NEW SCIENTIST 13 April 2002
THE ORIGINAL GROUND FORCE

The Plants that Shaped Our Gardens by David Stuart, Frances Lincoln,

HOW many of us wandering round a local garden centre have any idea where the plants we choose originally came from, or how they reached us? David Stuart haa the answer: obsessive collectors on extraordinary adventures. Roses, tulips, magnolias, lilies. orchids, delphiniums, poppies and phlox - we owe these riches and thousands of other plants to a bunch of people who were prepared to endure hardship and danger in pursuit of new species. Many survived exttemes of climate, terrain and isolation, not to mention hunger, disease, wild animals and often hostile natives, only to lose their precious specimens and botanical notes in shipwrecks on the way home. David Stuart tells their stories with great panache in 'The Plants that Shaped Our Gardens, a beautifully written and well ilIustrated book. He reckons that the flood of new plants into Europe over the past five centuries has been the main drIving force behInd garden design. This abundance of choice cracked the rigid mould of Europe's formal parterres and landscape gardens. It encouraged the development of exuberant flower beds, herbaceous borders, rockeries, water gardens and hothousea - all of which draw the eye to the plants rather than the View.
Sadly, its lastlng appeal as a reference is let down by a seriously inadequate index.

Sue Armstrong is a freelance science writer and editor.

 

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