Brother Gardeners : Botany, Empire And The Birth Of An Obession by Andrea Wulf

Brother Gardeners : Botany, Empire And The Birth Of An Obession by Andrea Wulf

In The Brother Gardeners, author Andrea Wulf takes readers on an enthralling journey into the world of the botanists who transformed Britain into a botanical powerhouse. This captivating book combines storytelling with meticulous research to bring to life the science and adventure of plant collecting in the 18th century.

The book explores how six men played pivotal roles in creating the modern garden and revolutionizing horticulture. It all started with John Bartram, a colonial farmer, who in 1733 sent two boxes filled with precious American plants and seeds to Peter Collinson in London. This act set in motion a botany movement that would change the course of gardening history.

Andrea Wulf introduces readers to a cast of fascinating characters, including Carl Linnaeus, the renowned Swedish botanist; Philip Miller, the bestselling author of The Gardeners Dictionary; and Joseph Banks and David Solander, two botanist explorers who embarked on a global quest for plant life aboard Captain Cook’s Endeavor. Together, these men cultivated exotic blooms from around the world, turning Britain into a hub of horticultural and botanical expertise.

Through Wulf’s engaging narrative, readers gain insight into the emerging world of knowledge and gardening that we benefit from today. The Brother Gardeners is a delightful book that seamlessly combines scholarship, storytelling, and a charmingly airy style. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the captivating history of gardens and the men who shaped them.

“Wulf’s flair for storytelling is combined with scholarship, brio, and a charmingly airy style…. A delightful book–and you don’t need to be a gardener to enjoy it.” –The New York Times Book Review

The Garden Revolution: How 18th Century Botanists Transformed Horticulture

If You Have a Garden and a Library, You Have Everything You Need

In the first three months of the year, Cloth Merchant Peter Collinson would eagerly await the arrival of ships from the American colonies in London. But one January morning in 1734, he received a different kind of cargo that would change the course of history. Two boxes of plants had arrived from Philadelphia, sent by farmer John Bartram. Collinson was amazed by the variety of seeds and living plants inside the boxes, including the rare kalmia. He saw this as an opportunity to create a new kind of garden, filled with plants from distant lands.

Collinson’s love for gardening was a passion he indulged in his little cottage garden in Peckham. He believed plants were a direct connection to God, and his garden became a sanctuary from the busy city. For years, he had been using his trading connections to import seeds and plants from around the world, but the arrival of Bartram’s boxes marked a turning point in English gardening.

Collinson’s friend, Philip Miller, played a key role in this garden revolution. Miller published a comprehensive manual on practical gardening, which became an instant success. He transformed the Chelsea Physic Garden into a botanical collection that attracted garden enthusiasts and collectors from all over Europe.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, Carl Linnaeus was revolutionizing the classification of plants. His new system of using two names, a genus and a species, gained recognition and acceptance among botanists, including Collinson.

Collinson and Bartram continued their correspondence, with Collinson requesting various seeds and plants to enrich his garden. Bartram, in turn, asked Collinson to distribute his seed boxes to other English collectors and gardeners through a subscription system.

Collinson’s garden at Mill Hill became a showcase of exotic plants that he had imported from around the world. Visitors flocked to see the rare and beautiful specimens, which inspired a growing interest in gardening among the English population.

The love for plants and gardening spread across the country, with women in particular taking up the hobby. Botanical poems and books, such as Erasmus Darwin’s “Loves of the Plants,” captured the imagination of the public. Gardens became symbols of prestige and status, with English garden designs influencing landscapes around the world.

Joseph Banks, who joined Captain Cook on his expeditions, further fueled the garden revolution in England. Through his connections and endeavors, he brought back thousands of plant specimens and established the Royal Garden at Kew as the center of botanical learning and research.

As the 18th century came to a close, the passion for gardening continued to flourish in England. The legacy of Collinson, Bartram, Miller, Linnaeus, Banks, and others lives on in the gardens and landscapes of England, reminding us of the power and beauty of nature.

So, if you have a garden and a library, as Cicero said, you have everything you need. The garden revolution of the 18th century transformed England and influenced gardens around the world. It brought exotic plants to new shores, sparked a passion for gardening among the population, and established England as a center of botanical knowledge and innovation.

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