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Here you will find more garden history tales that surfaced
as I wrote This Wild Life

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Mary Delany 1700-1788


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Mary Delany was an influencer. Well known for her wit and charm, the orator Edmund Burke called her “A woman of fashion for all the ages.” Handel was a lifelong friend. She was close with Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, and it was while visiting the Duchess at Bulstrode, her country home. that she invented her “Paper mosaiks”. She was 72 at the time, and her spectacular art form would be not only beautiful but a prodigious contribution to botanical knowledge.

Dyeing, piecing and snipping bits of colored tissue paper, Mary created 985 life-sized representations of plants and flowers backed on black, each one to this day considered astonishingly accurate in its botanical detail. The handwork is truly remarkable: in depicting a Burnet rose she cut the stem with all its thorns out of one piece of tissue. Each one is, quite simply, gorgeous.

Many women who made contribution to the world of botany in days gone by did so through their artwork, capturing plants in botanical illustrations, drawings and paintings. Yet Mary developed an entirely new art form for her work.

A devoted gardener all her life, her admiration of the kingdom of flora was initially recorded in the spectacular embroidery on her own gowns. At Bulstrode, or The Hive, as it was known, Mary became part of the intensive botanical salon there. Margaret Bentinck had made her home an informal laboratory, with “new” plant samples from around the globe arriving for discussion and classification led by the learned experts in residence.

Mary was also an inveterate diarist, and even on leaving detailed instructions to her nieces that a quantity of her entries be burned, 6 volumes remain intact.

She married twice, once by family arrangement, a terribly unhappy affair. After twenty years and many proposals, she married again, this time for love. The couple gardened together at Delville, their home Ireland. She died at Windsor, where the King and Queen—tremendous supporters of Mary’s florilegia--had given her apartments in her final years.

I’ve included a handful of her works in the photo gallery this month. The full collection remains intact, though very sparingly exhibited at the British Museum.

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