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Marianne North – Nineteenth Century English Botanical Artist

When I travel to Reno to visit familily, I always make sure I spend time at the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

In a city that gets pretty hot in the summer the May Garden creates an oasis.

It is filled with various kinds of gardens, including a rose garden, a native plant garden, and an English garden.

One day as I walked the path through the gardens I came across a perennial border, with an array of various plants, familiar to any gardener, including the Poker Plant.

Poker Plant

Mary and John Gribbin wrote a wonderful book about English plant hunters called simply Flower Hunters.

The chapter on botanical artist Marianne North (1830-1890) includes a reference to a plant named after her called African Torch Lily or Poker Plant (Kniphofia northiana).

Of course when I read that section I immediately thought of the poker plant at the Wilbur D. May Garden that i had seen so many times. I wondered where the plant originated.

Now I know. It is from South Africa.

With its tall spikes the Poker Plant resembles a spear. [below]

Kniphofia or Poker Plant [Courtesy of Breck’s Premium Bulbs]

The Poker Plant is an easy perennial to include in a garden with lots of sun.

You can’t miss this plant.

The plant became part of the Victorian garden in the nineteenth century, both in England and in the US.

North the Artist

North’s intention, according to the Gribbin book, was “to paint all the flowering species she could in all the tropical regions of the globe, and whatever other plants she encountered along the way.”

Today Marianne North’s collection of botanical art finds its home in Kew. [below]

The Restored Marianne North Gallery Interior at Kew [Courtesy image]
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