The Brother Gardeners

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 3/9/2010
  • Publisher: Vintage
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This is the fascinating story of a small group of eighteenth-century naturalists who made Britain a nation of gardeners and the epicenter of horticultural and botanical expertise. It's the story of a garden revolution that began in America. In 1733, the American farmer John Bartram dispatched two boxes of plants and seeds from the American colonies, addressed to the London cloth merchant Peter Collinson.

Most of these plants had never before been grown in British soil, but in time the magnificent and colorful American trees, evergreens, and shrubs would transform the English landscape and garden forever. During the next forty years, Collinson and a handful of botany enthusiasts cultivated hundreds of American species.

The Brother Gardeners follows the lives of six of these men, whose shared passion for plants gave rise to the English love affair with gardens. In addition to Collinson and Bartram, who forged an extraordinary friendship, here are Philip Miller, author of the best-selling Gardeners Dictionary; the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, whose standardized nomenclature helped bring botany to the middle classes; and Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who explored the strange flora of Brazil, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia on the greatest voyage of discovery of their time, aboard Captain Cook's Endeavour.

From the exotic blooms in Botany Bay to the royal gardens at Kew, from the streets of London to the vistas of the Appalachian Mountains, The Brother Gardeners paints a vivid portrait of an emerging world of knowledge and of gardening as we know it today. It is a delightful and beautifully told narrative history.

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

“A lively account . . . renders with clarity and grace a significant chapter in horticultural history . . . Elegant, humorous and accessible. . . A erudite, pleasurable and handsome book."-Richmond Times Dispatch

“Vigorous … powerful …Wulf draws the threads of her story compellingly together and lights up an “American connection” in Georgian garden growth as never before.”-The Financial Times

“Engaging.”-The New Yorker

“A fascinating and beautifully researched story.”-Philadelphia Tribune

“Engaging. . . . Lavishly researched. . . . Wulf never allows her material to overwhelm a vivid sense of the big picture, which keenly informs her sparkling narrative.”-Bookforum

Author Biography

Andrea Wulf was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She trained as a design historian at London’s Royal College of Art and is coauthor (with Emma Gieben-Gamal) of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History. She has written for The Sunday Times (London), the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, and she reviews for numerous newspapers, including The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Mail on Sunday. She appears regularly on BBC television and radio. The Brothers Gardeners was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008.



"Forget not Mee & My Garden"  

There ought to be gardens for all the months in the year,
in which severally things of beauty may be then in season.

FRANCIS BACON, "Of Gardens," 1625  

The first three months of the year were always the busiest time for the cloth merchant Peter Collinson, for it was then that the ships from the American colonies arrived in London. But on this January morning in 1734 he was concerned not with the arrival of reels of wool or bales of cotton but with an altogether different cargo. Awaiting him at Custom House, down by the docks, were two boxes of plants that, for Collinson, were the most exciting piece of merchandise he had ever received.  

As he hurried towards the Thames from his Gracechurch Street office, in the financial centre of the city, Collinson could see the clusters of tall masts above the rooftops and hear the cries of stevedores as they unloaded precious goods from the holds. The stretch of the river between London Bridge and the Tower was the main harbour of London and more than two thousand vessels-besides barges, wherries and ferries-created "a forest of ships." Moored side-by-side, the vessels left only narrow channels for the barges between them, and the wharves, quays and stairs that lined the river were so crowded it was hard to move. These ships brought tea and silk from China; sugar and coffee from the West Indies; spices from the East Indies and corn and tobacco from the American colonies. The river was, as one visitor said, the "foster-mother" of London, pumping money, goods and life into a city which more than half a million people called their home-the largest metropolis in the world.  

Collinson was one of the many merchants benefiting from the huge expansion of trade that had occurred since the accession of King George II. Soon to be forty, he had inherited the cloth business from his father a few years earlier and was involved in shipping cloth all around the globe, with his main market in the American colonies. Between the 1720s and the 1760s exports to the American colonies quadrupled, while those to the West Indies multiplied almost by seven, providing untold wealth to a new class of businessman. As Daniel Defoe wrote, "our merchants are princes, greater and richer, and more powerful than some sovereign princes."  

And, as London grew, so too did the trade to be done within the city. In one year alone, Londoners consumed nearly 2 million barrels of beer, 15 million mackerel and 70,000 sheep. London was one vast consumer market and the streets thronged with trade. Not far from Collinson's office were the shops of Cheapside and Fleet Street, whose large windows created the impression that they were "made entirely of glass." Sweets, cakes and fruits were stacked in precarious towers, and even the apothecaries' colourful potions were lavishly displayed to entice the passers-by. Tourists wandered for hours, admiring what one called "the choicest merchandise from the four quarters of the globe." When dusk settled on the city, thousands of candles threw a soft light on to glittering jewellery, polished silverware and framed engravings. Lanterns fastened to the front of each house created a luminous necklace along the streets, giving London a permanently festive atmosphere.  

Although Collinson was not one of the richest merchants in the city, he was very comfortably off. He lived with his beloved wife in a "little cottage" in the "pleasant village" of Peckham.* It was "the most Delightfull place to Mee," he said, where he could retreat from the "hurrys of town," and where he could indulge the great passion of his life: gardening. Collinson had been fascinated by the natural world from an early age, when he wandered the garde

Excerpted from The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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Customer Reviews

Fascinating History May 3, 2011
I originally meant to alert a friend about this textbook and ended up being completely surprised by the scope of the textbook and its rapt attention to history, which is my first love. It is one of the best written and organized textbooks that I have read in quite some years. What could be a pretty esoteric topic becomes a wonderfully interesting and germane story. I love sharing my books with friends and fellow gardeners, but this one is not leaving the house! I ordered this textbook from ecampus and I'm glad to receive it in time.
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The Brother Gardeners: 5 out of 5 stars based on 1 user reviews.

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