On Christmas night, when all the festivities were over I settled down to read a book given to me by one of my daughters and found myself so engrossed that I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. The book was The Well Connected Gardener- the biography of Alicia Amherst by Sue Minter. Alicia Amherst is almost unknown, even in gardening circles, and yet she was as formidable in her time as Gertrude Jekyll and Ellen Willmott (with whom she was friends). In 1895, when she was only 29, she wrote The History of Gardening in Britain and became one of the great horticulturalists of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
One of her greatest achievements was the restoration of the gardens at Lytchett Heath in Dorset. Nowadays we feel really intrepid if, instead of buying plants through the RHS Plantfinder on the internet, we venture out to a nursery to select them. Alicia Amherst really was intrepid and she collected a good proportion of her plants herself from the wild. This is what she wrote in 1931:
“The latest additions to the gardens are type tulips dug up be our son, Robert, in Kurdistan last June. The cypress I collected on the Mount of Olives has been standing out since 1898 and has not suffered during any hard winters. The greenhouse too has had many contributions from overseas. In 1899 my husband and I collected and delivered specimens for Kew in Southern Rhodesia and in a few weeks found no fewer than forty new species. The showy Haemanthus Cecilae has flowered well but once, and is no more, but a new variety of Gloriosa, named by Mr Baker of Kew from our dried specimen, G superba lutea, is a joy every year.”