While on vacation this past week, I read The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. Flower lovers, garden enthusiasts and growers of all sorts will enjoy this book. Wulf tells the story of a small group of botanists, flower hunters and gardeners, known as the Brother Gardeners, that were responsible for creating the gardening craze in England in the 1700’s.
The book begins with American John Bartram. Bartram was a Pennsylvania farmer who sent plants, seeds, trees, and more to his “pen pal” Peter Collinsworth in London. American classics such as kalmia, Echinacea, monarda, lady’s slipper and many more could now be seen throughout English gardens. This introduction of American plants changed the English garden landscape forever. The friendship between Bartram and Collinsworth lasted for over 40 years-even though they never met face to face.
While loads of new flowers and plants were being discovered, the botanical world was having heated debates about how to identify and categorize the new varieties. While Swedish Botanist Carl Linneaus seemed like a pompous ass that everyone hated, his system for standardizing the naming of plants was the easiest to use and the most widely used. While his protégé ditched him and moved to London, while the community of European gardeners cursed him every chance they got, Linneaus is the one whose name will be remembered in history.
The last third of the books tells the adventurous tales of the team of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander-botanists and plant hunters from England who traveled the world bringing exotic flowers and plants to England for the first time. Flowers that seem common to us today like birds of paradise or the bread fruit tree were coveted as the most unique plants ever seen.
The Brother Gardeners was captivating, interesting and even laugh out loud funny in parts. This is a great read for anyone interested in flowers and gardening.