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The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession Paperback – March 9, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307454754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307454751
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wulf, a German-born journalist, wonderfully conveys the allure and cultural importance of the garden. Spanning nearly 100 years and several continents, Wulf begins her cultural investigation with the creation of the first manmade hybrid by devout Christian gardener Thomas Fairchild, who spent the rest of his life racked with guilt for the blasphemous act. She also introduces egomaniacal Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who scandalized British society with his sexual system of classification; his book was banned by the Vatican. There is New World farmer John Bartram, who braved storms and steep mountains to discover new plants and send them back to his customers in England, hungry for exotic vegetation from America. As Wulf fills her readily accessible book with adventures aboard Captain Cook's ship, petty rivalries and outsized personalities, she provides an entertaining account of kooky botanists traveling the world and explores how gardening neutralized class lines, how horticulture and botany brought wealth and power, and how the English garden had a profound impact on modern landscape gardening, elevating the humble pursuit into the highest art. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

In Wulf’s engaging account, the origin of the English country garden appears as a matter of friendship as much as of flowers—a collaborative effort between two men and two countries. In 1733, a humble American farmer, John Bartram, sent seeds of plants native to the American colonies to a London cloth merchant, Peter Collinson, who went on to lead a dedicated group of British enthusiasts in introducing American species to Britain. Previously, English gardens had been dominated by turf, topiary, and strict geometric rules; the arrival of new plants well suited to the climate transformed them into places of movement and color, and a source of immense national pride. That such a quintessentially English obsession should have its roots in foreign soil is an irony not lost on Wulf, a design historian who grew up in Germany.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Andrea Wulf turns all this into an absorbing story.
Lenore
The only problem is that I am boring anyone who will listen with the tidbits that I have learned from reading this book.
Diane R. Johnston
If you are a gardener who has a passion for plants in the landscape, you must add this book to your library!
Jane L. Gray

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Robert Williams on April 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf

I originally meant to alert a friend about this book and ended up being completely surprised by the scope of the book and it's rapt attention to history, which is my first love.

Prior to the dawn of the 18th Century and into the early 1700's scientists were of the notion that plants did not reproduce sexually. They held forth a myriad of scenarios by which plants were replicated.

Thomas Fairchild, a nurseryman in England, could not have disagreed more. Fairchild took it upon himself to cross pollenate a Carnation with a Sweet William and a new species was born.

By 1733 an enterprising cloth merchant in London received 2 cases of plants from the Colonies
and became the first real merchant of garden plants as we know them today. But this was just the beginning.

Ms Wulf traces the the English love of gardening through history- including the Voyages of Discovery by Sir Lord Banks and his journey around the world- only the 2nd Western vessel to round the Horn of Africa and on into the Indian Ocean, all the while gathering more plants and specimens.

Captain Cooks voyages are chronicled, as well as the acquisition by Lord Banks of the famed Linnaeuss collection from Sweden, all in a most readable style and engaging format.

The book is illustrated throughout and contains a superbly cross referenced Glossary for the uninitiated gardener. With an extensive Bibliography this is a book, that while about garening- is about so much more.

I highly reccommend this book for the Amatuer Gardener as well as the Armchair Historian.
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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Philip Calcagno on June 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession
One of the best written and organized books that I have read in quite some years. What could be a pretty esoteric topic becomes a wonderfully interesting and germane story. To some extent it reminds me of Kurlansky's Cod although this work is even better written.

The book comes alive because the author captures so well the personalities of the people involved. Bartram and Collinson are so human. And their problems in keeping up a relationship at such a distance is beautifully and sypathetically portrayed. Linnaeus is wonderfully and humanly portrayed. What a genius, what a jerk! Reminds me to some extent of Richard Wagner, one of my favorite composers, but one of the most
egotistical and sometimes downright nasty people that one is likely to
meet. The same sort of self-aggrandizing individual as Linnaeus. Banks, who, at first, seems (and evidently was) completely heartless, becomes more humane as he ages. And I love the irascible Miller who is a genius in his own way and knows best about everything (which often he does), but can be irritating to those with less knowledge and ability, and too dogmatic to see the virtue of Linnaeus' system. And the charming Solander, who has the guts to abandon Linnaeus, is amusing as the scholar and drawing room raconteur (some great scenes when Banks saves his life and they enjoy the splendors--and women--of Tahiti together).
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Gross on May 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Brother Gardeners is a delight to read. It is full of interesting stories about the major figures of plantsmanship in the eighteenth century. The illustrations are excellent. I am interested in botanical art, and I thought this would be a fairly dry read, but it is extraordinarily chatty and entertaining.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Catriona Erler on October 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Brother Gardeners is a compelling read, chronicling the colorful men who made their mark on the horticultural world in the 18th and 19th centuries. You'll meet John Bartram, the unsophisticated American who in collaboration with his English friend Peter Collinson (who he never met), changed the landscape of Britain with the North American plants he sent to that country. The clash of personalities, egos, and sensibilities are riveting as Wulf describes the English resistance to Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus system of classifying plants because it was based on a sexual system of ordering - and perhaps more importantly because Linnaeus was self-promoting and arrogant. Linnaeus was a genius, and ultimately he transformed plant classification and nomenclature, but he irritated people, and that caused them to resist his innovative ideas. You'll meet Daniel Solander, Linnaeus' protégé, who deserted his mentor in favor of his newfound British colleagues who were enchanted with his engaging personality as well as his botanical skills and knowledge. Another important player is Joseph Banks who built on the achievements of these people by consolidating practical horticulture, systematic botany and imperial expansion into a coherent enterprise. The people involved in the early years of horticultural exploration, classification, and plant trading are fascinating, and the stories and interrelationships of the key men are beautifully told in this excellent book.
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