Friday, May 29, 2009

The Brother Gardeners and Andrea Wulf

Blogging brings an awful lot of wonderful things my way. I consider the education I receive to be one of the most important things I get out of blogging. Education comes from your blogs, your comments, and occasionally from offers.

This was the case a few months back when an agent (Sara) for Andrea Wulf emailed me and asked if I would be interested in a book about the history of gardening. A book about the history of gardening? "Uh yes, what's the catch I asked?"

"No catch, but if you like it, would you kindly mention it on your blog?" asked Sara.

I do not normally do things like this, free or not. I like the freedom of posting what I want to post and of being my own boss, if you will. While blogging is voluntary, we sometimes put restrictions on ourselves and to avoid those, I have never obligated myself to post about things that others ask me to post about. But, the idea of a book about the history of gardening
between Britain and the United States intrigued me. What finally convinced me to say yes to Sara and accept the not yet published advance copy of The Brother Gardeners is the fact the author herself will be speaking in Nashville next Saturday! You all make your plans to go hear Andrea Wulf speak at the Nashville Public Library located at 615 Church Street, Nashville TN 37219. Her speaking engagement begins at 11:30 AM. THIS is why I agreed to review the book, I was excited the author is coming here! I plan to be in the audience when Ms. Wulf speaks. Now, on to the book.

I have always been an avid reader. I am taken with the genres of: horror, murder mysteries, historical romances, and garden books. Of late it is mainly garden books I read. Oh boy do I read garden books. I love them all. But I find most garden books are more informational and written like textbooks. Can you say boring? Okay, maybe just a bit. Well, The Brother Gardeners was
not written like a textbook. The story engaged me from page one and I had a hard time putting the book down. Good thing I am the mother of a teen aged boy who needs lots of chauffeuring (think time spent in the car reading while he does his thing) so I could read this wonderful book.

The book engages the reader right away. It tells of the history of gardening between Great Britain and a fledgling country to be, called 'The Colonies'. The story begins with John Bartram (a colonist) and Peter Collinson (a British citizen). It chronicles their partnership in exchanging botanical information. Bartram would collect American specimens like
Magnolia grandiflora and send the seeds to Collinson. Collinson would in return send Bartram information on the plants and he would catalogue the new plants he received from Bartram. Collinson also sold Bartram's packages to other like minded British collectors. It was in this manner that many American trees and flowers were introduced to Great Britain and vice versa. The really good part of the book was it was not simply a recital of the events, but it took us back in time to the actual happenings. Ms. Wulf even wrote in the language of the day, complete with misspelled words (they were probably spelled correctly 200+ years ago, but are not correct now). I found the book most fun.

The book does not stop only with Bartram and Collinson, but delves into all botanical happenings of the day. Any and everybody who was a 'somebody' in the circles of horticulture is discussed in this book. I particularly enjoyed the part about Carl Linnaeus. Most of you experienced gardeners know he is the creator of our botanical naming system for plants. Prior to Linnaeus's method of naming plants some plant names would take up half a page! Can you imagine going to a nursery asking for a plant named "
Chamaedaphne sempervirens, foliis oblongis angustis, foliorum fasciculis opposites-meaning 'evergreen dwarf laurel, with oblong narrow leaves growing in bunches, which are placed opposite.'"...? (P. 117) Me neither. Good thing Linnaeus came up with the binomial naming system to help us simplify plant names and more importantly, to standardize the plant names. Did you know Linnaeus had a very hard time getting his naming system accepted by the men of higher learning in Great Britain? Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist and somewhat removed from the circles of botany shakers and movers. It did not help his cause that his personality was somewhat off putting to others. Linnaeus never forgot the difficulty of getting his system accepted and Ms. Wulf's book told of how Linnaeus would either reward or 'punish' men by naming certain plants after them. Let's just say, you would not want a stinking little weed that caused irritation to everyone who touched it, to be named after you. Much better to have a flower like the gardenia named after you. And by the way, the gardenia is named after a man named Garden. Pretty neat huh?

The book not only talks of the 'shakers and movers' in botanical circles, but shows garden plans of many famous gardens. There are engraved photos of the gardeners themselves and lovely botanical drawings. I loved the photos in this book and found they added to the reality of the book.

I totally enjoyed this book from start to finish. Not only did I learn about the history of plants, gardens, and botanical masters who have shaped our botanical course to this day, I learned of some of the history, trials and travails early explorers endured in order to introduce new and wonderful plants from all across the globe to my own country. Without these intrepid explorers the world of gardening would be mighty boring.

Do check out Andrea Wulf's book The Brother Gardeners for some excellent reading with a healthy dose of learning thrown in. As a bonus, go to the Nashville Public Library (located at 615 Church Street) next Saturday at 11:30 and hear the author herself speak of her book. Somehow I just know she will be most enthusiastic and bring the history alive in an even more real manner. I'll be there too....

in the garden....


  1. Well Tina, sure wish I was close enough to Nashville to take advantage of hearing this author. The book sounds interesting. I an still trying to get around to reading 'Botany of Desire'. Used to read tons of books when we lived in Germany---back in the days of single channel AFN!

  2. I love gardening books, and this sounds like a great one. Thanks for such a good review Tina. I guess it is available now? I'll be at B&N next week so I'll look for it.
    Have a great the garden! :)

  3. That book does sound interesting. I wonder if I could get it here in the UK.

    I did a review some time ago of a gardening book on my blog and I found it quite interesting to do. I dont think it affects how you use your blog but will open it up to a wider audience.

  4. The book sounds interesting, full of funny, pleasing, true history told in a enjoyable way.

  5. hi I love it all and send you best wishes !!!

  6. Our local libraries are very disappointing in that they offer few books on gardening. Tasha Tudor and a few "The Encyclopedia of_____" is all they have. I will be sure to ask if they plan to get copies.

  7. Good Morning All,
    Tina this book sounds very interesting.I will look for it here in my area. It sounds like many hours of enjoyable reading.
    Have a nice day all.

  8. This sounds like a great read and informational. It also sounds like a book that my husband will enjoy, too.

    (and you reminded me that I have a new gardening book to review that was sent to me by the publisher before my vacation)

  9. What a great opportunity Tina. I think it's fun you reviewed the book, especially since you love to read. Sounds like a good one and thank goodness for Linnaeus. I am a collector of books but don't take nearly the time I used to in reading them. Enjoy the lecture.

  10. Sounds like a good book and I know you will enjoy her speaking.

  11. How exciting for a Garden and Book lover to be able to enjoy both pleasures rolled into one! We have a lot of stuff called Bartram Trail in our area. Just across the street is the Bartram Trail Golf course. It is on the Audubon International Wildlife Sancturary program! This Bartram is William Bartram the Naturalist and Explorer. I wonder if realted to John?

  12. It sounds really interesting. I will definitely keep a look out for it. I love hearing about good books, especially related to gardening!

  13. I love this post. Yes, education does come with blogging.

    Please visit me at my newest blog Everything Victorian (Especially Books)

  14. What an interesting sounding book about the history of gardening. I will have to look for it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Like Janet I wish I was closer to Nashville so I could hear the Author's talk.

  15. Janet, It will be fun! Wish you were able to go too!

    Linda, it is well worth getting indeed. I loved the history and learned so much!

    Helen, I think you should be able to get it there in Britain. I believe Andrea also visited there. It has a great deal of history and was fun reading about the British. While our societies are similar-they are SO different and that is fun! I saw a sticker on a car coming home today. It said, "Not only am I perfect, but I'm British too!" Ha! Thought it was fun.

    Dawn, Yes, we know history can be dry. Not so this book at all.

    Kathrin, Danke und Sie!

    Marnie, I hope your library gets it in. It is a wonderful book full of plants and history. Not at like design books. So worth it. P.S. I think I freed up a spot for the Pagoda as I ripped out a 'Lavender Twist' last night and moved it. Poor thing! Who would've thought it would grow like 10 foot roots in just two years! I hope it recovers, but now I have a spot:)

    Lola, Yes indeed! I love to read-I can relax!

    Cameron, It is a nice way to learn about the world so get on to reviewing that book soon. I'll be looking for it.

    Mom, Yes, I am really looking forward to it!

    Skeeter, Yes! Yes! Yes! William Bartram is John's son. They both explored Georgia extensively. William introduced many species including the Alatamaha. Do you know this tree? Interesting tree. Now supposedly the only trees in existence of this type are from Bartram's seeds since they all died out in their natural area. Both Bartrams were pioneers. No wonder Georgia honored them. I had no idea and if I come down there I'd love to visit that area-the history is great!

    Catherine, This was so interesting to me with all the history of the plants. I learned so much. Yes, do keep a watch out.

    Barbara, Hello and welcome. I will check out your new blog right away. Education from blogging is great! Thanks for stopping by.

    Racquel, Yes! it would be fun if we could all go together. I was just telling my husband I wished I was blogging a few years ago when he went to ANCOC at Eustis. I said so many of my blogging friends live in the area and I'd be busy visiting with you all! Love those kinds of trips to get together and see gardens and so on. Not sure if another trip like that would come up, but if you come this way-do let me know!

  16. Tina, if the book review is so interesting I can imagine how the book will be. Lucky you! Will be meeting the author too! I've always loved the history behind blooms. This is definitely a must-get/must-read for me.

  17. Thanks for such a great book review! I'll have to check out the book. -Jackie

  18. Sounds like a great book, Tina. I like how you're totally transparent and up-front with how it arrived on your shelf, and that's often how books arrive at book reviewers in newspapers and the like. I wandered over to a couple of publishers' sites and noticed that they have links to where you can request copies of books to review. It might be a nice way to get to see some interesting books and share them with your readers.

  19. What do you mean if you come down here again? You better come back for a longer visit some time! :-)

  20. I'm just starting to get into gardening books (move over cookbook collection!) and am reading "People With Dirty Hands" and "The Good Life" right now. I'll have to put this one on my "to be read" list!

  21. It was extremely interesting for me to read that article. Thank you for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more soon.