Chelsea Flower Show: A Natural History of English Gardening

The Chelsea Flower Show is one of the most famous horticultural events in the world and although no longer the largest flower show, is still the most prestigious. Originally called the ‘Great Spring Show’, Chelsea was started by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1862 and now sees 157,000 visitors every year – a limited number, making it a great scramble to get tickets. Its impressive reputation and history make it the perfect event to coincide with the introduction of Mark Laird’s latest publication A Natural History of English GardeningGilbert White, a parson-naturalist and the author of the popular and widely read The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (published in 1789), is a great source of inspiration for this new book which probes the nature of husbandry and gardening between the years 1650 and 1800. From the role of female gardener-naturalists and amateur scientists during Enlightenment to a detailed analysis of flower portraits and florilegium folios, this publication is a monumental achievement, commanding a broad sweep of historical data, as well as containing 400 illustrations. A Natural History of English Gardening is a captivating account of the history of the English garden and highlights its importance as a powerful cultural expression.

To mark the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show and the publication of this new book, we have shared our own flower album for you to explore. So take a sneak peek inside A Natural History of English Gardening and read a short extract from Chapter 2, ‘Nursing Pretty Monsters’.

The 2015 Chelsea Flower Show will take place 19-23 May.


A Natural History Of English Gardening by Mark Laird

Nursing Pretty Monsters, from Chapter 2 

Succulents (‘Ficus’ or ‘Aloes’), like florists’ flowers (Primula  or Dianthus ), were thus seen as ‘flores singulares ’ – Nature’s wonders that were mutable by Culture. Hence flowers with peculiar anomalies – double blooms, teratologic forms or unusual colours – took their place alongside ‘pretty succulent monsters’. In effect, floriculture had mutated into the new horticulture of tender exotics. By their sheer variety, potted prickly pears (Opuntia) placed outside the Badminton stove each summer, or aloes placed in vases in the Great Garden (see pl. 2 /28 ), matched the endless forms of auricula and carnation on display at Chelsea.


 See inside A Natural History of English Gardening by Mark Laird:


Mark Laird is a historic landscape consultant and garden conservator and teaches landscape history at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Previous books include The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720-1800 and Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (Yale Center for British Art).

A Natural History Of English Gardening

A Natural History of English Gardening is available from Yale University Press.


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