03 June 2010

Both: A Portrait in Two Parts

I was looking for something to re-read and I pulled Both off the shelf thinking it was an entirely different book*. I cannot tell you how delighted I was to find this book, again. Both: A Portrait in Two Parts by Douglas Crase tells the dual story of Dwight Ripley and Rupert Barneby. It is filled with gardening and art and Auden and Waugh, oh my.

Dwight Ripley was the heir to the Ripley railroad fortune. Rupert Barneby had a proper, English upbringing. The two met at Harrow as boys and went on to lead a life together.

Dwight at Harrow

Rupert at Harrow

Dwight wrote poetry and produced a collection of colored pencil drawings while Rupert became, as Crase states, "the most accomplished legume taxonomist since Bentham."

The pair traveled the globe finding and identifying plants. Rupert's speciality was Astragalus.

Specimen collected by Rupert Barneby

Detail from "Merbomb in a Cage" by Dwight Ripley, 1951

"Travel Poster" by Dwight Ripley

Rupert found a home at the New York Botanical Garden. The pair moved into a house known as The Falls and later into the nineteen room Stirling House. Dwight would succumb to cirrhosis in 1973. Rupert would continue on with his plants another 27 years.

Rupert, holding Possum, and Dwight

I know, you are thinking why in the world would I care about the story of a drunken minor poet and the second most accomplished legume taxonomist in the world? I have not done the book justice, I assure you. Suffice to say, when I pulled it off the shelf and sat down with it, I did not get up until I finished it, again. If you accidentally pull it off a shelf thinking it is something else, I urge you to take it home -- and if it sits on your shelf, do read it, again.

* I thought it was The 3000 Mile Garden: An Exchange of Letters Between Two Eccentric Gourmet Gardeners.

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