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The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and…

The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession (2009)

by Andrea Wulf

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3071256,413 (4.22)52
"One January morn ing in 1734, cloth merchant Peter Collinson hurried down to the docks at London's Custom House to collect cargo just arrived from John Bartram, his new contact in the American colonies. But it was not reels of wool or bales of cotton that awaited him, but plants and seeds..." "Over the next forry years, Bartram would send hundreds of American species to England, where Collinson was one of a handful of men who would foster a national obsession and change the gardens of Britain forever." "This is the story of these men - friends, rivals, enemies, united by a passion for planes - whose correspondence, collaborations and squabbles make for a tale which is set against the backdrop of the emerging empire, the uncharted world beyond and London as the capital of science."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)



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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Several times I have been to John Bartram's gardens during the years I lived in Philadelphia, so I was excited that Wulf had written about the man and the start of "botanizing". Wulf is interested in the early days of the natural sciences and her book on Alexander von Humboldt was marvelous.
Here, she examines the sudden onset of desire for American trees and shrubs (later flowers) brought to England, both for recreational purposes, for the gardens of the wealthy, and for study for potential uses, in some cases. Bartram begins, over time, to send 'seed boxes' to the Englishman (and fellow Quaker) Collinson, primarily a merchant, but with an interest in plantlife -- people are agog at the trees and shrubs he nurtures and gradually this hobby becomes far more than that, a livelihood for Bartram and a social success for Collinson and others who catch the bug. Most significantly, several aristocrats become deeply interested in improving their grounds. American trees and shrubs offer color and blooms in many seasons and the myriad evergreens provide green in the winter. Interest expands until a craze for "botany". Linnaeus comes up with a far better way to catalogue plants according to sexual attributes (which has hitherto been fairly random, different systems by different individuals ) and a professional gardener named Miller writes a book that anyone, gardener, earl, or commoner can study for advice about how to grow and care for the new plants.
The problem for me wasn't the information and certainly not Wulf's writing but that the subject itself, frankly, didn't thoroughly grip me. I was always interested, I'm not sorry I read it, but I think a slightly more passionate gardener than I am is required! I did find myself thinking, in our day of hysteria about "native plants" that we spread our bounty out into the world as well -- American plants more or less infest Europe and elsewhere as much as we host many newcomers here. It has been pointed out to me recently, as well, that this hysteria is weirdly akin to the hysteria about human newcomers to our country. Wulf does not bring this up, but I found myself thinking about what WE thoughtlessly export, nonetheless. ***1/2
1 vote sibyx | May 21, 2019 |
Read this for my non-fiction library book group.

Interesting look at how modern English gardens came into existence. Many of the plants found and propagated were from the American colonies. the author also included the fated Mutiny on the Bounty and what caused that mutiny.

The obsession was not only about botany but about how to improve the ENglish economy after the defeat by the American Colonies and setting up new trade and creating new trade in the EAst and West Indies. ( )
  yvonne.sevignykaiser | Apr 2, 2016 |
The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf outlines the correlation between the American colonies and the rise of modern botany. She does this by following the correspondence and commerce between a colonist and a British gardener. There is also mention of the arrogant but often right Lineas as well as the Bounty's botanical adventure to Tahiti.

At the time I read the book I was in the midst of a difficult but fascinating cataloging course. So my take-aways from the book are based around cataloging. Botany is rooted in classification of plants and flowers. It's a way to describe something that might be shipped as a seed, a cutting, a fruit or dried flowers.

The "new world" was filled with unusual and exotic plants that were in high demand back especially on the British estates that were trying to recreate the colonial wilderness in their stately gardens. Shipping entire living plants was a difficult and expensive venture. Seeds worked better if the garden could be made to mimic the expected climate and soil conditions.

It was an interesting look at a specific time in history. The illustrations are good. The asides are fascinating but sometimes long winded. ( )
  pussreboots | Jan 26, 2015 |
I really enjoyed this look into the heyday of British botany. It is amazing to see read how the botanical curiosity and diligent cultivation of several important figures shaped the world. Intrigue and oppression are tied in with the English botanical interests here described, but there is no question that they changed the world and brought knowledge and pleasure to many people. This is a fascinating read. ( )
  Brian.Gunderson | Sep 24, 2013 |
This was a fascinating and accessible book. I learned so much from it, I don't know where to begin. Except maybe to say that Fuchsia is NOT pronounced Fyou-sha, oh no. It should be pronounced FOOKS-ia after our dear Mr. Fuchs. I can hardly wait to try that out on the garden store clerk come spring.

This sweeping history of gardening and botany in the 18th century is compulsively readable and full of interesting trivia and tidbits about famous gardeners and botanists. Some of whom I'd actually heard of.

Highly recommended for gardeners.

( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
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