Every now and then there is an RSAA lecture that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. In the case of Flora of the Silk Road, turning up at St Peter’s Church Hall on a particularly damp and windy night, Chris Gardner’s illustrated talk was an unexpected gem.
A professional botanist with at least one plant species named in his honour, Gardner is also an accomplished photographer and the shear number of superb photographs in his slides certainly added another dimension to his talk. This was particularly the case for those of us who are less horticulturally inclined as we could easily visualise the similarities and differences in the varieties under discussion.
Along with his wife, Gardner has led more than 40 botanical tours and expeditions to different parts of the Silk Road, from Turkey (where he lives and where his wife is head of the herbarium at Istanbul’s Botanical Garden) into Syria and Jordan, up into Central Asia and China, and south into India. Because he was travelling with botanical purpose, Gardener was inclined to visit areas well beyond the reach of most tourists, and what was seen to be his eccentric British obsession certainly got him out of more than one potentially uncomfortable encounter with understandably suspicious authorities. Gardner’s passion for the places he has visited, not to mention the plants he found there, came through strongly in both his words and pictures. He tacked questions from the floor with enthusiasm and a great depth of knowledge.
The video of Gardner’s lecture will shortly be uploaded to the RSAA website and will then be viewable for free by any RSAA member logged into the site. His beautifully illustrated coffee table book, Flora of the Silk Road: An Illustrated Guide, is also highly informative and can be purchased online from Amazon.