A letter from Lady Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe (1867 – 1967), plant-hunter extraordinaire

Charlotte wheeler cuffe book coverDuring her twenty-four years in Burma with her husband, an engineer in government service, Lady Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe (nee Williams) became an intrepid plant-hunter, whose discoveries included various species of rhododendron. On her husband’s retirement in 1922 the couple retired to his ancestral seat at Lyrath, near Kilkenny, and it was here that Lady Charlotte planted some of the exotic plants she had gathered over the years. While in Burma Lady Charlotte had corresponded with friends, including another keen plantswoman, Baroness Prochaya, who also lived at Lyrath and professional botanists, one of whom was Frederick Moore, head of the Botanic Gardens at Glasneven, near Dublin, and on her return to Ireland it would seem that the correspondence continued.


This typewritten letter dated August 1923, which we found in the Jot 101 archive, seems to have been unposted, as it contains corrections in ink and lacks the name of the intended recipient, is addressed to a botanist from Horsham who was writing  a book. In the letter she reports that she had just sent this botanist a blossom of Lilium lowii, which she had originally discovered nearly eight years earlier:


‘ In November 1915 I was travelling with my husband…in the Southern Shan States and finding some dried stalks and seed pods of a lily (growing on the edge of a wood and facing north, on limestone, at an elevation of somewhere about 5,000 ft) dug them up and brought them back to Maymyo, where we were stationed. There they flowered the following summer, and next autumn I sent some of them home to Glasneven, where Sir F Moore had always been most kind and helpful to me in my amateurish efforts at plant collecting …Sir Frederick wrote to me the next year saying that the lilies were L.lowii, which had been in cultivation in Europe but lost for many years, as its habitat was not known. The first place I found it was near Loilem (lat.20, long 20), but I afterwards discovered it in many other similar places and got quite a lot of bulbs into the Botanical Garden at Maymo, the summer headquarters of the Burma Govt., where I worked during the war.

        This lily and L.sulphureumoften grow naturally together, in open woodland in the Shan hills; and in damper places a yellow and brown one, which I believe to be L.nepalensis. I have watercolour drawings of both these, if you would care to see them. Other lilies I have found in Burma are: a beautiful pure white one, growth like sulphureum but quite different bulb ( small and white, whereas sulphureum is  large and purplish).This white lily grows in the extreme north eats of Burma, on the China frontier at about 6,000 feet and further up the passes ( about 11,000 ft) there is a lovely spotted pink and white lily which was, I think, first found by Miss Malet, who was up at the frontier post of Hpimaw with her brother. ( she sent it to me at Maymo and I had it blossoming there a year at least before Mr Farrer found it ; but I believe it has been named Nomocharis farreri).Mr Kingdom Ward found a beautiful crimson lily on Imaw Bum , a 13,000ft. mountain near Hpimaw; and I got a lovely flaming scarlet one in the Ruby Mines district, but failed to bring it home. It was very similar to the scarlet Korean lily and may have been imported via China, as it was in a village and the Lashi people eat the bulb. There is another edible lily bulb in the Chin Hills with a white blossom: but this I have not seen as I was only there in early spring, but I hope to get some bulbs sent home this winter.’
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Eleanour Sinclair Rohde & Aromatic Plants etc.,

Found -- this pamphlet from the 1930s put out by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde (1881 -1950.) As Wikipedia notes, she had a fairly standard house but an enormous garden where it appears she sold plants (mostly aromatic -with ESR it was all about scent) by mail order and possibly to visitors. She was the author of several now sought after works on gardening, especially The Scented Garden (1937) and A Garden of Herbs (1920). In World War 2 she published a useful work that was reprinted several times The War-Time Vegetable Garden (1941).


The finely shredded leaves of all plants marked * are a wholesome addition to salads and turn a dull salad into an interesting one.

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Rosemary for Remembrance

Found in an old herbal by the great botanist, apothecary and herbalist John Parkinson (1567 - 1650) a 'sovereign balsam' - a recipe for a curative oil made from rosemary, probably the most prolific of all herbs in Britain. The title of this splendid folio is: Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris : Or a garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permit to be noursed up: with a kitchen garden of all manner of herbes, rootes, and fruites, for meate or sause used with us, and an orchard of all sort of fruit-bearing trees and shrubbes fit for our land: together with the right ordering, planting, and preserving of them; and their uses and vertues. Collected by Iohn Parkinson Apothecary of London. Printed by Humfrey Lownes and Robert Young at the Signe of the Starre on Bread-Street Hill, London 1629. True to Ophelia's sad words in Hamlet ('There's rosemary. That's for remembrance. Pray you,love, remember...')  the herb was long associated with preserving and invigorating the memory. The remedy calls for a fortnight's immersion in warm horse dung. As not many now have immediate access to  hot horse manure, an airing cupboard might do for brewing the potion or the warm part of  maturing compost. The 'strong glasse' could be replaced by a Kilner jar...

Rosemary is almost of as great use as Bayes, or any other herbe both for inward and outward remedies, and as well for civill as physicall purposes. Inwardly for the head and heart; outwardly for the sinewes and joynts: for civill uses, as all doe know, at weddings, funerals, &c. to bestow among friends : and the physicall are so many, that you might bee as well tyred in the reading, as I in the writing, if I should set down all that might be faid of it. I will therefore onely give you a taste of some, desiring you will be content therewith. There is an excellent oyle drawne from the flowers aloneby the heate of the Sunne, availeable for many diseases both inward and outward, and accounted a soueraigne Balsame:it is also good to helpe dimnesses of sight, and to take away spots, markes and scarres from the skin ; and is made in this manner. Take a quantitie of the flowers of Rosemary, according to your owne will eyther more or lesse, put them into a strong glasse close stopped, let them in hot horse dung to digest for fourteene dayes, which then being taken forth of the dung, and unstoppcd, tye a fine linnen cloth over the mouth, and turne downe the mouth thereof into the mouth of another strong glasse, which being let in the hot Sun, an oyle will distill downe into the lower glasse ; which preserve as precious for the uses before recited, and many more, as experience by practice may enforme divers,  viz. for the heart, rheumaticke braines, and to strengthen the memory, whereof many of good judgement have had  experience.

Canon John Vaughan, forgotten botanist

Found - an illuminating pencilled note by one Christopher Bell in the front of  The Wild-Flowers of Selborne: and other Papers, by John Vaughan (London, John Lane, 1906.) It has more information than has been currently available on Canon Vaughan (1855 - 1922) - a distinguished botanist and writer on natural history, unknown to the DNB and Wikipedia. COPAC record 10 books by him including: A short memoir of Mary Sumner: founder of the Mothers' Union / A short history of Portchester Castle (his first work from 1894) Lighter studies of a country rector / The music of wild flowers (his last work from 1920) A mirror of the soul, short studies in the Psalter /Winchester Cathedral close: its historical and literary associations.  Bell writes:

I knew John Vaughan and worked with him as my fellow curate (and senior) in the Parish of Alton. He was then (1884) considered the best botanist in all Hampshire and had a fine herbarium (pp 62, 85). He generally had bog bean and other plants in his room and was a very interesting preacher. I got hints from him and started collecting plants for a herbarium after his example. I went to Selborne and found Monotropa on the Hanger. In 1909 - after 25 years - I met him at Walberswick Church at H. C. AV 8. AM. He said he knew me at once. He always had a charm of language - a literary style with a touch of magniloquence (as on page 115 may be seen) that contrasted with his modest and somewhat reserved sort of manner. He married the vicar's daughter - Miss Whyley. [1911]

The magniloquent ('high flown, fancy, flowery') passage referred to on page 115 reads thus:

When prehistoric man reared his barrows to tumuli over the remains of his distinguished dead, there is no reason to doubt that then, as now, the frog-orchis blossomed on Old Winchester Hill, and the autumnal gentian was abundant on Crawley Down. When the Druid priest, clothed in white raiment and bearing a golden sickle, went forth to cut the mistletoe, the Selago flourished on the heath, and the Samolus by the running stream. When the Romans made their straight road from Portchester to Winchester, through the dense forest of Anderida, the dogwood and the spindle tree fell before their axes, and the wild daffodil was trampled under their feet. When the black boats of the Northmen made their way up the Hamble River, the marsh sapphire covered the muddy banks, and the sea holly blossomed on the shore. Unnoticed and uncared for, the wild flowers, then as now, each in their own season throughout the changing year, "wasted their sweetness on the desert air".

Needwood Forest – The axeman cometh…

Cottage in Needwood Forest (Joseph Wright)

Found a few years ago in a job lot is this manuscript copy of a poem which ranks among the most famous ‘local’ poems in the English language. Needwood Forest was published privately in Lichfield in 1776 by one Francis Noel Mundy, a Derbyshire squire alarmed by plans to cut down and enclose much of the large Staffordshire forest he had known since his childhood.

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