323 Northwood Road
London SE24 9AQ
Thursday 14 June 2018
We need to thank Victoria for this suggestion, which had escaped our list making, possibly because it is indeed 'a hidden gem'.
Really easy to get to (though possibly it will become even easier when Thameslink sorts out its new, improved timetables) the Institute nestles behind a fine tamarisk tree a few steps from Tulse Hill station.
It is open to the public on Thursday mornings, as a reassuring sign on the front door confirms, and we were welcomed by a member of staff.
After we had visited the 'facilities'. in themselves a botanical show case, we were shown some of the delights of this Victorian house. Built in 1863, it became the Institute in 1910, thanks to the energy and inspiration of Allan Octavian Hume. Hume had been in the Indian Civil Service, and had become interested in botany in India. (We shall not dwell on his other hobby, which was collecting birds' eggs and skins.) It was he who worked on the Great Hedge of India, about which you can read a somewhat angled account here.
We were shown the library; the impressive collection is open for reference on Thursday afternoons. In the hall is a massive clock, of Indian design and manufacture.
The Lecture Room has some beautiful bespoke wallpaper, designed by a local artist to embody various botanical specimens. The walls are lined with pictures of the various curators and librarians, until recently mostly male and bearded. Hume himself is above the mantelpiece.
Next we went into the herbarium, where the huge collection of pressed specimens is stored, in metal (= bug proof) cabinets.
We were shown the kind of collecting cases that the plant hunters used to bring examples back for study and preservation.
Then it was time to go into the garden, and wander through the various labelled and explained beds. There is a pond, and beds of medicinal, poisonous and woodland plants as well as examples from around the world
On the wall of the house is a mosaic, designed and placed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Institute.
There are plants for sale, though we did not buy any, this time....
And in the little conservatory which leads from the Education Room (yes, they welcome school and student visits), we found various succulents and cacti, as well as some carnivorous plants.
We were very glad we had visited, and warmly recommend it. Details are here, in case our readers want to try it.