Fascinating Flowers

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“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. ... In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” ― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in

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DatesAvailable to watch on-demand now
Talks structure30 minute lecture20 minute Q&A

4 talks in this Garden Series



Literature & Language
What do flowers mean to us?

From the meaning of carnations in Sex and the City to sunflowers in the cleanup of Chernobyl and Henry VIII’s ban on saffron dye, flowers are deeply woven into our culture & our history. How have they inspired us & what do they mean? Read more

Prof. Kasia Boddy

University of Cambridge

Kasia Boddy is a Professor of American Literature at the University of Cambridge, and the author of several books on literary and cultural history.

Having written extensively on short stories, Kasia is now completing a book about the history and idea of the Great American Novel.

Another strand of Kasia's research explores the imaginative resources offered by objects and activities such as sport, razor blades and plants; the kinds of things which are ubiquitous to the point of saturation in modern life, but which for the most part enter only obliquely into literature. Among her many other publications, she is the author of Boxing: A Cultural History and Blooming Flowers: A Seasonal History of Plants and People, both of which explore how these themes have been treated by writers and artists and in the common imagination.

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Art & Entertainment
Science & Nature
Why do some cultures have no word for blue?

Until relatively recently in human history, there wasn't a word meaning "blue". Of the ancient cultures, only the Egyptians had a word for this colour. What was everyone else seeing? Read more

Dr. James Fox

University of Cambridge

James Fox is a Cambridge art historian, writer, public speaker, curator and award-winning, BAFTA-nominated, broadcaster.

James fell in love with art at the age of six and hasn't looked back since. The first person in his family to go to university, he graduated with a starred first in History of Art at the University of Cambridge in 2004.

After completing an MPhil and PhD in the subject, as well as stints at Harvard and Yale, James took up a Fellowship in Cambridge in 2011. He specialises in modern art, British art, and the cultural history of colour.

He is currently Director of Studies in History of Art at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Director of Education at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park in Canada, and President of the Friends of the Stanley Spencer Gallery.

Convinced of art's huge social importance, James works with museums, schools, charities and the media to engage broader audiences in this most life-enhancing of subjects.

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Science & Nature
Why are flowers a biological mystery?

We could not exist without flowering plants, but to this date researchers cannot explain where they came from. Why did Darwin describe the origin of flowering plants as an “abominable mystery”? Read more

Prof. Richard Buggs

Queen Mary University

Richard Buggs is currently Senior Research Leader (Plant Health & Adaptation) at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary, University of London.

He is an evolutionary biologist and his research group analyses DNA sequences to understand how plants evolve in nature. His group designs strategies to accelerate plant evolution in response to climate change and new pests and pathogens. Richard has published on a variety of evolutionary processes including: natural selection, speciation, hybridisation and whole genome duplication. His largest research programme is on the genetic basis of ash tree resistance to ash dieback and the emerald ash borer.

The birch species Betula buggsii is named after him.

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Art & Entertainment
How do artists depict paradise?

Humans have always speculated about what a perfect world might look like, whether as a reward in the afterlife, part of an origin story like the Garden of Eden, or a real place on Earth. How do we see these ideas play out in the art we create? Read more

Dr. James Fox

University of Cambridge

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