Saturday 12 May 2012

How pleasant to know Mr Lear!

A spread of Edward Lear's fantastic plants, from Nonsense Botany

Today's Google doodle, as so often a reminder of obscure anniversaries, commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edward Lear - a fascinating, complex and I think rather sad character. Though a brilliant ornithological and topographical artist, he is best known today for his 'nonsense' humour, particularly the old person limericks but also the immortal characters of the Quangle-Wangle, the Dong with the Luminous Nose and the Owl and the Pussycat. They were very much present in my childhood and certainly helped form my pleasure in the absurd, but the most influential of Lear's works on my life has been the Nonsense Botany. This is a series of drawings of almost plausible plants with 'flowers' made up of little figures or domestic objects: they are bizarre creations, but not so very far off from the curiosities of the plant kingdom: numerous orchids fit the bill, and Pollybirdia singularis has considerable similarity to Erica cerinthoides. The drawings are prefaced with the following text, wonderfully parodic of the style of the Victorian botanist - but still encapsulating the excitement of plant-hunting in wild places:

"Our readers will be interested in the following communications from our valued and learned contributor, Professor BOSH, whose labours in the fields of Botanical Science are so well known to all the world. We are happy to be able, through Dr. Bosh's kindness, to present our readers with illustrations of his discoveries. All the new Flowers are found in the Valley of Verrikwier, near the Lake of Oddgrow, and on the summit of the Hill Orfeltugg.
                                                  Extract from the Nonsense Gazette"


  1. How fascinating - I didnt know Lear made up plants though to be honest I dont know that much about Lear at all.

  2. Oh Patient gardener what you have missed! you can download these free at

  3. ...and when you have done that, in today's Daily Telegraph there is a splendid picture of Castle Howard's rhododendrons in the garden restored by James Russell in Ray Wood, where John will be going later this year. Really stunning.


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