Written by Mandeep Matharu, Yvette Harvey & Matthew Biggs.
These were the words of one of the pioneering plant cytologists, E. K. Janaki Ammal, who worked at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Wisley from 1946-51, and was their first female scientist. She studied the chromosomes of a wide variety of plants from magnolias to eggplants and sugarcane in addition to medicinal plants, leaving numerous scientific papers, herbarium specimens, and a large number of small, round-headed Magnolia on Wisley’s Battleston hill (Gardiner, 2012), including one bearing the name M. kobus ‘Janaki Ammal’, a vigorous, multi-stemmed tree, over 6m tall and wide, producing masses of white flowers over several weeks of Spring (Biggs, 2018).
Although Janaki’s life is documented within a small number of articles about her and her work, very little has been reported about her years at the RHS and we attempt to rectify that here.
Magnolia kobus at the RHS ©RHS
Hollywood hasn’t always portrayed the natural sciences in the best light. From the entomology nerds in Silence of the Lambs to the evil taxidermist in Paddington, the people who live it daily don’t often come off looking good. Even when museums are the star of the show, it is the night watchmen, not the curators and conservators, who steal the glory. Where, then, is cinema’s role in encouraging the next generation to pursue a career in the natural sciences? Some have said they watched the original Jurassic Park and that sparked their interest in genetics. Did you watch a film and think “that’s the life for me?” If so I’d love to hear from you. Nature inspires movies all the time. It behoves the film industry to keep this passion alive.
Enter a new film into the UK top ten (no, we aren’t talking about Jurassic World). Mr. Holmes is the latest adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective. Set in war-ravaged Sussex, Sherlock Holmes is an old man, retired and trying to cope with the changes in his life. I won’t give away the plot for you but I will say this: The plot depends upon an accurate understanding of the natural world, specifically botanical and entomological. The film is filled with beautiful species and fascinating facts about nature. I can quite easily see someone leaving the cinema thinking “I want to know more about this world”. Holmes’ personal collection is lovely and I want to know whose skull that is on his desk.
Further refreshing news, if you’re as sick of explosions and CGI as I am right now, this film has the fewest special effects of any new film I’ve seen for a long time. Less definitely is more in Mr. Holmes. The performances are superb – not just Sir Ian McKellen but I don’t think there’s a bad actor in the entire movie. I’d highly recommend you go and see this.