London: Privately Printed, 1829. Limited edition, one of 50 copies. Hardcover. A fine copy of this rare and beautifully illustrated botanical work on willows. The full page plates depict the willows in this famous garden, the "Willow Ground" , at the family seat of the Duke of Bedford. The garden boasts a collection of over 200 different species of English willow, conceived by George Sinclair (the Duke of Bedford credits him with initiating the idea in the introduction), and carried out by James Forbes, his successor.
George Sinclair was not just a gardener-- he was also a writer on horticulture and a pioneering ecologist -- quite possibly the first person to conduct an ecological experiment, one which was later referred to by Charles Darwin when he referenced an experiment which showed that a greater diversity of plants resulted in better production of plant matter.
Sinclair conducted his experiment at Woburn Abbey on grasses, dividing an area in the garden into 242 plots in which he compared the growth of different species and mixtures of grasses in different soil types. He published the results of the experiments in the third edition of 'Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis : or an account of the results of experiments on the produce and nutritive qualities of different grasses', reporting that the plots with turf having diverse plant species were more productive than the plots with fewer species planted from seed.
A manuscript copy of Darwin's 'Natural Selection' contained a reference to an article in a gardeners' magazine describing Sinclair's biodiversity experiment in the gardens of Woburn Abbey.
According to Dr. Andrew Hector of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College, London: "This [Sinclair's biodiversity experiment] pushes back the link between community and ecosystems ecology back to the birth of the subject, before it even had a name in fact. We've now found the experimental work, since forgotten, that inspired these ideas and, to the best of our knowledge, this work at Woburn Abbey is arguably the first ecological experiment." ('First ecological experiment' rediscovered", by Roger Highfield, Science Editor. The Telegraph, London: 25 January 2002).
Large 4to, folding frontispiece, xvi, , 294 pp, uncut. Folding lithographed frontispiece printed on India paper and mounted, 140 hand colored engraved plates after R. C. Stratford highlighted in gum arabic. Magnificent period style binding, three quarter dark green gilt morocco and marbled boards, gilt title at red spine label. Frontispiece with short marginal tears at foredge (not affecting printed image) repaired with archival tape on verso; small hole at bottom of p161 in margin which looks to be a paper defect; very faint damp mark in the upper left hinge of the last 20pp of the book. The binding looks to have been done in the early 20th century.
Nissen BBI 642; Pritzel 2960; OCLC: 22326714. Fine. Item #25915