Books We're Reading: The Brother Gardeners
The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf, Knopf, 2009, 356 pages, hardcover; Vintage Books, 2010, softcover.
Tells the story of amateur and professional botanists, gardeners, and horticulturists in eighteenth-century England who avidly sought new and exotic species of plants provided by scientists, explorers, and fellow plant collectors throughout the world.
About the Author
Andrea Wulf was born India, and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in Britain where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She writes widely for newspapers both in the U.S. and Britain and is a regular contributor on BBC radio and television. Wulf is currently working on a book about the American founding fathers and how their attitude to nature, gardens and agriculture shaped the American nation entitled Founding Gardeners: How the Revolutionary Generation Created an American Eden (publication spring 2011).
The "Brother Gardeners" was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008, the most prestigious non-fiction award in the UK and won the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award as well as the CBHL 2010 Annual Literature Award.
Author Web site: http://www.andreawulf.com/
Writer and historian Andrea Wulf talks about her recent book, The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession, that traces the origin of the English country garden through the collaborative effort between two men and two countries: American farmer, John Bartram, and London cloth merchant, Peter Collinson. (Added to Monticello Podcasts on Aug 6, 2009. Approx. 44 min. )
Interview: Andrea Wulf, "The Brother Gardeners" (Diane Rehm Show, July 3, 2009)
From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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From The New Yorker
In Wulf's engaging account, the origin of the English country garden appears as a matter of friendship as much as of flowers&—a collaborative effort between two men and two countries. In 1733, a humble American farmer, John Bartram, sent seeds of plants native to the American colonies to a London cloth merchant, Peter Collinson, who went on to lead a dedicated group of British enthusiasts in introducing American species to Britain. Previously, English gardens had been dominated by turf, topiary, and strict geometric rules; the arrival of new plants well suited to the climate transformed them into places of movement and color, and a source of immense national pride. That such a quintessentially English obsession should have its roots in foreign soil is an irony not lost on Wulf, a design historian who grew up in Germany.
The pioneer plant hunters (The Telegraph/Jenny Uglow, April 13, 2008)
The sex life of plants (The Guardian/Mark Cocker, May 10, 2008)
Table of Contents
Prologue : The Fairchild mule
Part I. Roots:
1. -€˜Forget not mee & my garden'
2. -€˜The bright beam of gardening'
3. -€˜My harmless sexual system'
4. -€˜Pray go very clean, neat & handsomely dressed to Virginia'
Part II. Growth:
5. -€˜All gardening is landscape-painting'
6. -€˜Send no seeds for him . . . all is att an end'
7. -€˜Commonwealth of botany'
8. -€˜The English are all, more or less, gardeners'
9. -€˜See what a complete empire we have now got within ourselves'
Part III. Harvest:
10. -€˜Ye who o'er southern oceans wander'
11. -€˜An academy of natural history'
12. -€˜As good-humoured a nondescript Otatheitan as ever!'
13. -€˜Loves of the plants'
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Andrea Wulf was a three-time fellow at Monticello's Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS).