Botany, Gardens and The Origin of Species

2 - 6 Aug 2021
  • Cultural Tours

About the tour

This rewarding tour with expert tour leaders, Bill and Helen Bynum, takes you deep into the UK’s long connection with all things botanical. Darwin’s botany is often overlooked in the story of The Origin of Species, yet it’s a story that invites you into that most English of places: the garden. Here it is possible to experience history, science and nature, learn the stories of plants and people, and think about how garden ecology helped shape the way we see the world around us today. Encompassing Selborne, Lichfield, Cambridge, London and Kent, the tour includes visits to many beautiful, important and historic gardens, as well as Darwin’s home at Down House.

Your tour leader

Picture of JBT tour leader, Bill and Helen  Bynum

Bill and Helen Bynum

Bill Bynum is Professor Emeritus at University College London. A Yale graduate in medicine, he began his career in the history of medicine with a Cambridge PhD before moving to the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. His 'History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction' and 'A Little History of Science' have been translated into 14 languages. Bill also edited the Penguin 150th anniversary edition of The Origin of Species.

After a PhD in the History of Medicine from University College London, Helen Bynum lectured at the University of Liverpool before beginning a freelance career as a medical historian and popular science writer. Together with Bill she edited 'Great Discoveries in Medicine' before turning their attention to the world of plants and their histories in 'Remarkable Plants that Shape our World' and 'Botanical Sketchbooks'. ‘Team Bynum’ have led and lectured on successful tours and cruises for Jon Baines Tours.

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Itinerary at a glance

  • Day 1: Selborne (Mon, 2 Aug)
    Inspirations: The Parson-Naturalist and a Way With Worms
    Meet your tour leaders at Alton railway station and take the coach to visit Gilbert White House and Garden. Gilbert White was a "parson-naturalist", a pioneering English naturalist, ecologist and ornithologist best known for his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. This book greatly impressed Darwin during his youth and White’s pioneering fieldwork establishing the importance of close observation. Explore the gardens where the work of garden designers such as William Kent inspired Gilbert White to create a garden in the spirit of the English landscape movement by creating a series of landscapes where nature could be admired from viewpoints marked by urns, obelisks and statues. Visit St Mary’s Church which was founded in Saxon times and mentioned in the Domesday Book, the present church with its Norman tower and nave, largely dates from 1180. The church was greatly restored in the mid-19th-century by the great nephew of Gilbert White, the naturalist, who was Curate for many years until his death in 1793 and who is buried here. Continue on to the Hanger walk up the zig zag path, as walked by Gilbert White where he would observe the comings and goings of the natural world at his doorstep. At the top of the zig zag path, White would observe and take notes particularly on the migratory patterns of swallows. The total cost for Day 1 is £133.00 per person.
  • Day 2: Lichfield (Tue, 3 Aug)
    Antecedents: Sex and Industry in a Provincial Garden
    Meet your tour leaders at Lichfield City Station. Spend the morning exploring Lichfield. Start the day at Lichfield Cathedral, dedicated to St Chad and St Mary. A grand example of 12th century architecture, the only medieval English cathedral with three spires. Continue to Samuel Johnson House, the family home and now converted museum of the literary giant Samuel Johnson. Best known for his Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson spent the first 27 years of his life in this atmospheric Grade I listed trader's townhouse. Continue on to Erasmus Darwin House, nestled in Lichfield’s idyllic Cathedral Close. Once the family home of doctor, inventor and published poet Erasmus Darwin. With its unique place in Georgian history Darwin House showcases the breadth of Erasmus Darwin’s interests and achievements which laid the foundations for his grandson and evolutionary biologist Charles. Discover the herbs in the tranquil garden and learn about the medicinal qualities of plants with which Erasmus treated his patients. The total cost for Day 2 is £130.00 per person.
  • Day 3: Cambridge (Wed, 4 Aug)
    Educating: Walks on the Wild Side
    Meet your tour leaders at Sandy Railway Station and go to RSPB The Lodge Nature Reserve. Heathland is a key habitat at The Lodge, home to breeding hobbies, ravens, common lizards, green tiger beetles and other invertebrates of bare, sandy soil. RSPB is restoring it for breeding nightjars and woodlarks and it is already one of the best inland sites for natterjack toads. The natterjack was famously observed by Darwin and his Botany tutor John Henslow at Gamlingay Heath. Darwin was very successful in detecting and catching natterjacks. He brought several to Henslow who said – well Darwin "are you going to make a natterjack pie?" Participate on a guided walk, spotting the highlights of the summer. Summer has dragonflies and butterflies around the ponds and heath with hobbies hunting the dragonflies. Newly-fledged birds - blue and great tits in the woodland and green woodpeckers on the heathland. Common lizards bask with their young on dead logs and it’s possible to see ravens, kestrels and buzzards as you walk. Discover the banks and ditches of an ancient Iron Age hill fort and try to imagine this heathland 2,000 years ago. After the hill fort, look out for the ponds the RSPB created for their breeding population of scarce natterjack toads. Travel to Cambridge, stopping by Gamlingay Heath on route. Continue on to the Cambridge University Botanical Garden for lunch and a guided tour. The total cost for Day 3 is £150.00 per person.
  • Day 4: London (Thur, 5 Aug)
    Networking: What You Know and Who You Know
    Meet your tour leaders at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew*. First, pass Hooker House, where Sir William Hooker, botanist and maltster, lived as well as his son Joseph. They were consecutive directors of the Kew Gardens, with Sir William being the very first Director. Joseph Hooker was a great friend of Charles Darwin and was asked to classify the plants that Darwin had gathered in the Galápagos. Meet with a curator to discover the art and archives at Kew which features an abundance of Hooker. Continue on to explore the Economic Botany Collection, started by William Hooker, an extraordinary range of artefacts, all derived from plants, including 500 items that are from fungi. Have a break for lunch. After lunch, meet with a botanist at the Herbarium, a collection of preserved plants that are stored, catalogued, and arranged systematically for study. Learn which plants were important to Darwin. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to explore Kew Gardens at ease. The total cost for Day 4 is £136.00 per person.
  • Day 5: Kent (Fri 6, Aug)
    At Home: Science in the Domestic Garden
    Meet your tour leaders at Orpington Railway Station and take the coach to Downe. Begin with a guided walk of High Elms, the home of the Lubbock family from 1808-1938 and where Sir John Lubbock investigated springtails and bristletails. This walk leads you around places familiar and important to the work of Charles Darwin and his neighbour, Sir John Lubbock, who as a child, learnt much about natural history from Darwin and grew up to be an important scientist in his own right, whose work Darwin referred to in many of his publications. In the summer, you can spot 3 species of mullein and hybrids between them. Early colonizers of disturbed ground, their seeds can remain dormant in the soil for many years. Darwin reported finding 3 hybrids between white and great mullein in a field in the Cudham Valley and noted how the hybrids produced little or no seeds. After, take a break and enjoy a Kentish pub lunch at the Queen’s Head, an independent family run 16th century traditional country pub, where Charles Darwin himself drank. Continue on to Down House, Charles Darwin’s family home. See the gardens that were Darwin’s ‘outdoor laboratory’ where he spent many hours making observations and conducting experiments that helped develop his ground-breaking theories. Stroll down Darwin’s ‘thinking path', take a wander past bountiful vegetable patches and enjoy fragrant flower beds surrounded by the tranquil countryside. In the last two decades of his life, Darwin’s botanical experiments in the gardens and greenhouse at Down House characterised his working life after the publication of The Origin of Species. The total cost for Day 5 is £144.00 per person.

    *Please note that in the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew access to collections will be subject to Kew policies at the time of the visit.

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