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The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water…
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The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water Lily, The Quest to Make it Bloom,…

by Tatiana Holway

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
At the dawn of the Victorian era, Britain was mad for gardening. Regular discoveries of new flora, the drawings and specimens that survived the journey back to London, and the technological advances of the second industrial revolution helped to fuel that passion. Beginning with Schomburgk’s fortuitous discovery in 1837 of the massive Victoria Regia – the eponymous Flower of Empire – continuing with Paxton’s Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition of 1851, Holway weaves together an impressive narrative. From never-ending challenges facing Schomburgk in the new British colony of Guiana, to the rivalries described between various botanists and organizations to be the first to publish new species discoveries, and further explored by describing how technological and social change helped raise a humble garden boy, Paxton, to knighthood, the highly researched Flower of Empire recounts the changing world of this colossus flower.
I personally found the story of Paxton the most interesting and developed. We follow his career from the beginning as a humble garden boy at the Horticultural Society’s Chiswick Gardens, to his appointment at just age 20 to the position of Head Gardener of Chatsworth and the changes he brought to that estate, to knighthood by Queen Victoria. His rise to success was facilitated by a favourable relationship with the Duke, Paxton received a gentleman’s education when he assisted the Duke’s travel on the Continent; he returned a changed man. Holway refers to this experience throughout descriptions of his career to explain his comfort with a variety of situations and perhaps as an influence to his innovations. As head gardener he worked to make Chatsworth a haven of botanical wonders by designing new gardens, innovative glass houses, and created elaborate displays for both notables and the press. Becoming the first man to coax the water lily to blossom, he secured the influence to submit and secure the commission to design the Crystal Palace. Paxton was not just a botanical man, he worked with his wife Sarah -- who often supervised and played a prominent role in managing his affairs as he was often away from the Chatsworth gardens– in managing their interests in the railway industry.
Holway’s text is a fascinating botanical and sociological review of the far reaching impact of one flower on the empire.
I received my review copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewer’s Program/Net Galley. ( )
  pennyshima | Oct 22, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm an avid gardener and I loved this book. I enjoy gardening history books and this one is at the top of my list of most interesting. ( )
  rosagallica | Aug 28, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“The Flower of Empire” is about the discovery and cultivation of the giant water lily (Victoria regia) named in honor of Queen Victoria. This book does not focus solely on the flower itself, but also paints a fascinating portrait of the Victorian Era in terms of English colonization, industrialization/architecture, horticulture, and general culture. The histories of the diverse cast of individuals responsible for discovering and cultivating the giant water lily are intricately interwoven with the other topics of the book mentioned above. The author’s writing style and voice shine through in the book, making it both descriptive and fluid - one often forgets that this is a work of non-fiction as one imagines themselves slogging through Amazonian swamps or visiting the gardens at Kew. I fully recommend this book. ( )
  atrautz | Jul 5, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a wonderful book! I didn't want to put it down. This history of the quest to have the bigger, better, more extensive garden in the early to mid 19th century was fascinating. It read like a cross between a mystery novel and a travelogue. The hunt to find and present this wonderful flower to Queen Victoria crosses oceans as well as gardens. The lust to have the bigger better greenhouse among the elite and wealthy class in 19th century England culminated in the building of the Crystal Palace for the 1850 World Exposition in London. As I have been reading this book I have recommended it to any one who would listen--it is THAT good! ( )
  milkmaidgoddess | Jun 21, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The book was very informative and unlike a typical non-fiction that tends to be too monotonous, this was packed with humor to the full as the various exploits and adventures of Schomburgk, Lindley and Paxton, all of whom made it possible for the world to view this marvelous water lily. ( )
  Ashraks | Jun 10, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195373898, Hardcover)

In 1837, while charting the Amazonian country of Guiana for Great Britain, German naturalist Robert Schomburgk discovered an astounding "vegetable wonder"--a huge water lily whose leaves were five or six feet across and whose flowers were dazzlingly white. In England, a horticultural nation with a mania for gardens and flowers, news of the discovery sparked a race to bring a live specimen back, and to bring it to bloom. In this extraordinary plant, named Victoria regia for the newly crowned queen, the flower-obsessed British had found their beau ideal.

In The Flower of Empire, Tatiana Holway tells the story of this magnificent lily, revealing how it touched nearly every aspect of Victorian life, art, and culture. Holway's colorful narrative captures the sensation stirred by Victoria regia in England, particularly the intense race among prominent Britons to be the first to coax the flower to bloom. We meet the great botanists of the age, from the legendary Sir Joseph Banks, to Sir William Jackson Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to the extravagant flower collector the Duke of Devonshire. Perhaps most important was the Duke's remarkable gardener, Joseph Paxton, who rose from garden boy to knight, and whose design of a series of ever-more astonishing glass-houses--one, the Big Stove, had a footprint the size of Grand Central Station--culminated in his design of the architectural wonder of the age, the Crystal Palace. Fittingly, Paxton based his design on a glass-house he had recently built to house Victoria regia. Indeed, the natural ribbing of the lily's leaf inspired the pattern of girders supporting the massive iron-and-glass building.

From alligator-laden jungle ponds to the heights of Victorian society, The Flower of Empire unfolds the marvelous odyssey of this wonder of nature in a revealing work of cultural history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:36 -0400)

Narrates the story of the discovery of an Amazon water lily and its impact on Victorian life and culture, as prominent botanists of the day became obssessed in their quest to make the flower bloom in England.

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