The Pomona Herefordiensis. A browse through this sumptuous classic of English pomology will transport you back hundreds of years, to a time when English orchards abounded in a dazzling diversity of fruit. And when intrepid naturalists of the day found powerful partnership with some of the world’s most talented illustrators, both to help them with their science, and to inspire the sustained interest of a wider (ideally deep-pocketed) populace in the project of exploring the teeming universe of life–whether in the exotic lands of far afield or close to home, in the orchard next door.
Not to be confused with the Herefordshire Pomona, another important work published several decades later in the West Midlands region of England (which is still known as the historic heartland of English cider production) the Pomona Herefordiensis was written by Thomas Andrew Knight (1759-1838). Knight was a trained horticulturalist and leading figure in the London Horticultural Society (later known as the Royal Horticultural Society), who put a large inheritance of land and wealth to use for breeding improved fruit and vegetable crops. Faulted by his contemporaries and later scholars for failure to more rigorously test and advance wider scientific theory with his breeding efforts, he was nonetheless well respected for his contributions to practical horticulture.
Sponsored by the Herefordshire Agricultural Society, Pomona Herefordiensis marked the first published documentation of England’s cider apple and perry fruit varieties. The volume describes 30 apple and pear varieties, each represented in breathtakingly beautiful colored plates. Artists Elizabeth Mathews and Frances Knight (Thomas Knight’s daughter) provided the original drawings, and William Hooker, an English student of the famed German botanical illustrator Franz Bauer, created the etchings that brought these drawings to brilliantly hued life. A significant feature of this artwork: The care taken to provide life-like representation of the scabs, speckles and other blemishes observed on gathered specimens, helping to set the bar for later illustrated works, such as the Herefordshire Pomona, to honor the integrity of their publication as works of horticultural science as well as artistic achievement.
The Pomona Herefordiensis may be over 200 years old, but it is enjoying an important revival as a tool of science in support of new growth in the craft cider industry in today’s rural landscape. Here at Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, horticulture professor Gregory Peck is currently engaged in assessing large numbers of apple genotypes–sometimes drawn from forgotten old orchards of the past–for their potential use in hard cider production. When genetic and chemical analyses of a tested cultivar raises question about its proper identification, historic literature of past centuries can help home in on the needed answer.
Mann Library has scanned many of the images from the Pomona Herefordiensis. Below is a slideshow of plates from the book; to get a better view of a plate, enter its title in the search box above (e.g., "Garter Apple"). A complete scan, including the text, is available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library.