Inspiration, happy accidents, and outright obsessions have all had their way with gardens, but nothing has done more to shape the modern garden than plants themselves. In a story that ranges from continent to continent and spans four centuries, botanist and gardener David Stuart reveals how the garden as we know it was created not by garden designers but by ordinary gardeners responding to exotic and novel plants that suggested new spaces, places, and means of display. The history begins with two earth-changing eventsÑthe establishment of colonies in the Americas and the spread of the Turkish empireÑthat brought the first wave of flowering exotics to gardens across Europe. Stuart relates how, over the following centuries, the influx of new plants inspired a frenzy of hybridization (by a new breed of gardener, the florist), which in turn inspired such features as the familiar herbaceous border, flower bed, and rose garden, as well as the now little-known rockery, shrubbery, and wilderness.
From the Dutch tulip mania to the rhododendron craze to the eighteenth-century European passion for "American gardens," Stuart's book traces the shape of the modern garden as it changed with the fashion, returning at last to classic, cottage garden varieties long neglected in favor or the foreign and new. In conclusion, Stuart looks at plant prospecting today, now that the collecting of plants may prove essential to protecting botanical diversity and preserving plant species rapidly disappearing from the wild. Long shaped by plants, our gardens may now prove crucial to preserving the plants themselves.
David Stuart, a biologist and botanist, has been a columnist for The Sunday Times and a nurseryman. He is also the author of several books including The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy.
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