Saturday, 2 August 2014

Flower Power : Barneby and Barnaby

Barneby and Barnaby. Sounds like a firm of solicitors or a television detective series, doesn’t it. But they are actually the names of 2 gay men who were/are important figures in botany and horticulture. Originally my idea was to write a separate article on each of them, but the similarity of names and occupations was too much of a temptation to ignore, so I’ve put them both together.

The men in question are Rupert Barneby (1911-2000) and Barnaby Miln (b.1947). Between them they have developed, cultivated and named over a thousand species and varieties of flowers and plants which include the staples of our diet – wheat and beans. It’s interesting to compare and contrast their lives. To avoid confusion I’ll not refer to them by their similar names. I’ll refer to Rupert Barneby and Rupert, and Barnaby Miln as Miln.

Both men were born into wealthy British families. Rupert was born in Wales and Miln in Scotland. Miln had a botanical background. His family had long been associated with agriculture. His father was the third generation of his family to be managing director of Gartons, the UK’s largest agricultural plant and seed company. It was natural for Miln to enter the same profession. He studied at the Edinburgh School of Agriculture and in America before returning to work at Gartons.

Rupert, on the other hand, was basically self-taught. He didn’t come from an agricultural or botanical background. His family were mainly barristers and magistrates (Miln was a magistrate for 13 years, so there is a connection there).

Rupert’s father refused to let him study botany at university because he considered it an effeminate profession.Rupert’s interest in botany was encouraged by a couple of aunts. Like Miln, Rupert went to a posh public school. There Rupert met a fellow plant enthusiast called Dwight Ripley, an American, who became his life partner. Ripley was a talented botanist in his own right, so I’ll leave details of his life for another time (there’s no prizes for guessing what title I could use for that article).

Because of his father’s disapproval of his son’s floral interests Rupert studied history and modern languages at university. With Ripley’s extensive knowledge of plants and their Latin names Rupert learnt all about how the plant kingdom in divided into families and species and the like, and this was influential in his later career when he named and placed hundreds of new species in their appropriate places in the plant kingdom. His massive contribution to taxonomy (as this is called) led other botanists to name plant species after Rupert (again, another subject for another time).

Miln, on the other hand, has no plant named after him – yet. At Gartons he worked on developing new varieties of plant species, most notably wheat. He also developed a new sugar beet breeding programme which produced higher quality beet with better sugar-producing capacity.

Miln is also a plant historian, unlike Rupert. Miln researched the histories of over 400 flowers, plants and crops that had been introduced into the UK. Miln also set up his own seed company in 1980 and opened several garden centres and a turf grass research facility. In 1997 he designed the show garden for Christian Aid at the Chelsea Flower Show, which won a Silver Gilt certificate.

Miln’s work with Christian Aid brought him into contact with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. Runcie appointed Miln as his Special Adviser on Sexuality (like Rupert, Miln was openly gay) and attended several AIDS conferences. It was after attending an AIDS conference in San Francisco in 1986 that Miln created the first AIDS ribbon.

Rupert, on the other hand, was not particularly religious or interested in campaigning. He was content to live with Dwight Ripley in the USA where they went to live and work after Rupert`s father disinherited him. All across America the couple spent many summer weeks searching for new plants and sending seeds to botanical institutes for study and breeding. One of Rupert’s specialist areas of knowledge was in members of the bean family, the legumes, and he was regarded as an authority on the subject and in their cultivation.

Ripley died in 1973 and Rupert continued his plant-hunting expeditions in the company of trusted colleagues. He was still making these expeditions into his 80s. He died at the Jewish Home and Hospital in the Bronx in 2000 at the age of 89.

Miln was the life partner of Rev. Sir Derek Pattinson, the Secretary General of the General Synod of the Church of England. Sir Derek died in 2006.

Rupert Barneby and Barnaby Miln had a lot in common – their privileged background, their love of plants, their development of several plant species, and their open long-term relationships. Their differences proved no barrier to them achieving notable fame and respect in the botanical sciences as openly gay men.

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