On Sunday 16th September the Bohemia Walled Garden, situated in Summerfields Woods, will host a celebration of one of Hastings’ greatest historical figures, the Victorian artist, botanist and explorer Marianne North.

The Garden itself was enclosed in Victorian times for the growing of fruit trees and other horticulture serving the Summerfields estate. It was abandoned in the second half of the twentieth century before being reclaimed from the wilderness by the dedicated work of local volunteers, who banded together nine years ago as the Bohemia Walled Garden Association and have since won sizeable grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore it as a community garden. This year the surrounding rectangular brick wall, 12 feet high, which had been substantially destroyed at the eastern end by tree falls and other depredations, has been fully restored so as to now fully encompass the mix of individual plots, communal plantings and ancillary areas within. The Association are planning to mark the completion of this restoration project with an open Celebration Day at the garden on 21st October. In the meantime, their annual Heritage Day on 16th September will not only feature a talk on the career of Marianne North by Teri Sayers-Cooper, director of East Sussex-based arts charity Creative Force, it will adopt a general Victorian theme, with appropriate songs from local choir Harmony One and a demonstration of Victorian toys as well as refreshments, botanical art activities and a story-telling session for younger visitors. The garden will be open to all between 11 am and 3 pm; entry is free.

Born in 1830, the daughter of the local MP, Ms North combined study of botany with love of drawing to become the foremost painter of flora in Victorian times. She travelled six continents of the world, from the Americas to Africa and from Europe through Asia to Australia, in pursuit of fresh botanical discoveries. And in an era before photography took over as the dominant pictorial technology, her art, always imbued with scientific accuracy, was the medium by which knowledge of exotic plants was brought back to Britain.

As visitors to Kew Gardens will know, a collection of much of her art – more than 830 paintings – is housed in a permanent gallery there. And she is also honoured by a number of plant species named after her, including Areca northiana, a feather palm; Northea seychellana, a tree native to the Seychelles; and Nepenthes northiana, a large pitcher plant in Borneo.


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