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Balls, Edward Kent (1892-1984)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0068 EKB
Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
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Full title: Balls, Edward Kent (1892-1984)
Date(s): 1932-1970s
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 115 files, 3 items and index cards
Name of creator(s): Balls | Edward Kent | 1892-1984 | plant collector and horticulturist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born, 1892; Edward Kent Balls was involved in Quaker relief work for eleven years, from 1918 after the First World War, in France, then in the Balkans and Russia; this is where me met with his wife, Natalia Timonova, who was to play an active part in his plant collecting activities. His career in horticulture started in 1926, when he worked for the Six Hills Nursery, Stevenage, in Kent. although he had little training in horticulture or botany, he quickly became the chief rock garden builder. After a few years he decided to switch to plant hunting and made his first trip in 1932, to Persia with Dr P L Giuseppi, a founder member and later President of the Alpine Garden Society. Although Giuseppi could only spare one month, Balls stayed four months and a half. They travelled through Hamadan and Ispahan to Shiraz and west to Kerman and the mountains of Kuh Banan. Balls later explored Mount Elwend and its neighbourood. He also exploredKhalat an Mount Kuh Ajub and the mountains of Schir Kuh (ion Mountain) and Barf Kahnnich (Snow Mountain). They brought back a wide variety of plants, new or lost to cultivation, including six species of Dionysa curviflora which at that time were virtually unknown to cultivation.

This expedition launched Balls on a collecting career. He then teamed up with Dr W Balfour Gourlay, a wealthy and dedicated amateur botanist, who had accompanied Nursery owner Clarence Elliott of Six Hills Nursery on his South American plant hunting trips. Together they made two trips to Turkey (Feb-Sep 1933), where they explored Taurus Mountains and later the Pontine Mountains south of Trebizond. This expedition yielded many good plants, some new firmly established such as campanula betulifolia, geranium armenium and cyclamen cilicium var. intaminatum, the smallest of the cyclamen species. In 1934, Balls and Balfour Gourlay returned to Turkey exploring several mountain ranges; the third expedition again to Turkey in 1935 had to be abandoned, due to difficulties by the Turkish officials, forbidding them to explore certain areas; they thought them to be secret service agents.

In 1936 Balls went to Morocco with Dr Richard Seligman, an alpine gardener. they explored th oasis of Aguelmous and the volcanic mountains of Djebel Siroua and Djebel Amezdour; , they also explored the foot and area of Djebel Toubkal in the Atlas mountains, Balls climbing its summit they collected amongst various species, narcissus watieri. Seligman returned to England and Balls carried on alone, going also further east in the company of an ornithologist from Marrakesh. They went to Tirsal and the foot of Djebel Ghat, where Balls found an attractive alpine flora. Having followed Hooker's footsteps he was however, more successful in his collecting and received the RHS Award of Merit in 1937 for having discovered Colchicum triphyllum, collected near Tashdirt.

In 1937 Balls then made a four month visit to Greece with Balfour Gourlay concentrating mainly to the Pindus mountains of Epirus. In 1938, they went to Mexico, accompanied by Mrs Balls. Part of their mission was to collect wild species of potatoes for research and breeding purposes. They explored the areas of Nevada de Toluca and Ojos de Agua as well as Cofre de Perote; they found their first potates on Popocatepetl. On the Pico de Orizaba they stayed first in the village of of Lomagrande at 900ft, and despite the villagers' evil reputation, they were well received; the flora was so rich that they later returned to collect seeds. Their trip ended with the ascent of Mt Malinche, the upper slopes of which are now a national park, and found many interesting plants.

They were recalled to England in November when Balls was asked by the Agriculural Bureau to continue his potato research into South America. Mrs Balls returned to England with many drawings of plants she had made during the trip. Balls and Balfour Gourlay sailed for Buenaventura and on to Quito where they were met by potato expert Jack Hawkes and together they explored several mountainous areas. Balfour Gorlay returned to England but Balls stayed on, he had also obtained from the Agricultural Bureau to collect ornamental plants for himself.

The project was incomplete as World War II broke out, and unable to return to England, Balls went to the USA working for the British Purchasing Commission. He again undertook relief work from 1944 to 1947, working for the UNRAA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which dealt with refugees in territories liberated from axis powers. Balls travelled for this work in Yugoslavia and China; he later returned to the USA, working for Mrs Lester Rowntree in an extensive seed collecting project, before joining the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California. Here he stayed until his retirement in 1960. The Balls later moved to Spain but returned to England in 1967 and made their home with their daughter in Hull.

Natalia Balls died in November 1983 and Edward in October 1984 aged 92.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Edward Kent Balls comprising expedition papers consisting of diaries, plant lists, photographs and negatives and field collecting notebooks. Contains papers relating to Northern America such as plant collecting notebooks, correspondence and press cuttings; also comprises correspondence with specific institutions and a condensed autobiography.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, Spanish, French, German

System of arrangement:

The arrangement of the papers follows more or less the arrangements followed by Balls when boxing up the papers for transfer. Papers are arranged in the following series:
EKB/1 Persia Expedition 1933-1939
EKB/2 Turkey Expedition 1933
EKB/3 Turkey Expedition 1934
EKB/4 Turkey Expedition 1935
EKB/5 Morroco Expedition 1936
EKB/6 Greece Expedition 1937
EKB/7 Mexico Expedition 1938
EKB/8 South America Expedition: 1938-1939
EKB/9 North America Papers
EKB/10 Biography and other Papers

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted - surrogates to be used where available.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Please contact the Archives for further information and listings.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were donated by E K Balls on 16 March 1981. See PrP 09-0002.

Allied Materials

Related material:

In the Archives: two registered files: PRO 4/B/43 E.K. Balls and W.B Gourley Expedition to Turkey 1932-1934; PRO 4/B/43a E K Balls 1935-1938; Correspondence with F C Stern and documents for expeditions 1932-1938 including Asia Minor 1935. In Ilustrations: Photographs taken by W Balfour Gourley during his expeditions to Turkey with E K Balls 1934, 44 black and white photographs.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2011

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