Situated in the very heart of the Midlands UK, Birmingham’s true value has always been its central location, the natural nucleus of business gravity between East and West, North and South. From the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution in the late C18th, Birmingham’s reputation organically grew through mastering the art of diverse trading. Along the way, many roads would surface with very well trodden stories of countless merchants and customers.
With access to a rich, rural landscape and agriculture as well as the industrial production of iron, glass and textiles, by the early C19th Birmingham had furthered its transportation links through an extremely extensive canal network. Imagination knows no bounds, Birmingham would also build intellectual capital. With a university and an art, science and manufacturing college, the city established itself as the ‘soul’ of British invention and creativity.
In Birmingham lush surrounding countryside, places such as Ironbridge, founded the “heavy metal” industrialisation for which Birmingham’s modern heritage has become chiefly known. From the late C18th, fine engineering in the age of steam, mechanisation and the railways laid the future for automation and the rise of the motor car. Birmingham would be the natural home of the car industry and thus, road building. Roads, like canals would bring “value added” benefits, but faster and even more wealth would stop and pass through the City of Metal and connect the UK economy with even faster growth based on goods, services and new ideas, now manufactured in the city, not just passing through it.
In the UK, all good roads eventually lead to Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a city owned collection of plants and trees for the people, opened in 1832. Plants from far flung corners of the globe echoed the exoticism of travel and C19th exploration. The idea of a botanical garden brought the outside world to the ordinary person and showcased international achievements of the United Kingdom.
In Victorian Britain, collecting flowering and unusual plants was also a very popular pastime for the privileged to charm their private landscapes and trophy their own experiences. In the height of the British Empire, this fashionable fascination further served to represent our relationship with the colonies from which the plant species originated. But for the private landowner or public collection, the display of plants can be a potent, incredibly polite and silent reminder of ownership and power. Blossoming most years, plants will always be loved for their strong aesthetics of Beauty and Novelty, the ready-made attributes which also soothe any sensitivities about any rights and wrongs in the politics of plunder and exploit without local permission!
Today, due to the efforts of dedicated teams of horticulturalists, it is the plants which have lasted well beyond the breakup of the old British Empire. The conservatories are still standing. Through many coats of paint the original locally produced metal framework of the glass houses has saved a rusty Empire face. But the real legacy is the success story and power of immigration. These unexpected visitors, the original green aliens, plants were the oddities with strange and unpredictable ‘rootholds’ from across the continents of India, Africa, South America, Australia. As the original ‘seedy’ foreigners, they have in turn, created the longest lasting, very sustainable wealth. Now after sitting quietly and having been daily attended to for almost two centuries, they have become as an inextricable part of the city identity and probably the most becoming.
Back in the day, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were also known to have had a genuine penchant for multi-culturalism. Where would the Hagley Road in Edgbaston, Birmingham, be without the exotic and foreign? How fortunate we take “green” card applications as literal. The cacti, coleus the ‘British’ tea plant – camellia and hundreds more, have all created real growth, consistent employment and public pleasure to the city for centuries. Their contribution is daily wealth creation 24/7 x 200 years. Today, they even have a modern role in helping us gauge the effects of global warming, helping to foresee what should be our responsiveness to future climate change. Follow this road.
Bus route no.9 Stourbridge to Birmingham is the Hagley Road. For afternoon tea with the experience and memories of Victorian pioneers, marvel the multi-cultural work and insights brought by the British Empire for all to genuinely enjoy and be part of.
© 2017 La Floralie 3