Friday, August 9, 2013

The Victor Lemoine Fuchsias

2011 poster from an exhibition to celebrate the life of renowned French nurseryman and plant hybridist, Pierre Louis Victor Lemoine (1823-1911) in Nancy, France.

 1849 was a good year for Victor Lemoine. He was 26 years old and he had persuaded his father to lend him the money to set up a nursery on the Rue de l'Hospice in Nancy. On his bookshelf he probably had a copy of Felix Porcher's Le Fuchsia: son Histoire et sa Culture, La description ou l'Indication de 520 Especes et Varietes', the second edition of which had appeared that year, and, from his Belgian friend and mentor Louis Van Houtte he had no doubt received a copy of the horticultural magazine La Flore des Serres et Jardins de l'Europe which contained the van Houtte illustration below of Fuchsia venusta, a Colombian species first collected and described by those intrepid plant hunters Humboldt and Bonpland.

 During the course of his working life he went on to release some 400 garden Fuchsia hybrids including two derived from this species 'Gerbe de Corail' and 'Corne d'abondance' in 1905 , a first for horticulture. Many of the varieties are still around today and over the course of a century have found their way to Australia. The Lemoine bred 'Lord Byron' is readily available from specialist growers.

Fuchsia x 'Lord Byron'
While regarded as a taciturn man and a poor keeper of records, the names he chose for his Fuchsias speak volumes about his tastes, interests and which people commanded his attention in the world of politics, the arts and sciences. 
Going through his catalogue has given me an insightful french history lesson. To mention but a few, there is Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799) who was a playwright, fugitive, spy, horticulturist, arms dealer and revolutionary; the radical left wing politician Pierre Joigneaux (1815-1892) who managed to write a few gardening books while imprisoned: L'art de produire de bonnes graines...... 'The art of producing good seed' amongst them; and President Felix Faure (1841-1899) who is now remembered for dieing whilst engaged in la pompe funebre with his thirty year old mistress. (another untranslatable French pun)
Lemoine was obviously a big opera fan as Charles Garnier (1825-1898), the architect of the Paris Opera, Palais Garnier, and stars Lucienne Breval (1869-1935) who is remembered for her performance of Rameau's 'Hippolyte et Aricie' as well as the soprano Emma Calve (1858-1942) all have fuchsias named after them.
A year or so after his death, and with his family continuing the nursery business (It operated till 1960), a fuchsia is named in honour of Mrs Jacques Feuillet (nee Marie Hout) (1864-1912) a causality of War who died while working as a Red Cross volunteer. It is a sad reminder of our own involvement in The Great War which began just two years later.

 French writer Marcel Proust, who had a keen interest in gardening and plants was probably familiar with Lemoine's Nursery when writing his A la recherche...Remembrance of Things Past, and, a keen eyed plant detective ,with way too much time on their hands, could probably identify the lusty and impious variety growing in the window-box of Mme Loiseau's house which stood cheek by jowl to the Combray village church 'Saint-Hilaire': 'In vain might Mme Louiseau deck her window-sills with fuchsias, which developed the bad habit of letting their branches trail at all times and in all directions, head downwards, and whose flowers had no more important business, when they were big enough to taste the joys of life, than to go and cool their purple, congested cheeks against the dark front of the church, to me such conduct sanctified the fuchsias not at all; between the flowers and the blackened stone against which they leaned, if my eyes could discern no gap, my mind preserved the impression of an abyss'......

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