected with syphilis (i.e., the clap, as shown here), for which he was undergoing treatment from an apothecary, who provided him with a specially made draught. His mother, Anna Boughton, unwittingly administered the poison from a phial purporting to contain this draught. As shown here in her deposition, written in her own hand, the draught smelled like bitter almonds, and she gave him some cheese to get rid of the taste and smell of it. Boughton died soon after drinking the concoction, having gone into severe convulsions. Donnellan rinsed the bottle out before anyone could examine it. A post-mortem was conducted, and the smell of bitter almonds was noted. The celebrated surgeon, John Hunter, also examined the body and stated that the smell was produced by laurel water mixed with the apothecary’s draught. Dr. Hunter did not believe that the victim had been poisoned, however.
Donnellan had a distillation still, and copies of the Philosophical Transactions out of which he had marked pages that explained how to produce laurel water. The pages explained how people in Ireland had died after drinking it. The prosecuting counsel stated in the indictment that he believed Boughton was poisoned with laurel water. Laurel water is made by distilling leaves from cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and contains hydrocyanic acid.
Despite the lack of evidence, Donnellan was found guilty of murder and executed. On the morning of his execution, he admitted to distilling laurel water, but claimed it was for washing his feet. Despite the circumstantial evidence presented at his trial, many believed him innocent of the crime. On display is a sample of cherry laurel taken from the gardens at Middle Temple.
In the following videos you can see two of the exhibition pieces. They have been animated to show a legible version of the transcription. Both belong to MS86, R v Donellan, papers that formed part of the trial materials in the 1781 case against Captain John Donellan.
The first being Anna Boughton's deposition.
The second being an account of the complaints of Sir Theodosius Boughton.
This abridgment volume of the Philosophical Transactions has a reprint of an article first published 30 September 1731. The article, ‘Laurel Water a dangerous poison’, was written by T. Madden, M.D. and describes how people in Ireland died from drinking laurel water, mistakenly believing it to be a harmless cordial. Mary Whaley and Anne Boyle were poisoned in Dublin in September 1728, and Mr. Evans in Kilkenny in 1735. The author, who examined Mary Whaley after her death, then proceeded to experiment with the poisonous substance, using dogs as his unfortunate test subjects, all of which died after being given his laurel water concoction. This is likely the article from the Transactions that was referred to in John Donnellan’s trial.
Follow this link for a reprint of the original article
Mythology of plants
The lore and mythology of plants has a long and interesting history, from Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest and fertile soil, to the use of mandrake roots in magic rituals. There are many legendary plants, such as the Irrwurz (or herbe d’égarement), the lotus tree, the coco de mer, fern flowers, and peaches of immortality amongst many others.
Trees in particular have magical, or mythical properties for many people. The yew tree can regenerate (or resurrect) itself, and as such is often found in churchyards and cemeteries. According to the Horniman Museum, during plague times, people believed it could purify victims when placed on their graves. Sage, or salvia (‘to heal’), was treated as a holy herb by the Romans, and wild sage (pechuel-loeschea leubnitziae) is used as a ‘folk remedy’ to treat various ailments, and ward off mosquitoes in Southern African countries.
Plants also have complicated symbologies attached to them, which vary by region, as determined by an area’s unique characteristics. According to Kew Gardens, many of the UK’s wildflowers have mythological associations, such as the association between poppies and Demeter; the ability of St. John’s wort, the sun herb, to ward off the evil of the dark; and the use of wild marjoram in wedding crowns, as it was a favourite herb of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and fertility.
Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica, 1588
Della Porta was an Italian polymath who believed that similar visual characteristics linked plants and animals to humans, and that these similarities provided potential healing powers. This curious book outlines this theory – that certain plants had parallels with human and animal shapes, and humours, because they were visually similar. In this illustration he shows plants which resemble eyes, and thus could be used to heal eye ailments. They are, from right to left: asteris, aconiti and aizoi (Aster amellus, Aconitum, and Sempervivum, respectively). Aconitum is also a poison, more commonly known as monkshood or wolfsbane (see: R v Singh  EWCA Crim 2951).
Accompanying this book are specimens from the gardens at Middle Temple: Michaelmas daisy (Aster amellus) and Aeonium, which looks similar to Sempervivum.
Claude Duret, Histoire admirable des plantes et herbes esmerveillables & miraculeuses en nature, 1605
Claude Duret (1527-1611) was judge, mayor, and botanist. This book, with its woodcut illustrations, outlines ‘miraculous’ and wonderful plants, plant lore and plant mythology. Duret discusses various plants and marine animals used for creating dyes, and claims that a tree common in Scotland had leaves that, when they fell in the water, transformed into fish, and when on land, into birds. The book is open to display the woodcut illustration of ‘ilex aquifolia’, or holly. While holly berries are mildly poisonous to humans, birds love to eat them. Holly has of course been traditionally used in Christmas decorations, as a representation of Christ’s thorns.
Royal Society of London, Philosophical Transactions, volume 49 (1755-1756)
This plate depicts a skin condition called ichthyosis vulgaris, contrasted against a stem with berries from the common service tree (Sorbus torminalis). The boy depicted was the son of Edward Lambert, the 'porcupine man'. Lambert and his children had a severe form of ichthyosis hystrix, where massive hyperkeratosis (skin thickening) led to the entire body (excluding the face, palms, soles, and genitals) being covered in wart-like cylindrical growths. The condition is often also described as ‘fish-scale skin’, and there is no known cure for it.
Levinus Lemnius, Similitudinum ac parabolarum quae in Bibliis ex herbis, 1581
This work by the Dutch physician, who studied under Rembert Dodoens, Conrad Gessner, and Andreas Vesalius, discusses symbolism in the Bible, and the plants and trees that appear in the Bible’s parables and metaphors. It shows Lemnius’ portrait on the title page, with Robert Ashley’s signature. The book went through many editions and was republished up until at least 1772.
Plants at Middle Temple (historic)
Plants have always played an important part at the Inn, from their presence in the garden, to their use in the kitchen garden that existed here in the seventeenth-century, and the number of books about botany in the library’s collections. The Inn acquired books on botanical subjects well into the nineteenth-century. There was also a concerted effort to acquire a wide range of topographical books for the Library, many of which discussed the natural history of areas such as Boston, Cornwall, and Oxfordshire amongst others. The Library also acquired over twenty volumes of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions in the eighteenth-century.
Although there is no evidence that John Evelyn (1620-1706), founding member of the Royal Society, had any input into the Inn’s gardens, he was a member of the Inn (admitted 1637). Evelyn was a prolific author on botanical subjects. In 1664 he published Sylva, in which he argued for the conservation of English forests and provided practical information on tree cultivation; it went through many editions, up to 1776. He also wrote Acetaria, a work on salads and vegetables, and a gardener’s almanac, Kalendarium hortense. He additionally translated Jean de la Quintinie’s work on fruit and kitchen gardens from French into English as The compleat gard’ner.
Bills from the Archive (MT/2/TUT/54, and 64)
1723-1724: gardener’s bill listing, amongst other items: halfe a hundred of tulip rootes; sweet margerum seed and flock gelleflour seed; 2 wallflowers; 18 passion rifle roots.
1817: 4 rose trees, geraniums, 6 pots of pinks, 4 pots of peas, carnations, Canterbury bells.
Victoria Hildreth, Assistant Archivist: “There are references to a kitchen garden in the Minutes of Parliament dated 24 November 1609 and in bills from the late 1610s, which would have grown vegetables and herbs for culinary and medicinal use at the Inn. The minutes of 1609 reference a reduction in the size of the garden as it granted permission for Francis Warnett and John Puleston, members of the Society, to build a new set of chambers in the kitchen garden and this permission may have been granted due to a wider availability of produce in local markets than in earlier centuries. An estimated location of the garden can be ascertained by looking at the location of the newly built chamber, which was on Middle Temple Lane, and by the fact that it was ‘from the corner of the chamber of Mr Overbury northward towards the brick wall dividing the kitchen garden from the Town Buildings’”.
On display here are dried specimens from the gardens at Middle Temple: rose, sweet peas, and geraniums.
Ralph Austen, Observations upon some part of Sr Francis Bacon's Naturall history as it concernes fruit-trees, fruits, and flowers, 1658
Ralph Austen (d. 1676) was a writer on gardening, and in this work, he outlined his observations on fruit trees. Austen was associated with Samuel Hartlib, and efforts by the ‘Hartlib Circle’ to improve horticultural practices in England. It is bound in a volume of tracts containing a work by Hartlib, and other works on natural philosophy. It originally belonged to William Petyt (1636-1707), who donated books and tracts to Middle Temple Library in 1698.
Arthur Standish, The commons complaint, 1611
This tract discusses how to improve food supplies and decries the destruction and waste of woods and forests in England. Very little is known about Standish, including his birth and death dates. Some have suggested that he was involved in the seventeenth-century Crown surveys. He was an early proponent of hedgerows, and viewed woodlands as complementary to farmland, not a competitor to it.
The Library’s founder, Robert Ashley (1565-1641) was very interested in botany, including medical botany. In his copy of Guy de la Brosse, De la nature, vertu et utilité des plantes (1628), he wrote out this list of plants of interest – ‘bistorte’ (bistort, or pudding dock, (Bistorta officinalis), ‘chamenerion’ (fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium), ‘poussepieds’ (samphire), and ‘yeux de bœufs’ (Asteraceae) amongst others. Bistort is used for digestion problems, and chamenerion is known as ‘bombweed’, or ‘fireweed’. In addition to its discussion of medical botany, de la Brosse wrote about the Jardin du roi (now known as the Jardin des plantes) in Paris. The garden was used for medical training, and de la Brosse’s original intention was to build a physic garden.
Fireweed appears abundantly on newly burned and cleared areas, which lead to it being known as ‘bombweed’ in the UK, as it easily colonised areas that had been bombed and cleared in WWII.
This book is in desperate need of repair. If you would like to sponsor the cost of that repair, please contact the Librarian: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On display here are specimens sourced by the gardener, Kate Jenrick: bistort, fireweed, and Asteraceae (daisy).
Plants and wildlife at the Inn (present day)
Kate Jenrick, Gardener
The gardens at Middle Temple have provided the Inn with a variety of purposes through the years – from providing food with a kitchen garden, growing herbs, allotments during World War II, and a floral display for enjoyment today. They have also provided a haven for wildlife in the midst of a metropolis, and their value is reflected in the City of London’s awarding it a Grade Two listing of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation.
The Black redstart is a small bird (something between a robin and a small blackbird) with a special link to the Temple. Before the 1940s it was a rare passing migrant in this country. In 1944 one of just three breeding pairs was recorded (and photographed) at Temple. The Black redstart is still rare throughout the country. To help ensure its survival it is a listed target species in the City of London Biodiversity plan.
There are good populations of robins, wrens, blackbirds and various blue and great tits. From time to time a kestrel can be seen poised on a hall ledge watching for prey (usually field mice). Peregrine falcons can also be seen hunting. They are known to have roosts in nearby tall buildings such as the Tate Modern. The images of seventeenth and eighteenth-century frost fairs on the Thames facing the Temple are hard to imagine today – roses are often still budding and flowering in early December. It is only January and February when they are reliably dormant. Leaf fall now starts earlier as the trees shed leaves in response to stress (drought and disease), but final leaf fall may well last many months as temperatures remain too high to support full senescence. Extremes in weather conditions are most stark in the spring, such as the very cool and dry conditions experienced in 2012 and 2022, and the “Beast from the East” cold wave of March 2018. It is a journey of discovery learning which plants can cope with this unpredictability.
Warmer conditions present other problems, such as the introduction of new pests. The fuchsia gall mite (originally from Brazil) is able to survive our newly milder winters. It distorts foliage and stunts growth. This is a good example where consideration of wildlife wins over choice of a particular plant. Application of pesticide could save the fuchsia but at a cost to a host of beneficial insects.
Follow this link for a recording of a black redstart taken at Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford.
Middle Temple Gardens
Photographs of storm damage in Middle Temple Garden (MT/19/PHO/10/17/15), taken after the 1987 storm which took down London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica) at the embankment end of the garden. This photograph shows the ripped-up root of the tree looking north towards Hall and the Library. London plane trees are a hybrid of American sycamore and Oriental plane trees.
Photographs of snow in the garden and Fountain Court, taken in 2012 and 2018 respectively, by Renae Satterley, Librarian.
A bird’s nest, possibly a blue tit’s, found by Kate Jenrick spring 2022. When found on the ground this nest was such a new creation that blue flowers of forget-me-nots were clearly identifiable. The soft yellow base is made from seeds of plane trees.