The brother gardeners : botany, empire and the birth of an obsession /
Andrea Wulf.
New York : A. A. Knopf, 2009, c2008.
354 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm.
9780307270238 (hbk.)
More Details
New York : A. A. Knopf, 2009, c2008.
9780307270238 (hbk.)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

"Forget not Mee & My Garden"  

There ought to be gardens for all the months in the year,
in which severally things of beauty may be then in season.

FRANCIS BACON, "Of Gardens," 1625  

The first three months of the year were always the busiest time for the cloth merchant Peter Collinson, for it was then that the ships from the American colonies arrived in London. But on this January morning in 1734 he was concerned not with the arrival of reels of wool or bales of cotton but with an altogether different cargo. Awaiting him at Custom House, down by the docks, were two boxes of plants that, for Collinson, were the most exciting piece of merchandise he had ever received.  

As he hurried towards the Thames from his Gracechurch Street office, in the financial centre of the city, Collinson could see the clusters of tall masts above the rooftops and hear the cries of stevedores as they unloaded precious goods from the holds. The stretch of the river between London Bridge and the Tower was the main harbour of London and more than two thousand vessels-besides barges, wherries and ferries-created "a forest of ships." Moored side-by-side, the vessels left only narrow channels for the barges between them, and the wharves, quays and stairs that lined the river were so crowded it was hard to move. These ships brought tea and silk from China; sugar and coffee from the West Indies; spices from the East Indies and corn and tobacco from the American colonies. The river was, as one visitor said, the "foster-mother" of London, pumping money, goods and life into a city which more than half a million people called their home-the largest metropolis in the world.  

Collinson was one of the many merchants benefiting from the huge expansion of trade that had occurred since the accession of King George II. Soon to be forty, he had inherited the cloth business from his father a few years earlier and was involved in shipping cloth all around the globe, with his main market in the American colonies. Between the 1720s and the 1760s exports to the American colonies quadrupled, while those to the West Indies multiplied almost by seven, providing untold wealth to a new class of businessman. As Daniel Defoe wrote, "our merchants are princes, greater and richer, and more powerful than some sovereign princes."  

And, as London grew, so too did the trade to be done within the city. In one year alone, Londoners consumed nearly 2 million barrels of beer, 15 million mackerel and 70,000 sheep. London was one vast consumer market and the streets thronged with trade. Not far from Collinson's office were the shops of Cheapside and Fleet Street, whose large windows created the impression that they were "made entirely of glass." Sweets, cakes and fruits were stacked in precarious towers, and even the apothecaries' colourful potions were lavishly displayed to entice the passers-by. Tourists wandered for hours, admiring what one called "the choicest merchandise from the four quarters of the globe." When dusk settled on the city, thousands of candles threw a soft light on to glittering jewellery, polished silverware and framed engravings. Lanterns fastened to the front of each house created a luminous necklace along the streets, giving London a permanently festive atmosphere.  

Although Collinson was not one of the richest merchants in the city, he was very comfortably off. He lived with his beloved wife in a "little cottage" in the "pleasant village" of Peckham.* It was "the most Delightfull place to Mee," he said, where he could retreat from the "hurrys of town," and where he could indulge the great passion of his life: gardening. Collinson had been fascinated by the natural world from an early age, when he wandered the garde

Excerpted from The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2009-09-01:
Who would guess that all the wonderful plants found in a nursery--each six-pack of lobelia, each four-inch pot filled with bountiful begonia, coy caladium, impish impatiens, or a promising perennial--contain a history of discovery, cultivation, and trade? Possessing a related curiosity, Wulf, a German journalist and author transplanted to Britain, is transfixed by the greenery all around her adopted London. In this work of three parts, "Roots," "Growth," and "Harvest," she sets out to uncover the history that brought the species in her new backyard from the British colonies (especially America) to Europe. In developing her semi-fictionalized, semi-biographical, fully botanical thesis, Wulf examines hundreds of manuscripts and contemporary letters of the 18th century, as well as the plants and plant illustrations that are discussed therein, to produce this entertaining, enlightening account of a seldom-considered corner of scientific history, its personalities, and their plants. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers. S. Hammer Boston University
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2009-03-16:
Wulf, a German-born journalist, wonderfully conveys the allure and cultural importance of the garden. Spanning nearly 100 years and several continents, Wulf begins her cultural investigation with the creation of the first manmade hybrid by devout Christian gardener Thomas Fairchild, who spent the rest of his life racked with guilt for the blasphemous act. She also introduces egomaniacal Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who scandalized British society with his sexual system of classification; his book was banned by the Vatican. There is New World farmer John Bartram, who braved storms and steep mountains to discover new plants and send them back to his customers in England, hungry for exotic vegetation from America. As Wulf fills her readily accessible book with adventures aboard Captain Cook's ship, petty rivalries and outsized personalities, she provides an entertaining account of kooky botanists traveling the world and explores how gardening neutralized class lines, how horticulture and botany brought wealth and power, and how the English garden had a profound impact on modern landscape gardening, elevating the humble pursuit into the highest art. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2009-06-01:
A garden will never look quite the same after you've read this book on the 18th-century British botanists who exploited the colonial system to acquire thousands of previously unknown plant species. Wulf argues that their imports vastly increased the blooming season and variety of English gardens, enabling gardeners to create the naturalistic "English" gardens coming into fashion after the geometry of the previous century. The London merchant (and backyard gardener) Peter Collinson persuaded Philadelphia's John Bartram to make plant-collecting treks through the wilderness, and this results in the introduction to British gardens of such mainstays of the modern border as azalea, mountain laurel, paper birch, and wisteria. Bartram supplied seeds to propagate North American varieties of oak, pine, hemlock, and cedar across the ocean. New species also appeared from Australia and Asia. Ships circumnavigated the globe to collect and classify new plants (including an ill-fated voyage captained by William Bligh). The brother gardeners resisted (but eventually gave way to) the novel system invented by obstreperous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to classify the confusing array of new discoveries. Verdict Wulf's book will be of interest to anyone with a garden, even if it's on a windowsill.-Stewart Desmond, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, March 2009
Publishers Weekly, March 2009
Library Journal, June 2009
Choice, September 2009
New York Times Full Text Review, October 2009
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