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The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

Articles: The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

When I began visiting English gardens over forty years ago, I was surprised that most of the trees I saw were American. I had not known of John Bartram and the period in which he shipped our trees, evergreens, and shrubs to the motherland, where they were used to create gardens now copied all over the world. Yet, seldom did the English, in talking about their Edens, acknowledge the origin of the plants.

Andrea Wulf takes an uncommon approach to botanical history, concentrating here on six men whose passion for plants resulted in an extraordinary friendship with one another during the eighteenth century. Philadelphia's Bartram was the linchpin in these endeavors, traveling all over the eastern United States to gather plants to send to Britain's Peter Collinson, a fellow Quaker who was fascinated with horticulture. Bartram's other clients included Philip Miller, whose The Gardener's Dictionary, published in 1754, expanded the information available to ordinary gardeners.

One of the most interesting sections of the book is devoted to Bartram's Swedish friend, Carl Linnaeus, who devised the system for plant nomenclature that is now the standard around the world. Wulf chronicles th...

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