Letter: Seeds of friendship

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The Independent Online
Sir: Reading about the proposed royal visit to Russia (17 February), I was immediately reminded of the plant collection from Kew sent to the Empress Catherine II in 1795 by George III.

The Kew collection was organised by Sir Joseph Banks, the great botanist, and it was an ambitious undertaking in those days of sailing ships to convey delicate and rare plants. The voyage of the Venus from London to St Petersburg lasted from 13 July to 8 August, 1795. Three plants were lost and four were sick on arrival. It was not easy to protect them from sea air while at the same time providing light and ventilation.

The Kew collection was planted in the Empress's palace of Pavlovsk, which was destroyed in the Second World War but magnificently restored. There is no trace now of Catherine's beautiful private garden and greenhouses. A list of the plants is contained in the British Museum publication Banks and the Plants sent to Russia, 1795 by Harold G. Carter.

It is usual for visiting royalty to present gifts to the host head of state. Would it not be a graceful gesture for this gift to be repeated?

Yours faithfully,

DOROTHY M. GABBITAS

Godalming, Surrey

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