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Book Review: The Story Of Gardening

The Story Of Gardening is the perfect general reference for anyone wanting to be more knowledgeable about the past and present of gardens.

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Providing a general overview of the history of garden development and design from prehistory until the present day, The Story Of Gardening (Pavilion Books) is accessibly written and endlessly interesting. 

Story Of Gardening | House and Leisure

The book covers an enormous time frame and range of gardening cultures and styles. 

There’s information about very early Mesopotamian and Egyptian gardens, chapters devoted to comprehensive introductions to the Chinese and Japanese gardening traditions, and even coverage of the ways early American cultures in present-day Peru created sophisticated planting and irrigation systems long before the arrival of the Spanish on their shores. 

The section that discusses the Medieval gardens of Europe is fascinating too – I had never before heard of Hesdin, a vast ‘theme park’ of a garden created in Northern France in 1288, for example.

And the coverage of the Islamic gardening tradition here demonstrates why its ’fourfold’ design style has had such a longstanding influence on European garden design.

Also very clearly set out is the story of the ways that large numbers of plant species began to move around the world from the 1600s onwards, and the development of botanical gardens and the now-universally used binomial reference system devised by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

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Author Penelope Hobhouse (assisted here by Ambra Edwards) has been writing about gardens and actually being a gardener and garden designer all her life, and it shows.

The text is packed with information, yet succinct and well organised, making this a book that can be read from cover to cover or dipped into as a question or point of interest arises. 

The Story of Gardening is also very well designed, in a square format that means it’s not too heavy to read, and with sections set out clearly and accessibly, enabling the reader to navigate the wealth of information presented without feeling overwhelmed by reams of text. And it’s beautifully illustrated too, with loads of colour photographs and reproductions of exquisite botanical drawings.

Anyone wanting to design their garden ‘in the style of’ one of the historical periods or gardening traditions explored in the book would do well to start with The Story of Gardening’s take on the subject. And Hobhouse and Edwards are extremely informative on where gardening is right now as well, with a thought-provoking final section focused on ‘Visions of the Future’ with regard to the gardens of the 21st century.

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You could also easily construct a list of preeminent world gardens to visit using The Story of Gardening as a reference – from restored Renaissance gardens in Italy to the formal gardens of France and English gardens created by one of the world’s most famous historical landscape architects, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, they are all here. (There’s also an explanation of where the nickname ’Capability’ actually came from – something I’ve always been curious about.)

In short, if you – or someone you need to find a gift for – has ever wanted to learn more about the history of gardens, this book is definitely an excellent place to start.

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