The Best Books about Gardening From Darwin to Stuart Robertson
Jul 30, 2009
As the summer advances and the flowers bloom, my thoughts are never far from gardening, even when sitting and relaxing. That's when it's nice to have a stack of good books about gardens and nature handy. I'd put Eleanor Perenyi's classic Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden on the top of the pile, but here are some other books about nature which seem to me to be must-reads for anyone who likes either gardening or the natural world.
The first in time is The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. You can find it online, but I recommend reading it in a paperback version that you can take with you anywhere, the Penguin Classic edition for example. This is a book to dip in and out of in the afternoon when it's too hot to do anything or just before you go to sleep. The Darwin who wrote it was in his twenties, and his observations brim with energy and intellectual curiosity. The connection with gardening may not be immediately apparent, but anyone who enjoys discovering the natural world will be entranced by Darwin's green thoughts.
The second is Gardening through the Ages by Penelope Hobhouse. It’s subtitled An Illustrated History of Plants and Their Influence on Garden Styles—from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. This is not a book that you can stick in a backpack or the pocket of a jacket. Rather it's a book to bring out when you can sit comfortably and look at its lovely illustrations and consider the history that Hobhouse gives us.
Then there’s In Search of Lost Roses by Thomas Christopher He tells about rose rustling and the discovery of roses lost but not forgotten. A delightful, personal book that makes you want to go out and see what you can find in your neighborhood.
Lastly comes A Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North. Born in 1830, she was an intrepid traveler and botanical illustrator. Her hundreds of paintings are now at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, where many are on display. Not only is her life fascinating—travel in her day was not easy, and to travel as a woman was even more an adventure—but her paintings and drawings are gorgeous. When I was working on Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens, I spent the better part of a day at Kew, just looking at her work. Since I got back, I've spent many hours leafing through this book and admiring North's gumption and skill
And for those of you who read French, see if you can find Tous les jardins du monde by Gabrielle Van Zuylen. It is one of Gallimard’s Découvertes series, a high quality, relatively inexpensive line of paperbacks for a mass market audience, 1 It starts with Babylon, and I found it full of interesting references when I was working on my own Green City: People, Nature and Urban Places.