Our Book of the Month for September goes straight to the root of a true British obsession. The Making of the English Gardener by Margaret Willes is a fascinating history of the people and publications that revolutionized Britain’s gardens in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from extravagant estates to humble kitchen plots, and the links they forged with the wider world.
As the autumn season approaches many of us will be working hard on our gardens to capitalise on those beautiful autumnal hues. Although gardening is by no means unique to the British Isles, it is a hobby (or in some cases obsession) that the British enjoy passionately. It hasn’t always been this way however. In the century between the accession of Elizabeth I and the restoration of Charles II, a horticultural revolution took place in England that changed the cultural – and literal – landscape of the country.
Ideas were exchanged across networks of gardeners, botanists, scholars and courtiers, and the burgeoning vernacular book trade spread this new knowledge still further – reaching the growing number of gardeners furnishing their more modest plots across the nation and its young colonies in the Americas.
In The Making of the English Gardener, Margaret Willes introduces a plethora of garden enthusiasts, from the renowned to the legions of anonymous workers who created and tended the great estates. Packed with illustrations from the herbals, design treatises, and practical manuals that inspired these men – and occasionally women – Willes’ book charts how England’s garden grew.
Margaret Willes has spent a career in book publishing, initially at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, then Sphere Books and Sidgwick & Jackson, before becoming the publisher at the National Trust. Her first book was Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books (Yale, 2008), followed by Pick of the Bunch: The Story of Twelve Treasured Flowers.
The Making of the English Gardener is available now from Yale University Press. To look at pages from the book, you can visit Yale’s website or look at a selection below…