Today’s post is a throwback to my June 2009 review of Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf. I was and remain a huge fan of Wulf’s nonfiction… I even attended a reading at a local plant nursery in 2011 to hear her speak about her (then) new book Founding Gardeners.
I also seem to be a bigger fan of a certain Voltaire quote than I realized.
My review of Founding Gardeners: How the Revolutionary Generation Created an American Eden will be available later this week. I listened to it on audiobook, so it was an entirely different experience. But more on that later. For now, I think this old review holds up surprisingly well a decade on –
It was in this period of less than a hundred years that the small island of England became the metaphorical and literal greenhouse of the world. These men and their gardens would ultimately change the landscape of England and its colonies. They would influence major, seemingly unrelated, historical events. Carl Linnaeus’ classification system of binomial nomenclature, the colonization of Australia and the infamous mutiny on the Bounty all had their impetus in the quest for botanical discovery…. what is often viewed as just the peculiar British national hobby – was in fact the keystone of a colonial empire. How so? Well… if you have slaves in the West Indies that need a cheap and productive food supply you import bread trees from Tahiti. You can ship New Zealand flax plants to Australia in order to create a niche in the linen industry. You attempt to break China’s monopoly on tea by sending plants (and willing Chinese planters) to India.