From the Archive: Crocuses for the Victorian garden

This is an exciting time of year in a garden. Even when things still seem dead, we only need to look beneath the surface layer of old leaves to find that life continues; roots are still vigorous, shoots are seeking the light and flower buds are already forming. So much is still there and just biding its time!

Sometimes it seems that the Archive is like that garden, apparently dormant but ready to be awoken. Lives, stories and brief passing moments are all waiting to be brought back into the light. With a little delving, who knows what will surface?

Even a simple garden catalogue has tales to tell. Just look at the named varieties of crocus in this example from 1894. ‘Queen Victoria’ and ‘Sir Walter Scott’ sound familiar to us, but ‘Ida Pfeiffer’ and ‘Coraline Chisholm’?

They, it seems, are keeping good company with ‘Miss Nightingale’. All three were ground-breaking Victorian women. Ida Pfeiffer was an Austrian explorer, writer and ethnographer who made two trips around the world in 1846-1855 and whose travel journals were translated into seven languages. She was barred from joining the Royal Geographical Society as women were not admitted until 1913. Caroline (not ‘Coraline’ as the Dutch catalogue would have it) Chisholm was a friend of Florence Nightingale’s and a philanthropist whose mission it was to support female immigrants in Australia; many arrived with no contacts and no means of earning a living except prostitution. Caroline Chisholm set up shelters and hostels for them and also worked at a political level to ensure the welfare of immigrants. She is buried in her native Northampton and her grave in Billing Road Cemetery is planted with pure white crocuses.