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....