A Lover of Mystery and Magic
It's the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - born in 1859.
Ten years ago, in 2009, a violin made from a dying sycamore tree in Conan Doyle's garden was played to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. The violin was a nod to Conan Doyle's creation, Sherlock Holmes, who played the violin while solving cases.
If you search for "Conan Doyle Garden" on Twitter, you'll see a fantastic photographic portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden with his Irish terrier Paddy sitting beside him on a bench.
Doyle and his wife, Jean, purchased a quaint, thatched cottage they called Bignell House. Running along the boundary of the garden was a trout stream, and it also had a wicket gate leading directly to the forest. There was a miniature golf course and a croquet lawn. Jean added several garden gnomes and statuary to the garden.
The Doyles were spiritualists. They believed in garden fairies, pixies, and elves. During the First World War, when two girls took created fake photographs of fairies, Doyle fell for the pictures. They inspired him to write The Coming of the Fairies, a bookmaking a case for the existence of fairies.
The garden influenced Doyle's writing. He wrote about monkshood and other poisonous plants. When he has his character John Watson writes a list of Sherlock Holmes' limitations; Watson mentions he knew nothing of practical gardening. However, he did note that Sherlock was, "Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally." In The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, Sherlock Holmes solves the case thanks to footprints in the garden.
In Doyle's Through the Magic Door, he wrote about the value of understanding botany:
"A very little botany will enable you to recognize every flower you are likely to meet in your walks abroad and to give you a tiny thrill of interest when you chance upon one which is beyond your ken."
In an interview with Doyle published in The Strand Magazine in march 1919, he shares his understanding of an odd message that had come to him during a séance. It said, "Food comes before etymology." He said,
"On the day before that on which I attended this seance, I had told my two little boys, aged nine and seven (these are children of Sir Arthur's second marriage) that they must go to work and kill all the caterpillars and other predatory insects in our garden. They were not inclined to do it, for they are very tender-hearted little fellows, but I explained to them that these insects were just as much a menace to our food supply as the German submarines then were. They understood the necessity then and started at once. So now you can see the significance of the message that I received: 'Food comes before entomology,' "
Aside from his belief in the supernatural, Doyle greatly enjoyed being in his garden. He did most of his writing in the garden. He once remarked, "What a lovely thing a rose is!"
And, Doyle once gave a speech heartily supporting the Early Rising Billor Daylight SavingBillwhich was published in the Daily Mail on April 21, 1909, where he stated:
"Of every 100 people in the country, ninety-nine would benefit by its passing. The only real objection is that it would set all the sundials wrong. (Laughter.) The need of this age is that people should get more in touch with nature; that they should have a little more fun in their lives; and I think that a measure which sends a man home one hour earlier to his wife and children, gives him a chance to cultivate his garden... would be of great benefit to the country."