Back to the Garden: Books For Summer 2015

Summer is fast approaching, and while we can keep our fingers crossed that June and July will be as delightful as last year, as we all know, the British weather offers no guarantees! For anyone who heads into the garden at the slightest spell of sunny weather, and to celebrate the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 30 June – 5 July, we have picked some favourite books on garden history, plants and natural history illustration. So look no further – your summer reading is ready to enjoy whilst you relax in the balmy outdoors – or should you need to escape into a book during those inevitable rainy days inside.

gardening books

Of Green Leaf, Bird and FlowerOf Green Leaf, Bird and Flower: Artists’ Books and the Natural World, by Elizabeth Fairman

This book follows the long-standing interest in natural history from the 16th century up to the present day. Fairman thoughtfully considers a wide variety of topics from various periods including the important scientific discoveries of the 18th and 19th centuries and remarkable untold stories of women amateur naturalists whilst also providing readers with a rare opportunity to explore parts of the Yale Center for British Art collection. This delightful book is evocative of a fieldwork notebook, and includes a pocket and ribbon markers. Of Green Leaf, Bird and Flower has received glowing praise from the worlds of art, literature and horticulture with Seth Burgess from BBC Wildlife Magazine calling it ‘a treasure trove [and] an unmissable record of the human response to the natural world’.

Elisabeth Fairman is senior curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Yale Center for British Art.

A Natural History of English Gardening by Mark LairdA Natural History of English Gardening, 1650-1800, by Mark Laird

Gilbert White, a parson-naturalist, who wrote the popular, influential and widely-read book, The Natural History of Selborne in 1789, is the inspiration for this informative and lavishly illustrated book, due to be published by Yale this month. In A Natural History of English GardeningLaird examines not only the visual cultures of early modern gardening in England, but also how this period saw many important scientific discoveries in natural history. This publication explores little studied and forgotten historical data to form an original and unique book.

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).

Flora IllustrataFlora Illustrata: Great Works from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden

Over one million items are included in the world famous LuEster T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden. Within this collection there are books that range from the 12th century right up to the 21st. The vast range and diverse materials showcased within Flora Illustrata reflect the creative efforts of eminent explorers, scientists, artists, publishers and printer makers from these years. Some of the library’s most important items include a 14th-century edition of Naturalis historia by Pliny the Elder and beautiful etchings of Villa Pratolino, Florence, from the 1600s. This unmissable publication includes over 270 illustrations and was called ‘a feast for the mind and the eyes’ by Oliver Sacks.

Click here for a sneak peak inside Flora Illustrata

Back to the GardenBack to the Garden: Nature and the Mediterranean World from Prehistory to the Present, by James H. S. McGregor

The cultural phenomenon of the garden has deep roots within the history of the Mediterranean. Gardens were heavily relied upon by the people from this area for many centuries, and feature in the book of Genesis, as well as the region’s three main religions. In Back to the Garden McGregor argues that abandonment of the ‘First Nature’ principle is one of the key reasons why the world is facing an environmental crisis in the present day.  This book provides a new understanding of environmental accountability and offers a reevaluation of the role that we play within nature.

James H. S. McGregor is the author of five books on world cities. He is emeritus professor of comparative literature at the University of Georgia.

The Gardens of the British Working ClassThe Gardens of the British Working Class, by Margaret Willes

In her latest book, Margaret Willes examines four centuries of the relationship between the labouring classes and their gardens. The Gardens of the British Working Class is an accessible and enlightening account of an all too often forgotten area of British history. Willes explores the stories of the great philanthropic industrialists who provided gardens for their workforces, the fashionable rich stealing the gardening ideas of the poor, alehouse syndicates and fierce rivalries between vegetable growers. A truly unique account that has been called ‘a virtually inexhaustible source of pleasure’.

Margaret Willes is an enthusiastic gardener and the former publisher at the National Trust.


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