The pursuit of paradise : a social history of gardens and gardening

In the foreword to this social history of gardens and gardening Jane Brown states her intention to steer away from "overly aristocratic" garden history in favour of one that is "popular and nostalgic." From our early introduction to the garden as children via nursery rhymes and fairy tales, the notion of garden as refuge and stepping stone to adventure is deeply embedded in our psyche. Humankind's need to tend the earth is ancient and has come in many guises through history. From the sensuous pleasure gardens of The Arabian Nights to the orderly monastic vegetable plots of Benedictine monks, the horticultural fascination is timeless.
Social changes have radically affected our view of gardening--who does it and how it is done. Brown traces these changes thematically from the links between gardens and art; fashion; pleasure; healing; science; even to war and military gardens. Rather than showing how gardening has simply reflected changes in society, Brown uses England's most popular pursuit to reflect these diverse social changes and historic trends. A multitude of historic and literary examples are seized upon to illustrate her lively argument. References move quickly from The Beano to Blenheim House, Barbara Cartland to Babylon, blending the literary, scientific, esoteric and popular in one breath. Though detailed and precise, the tone is wittily serious and wryly amusing with Brown's exuberance surfacing in descriptions such as here on the sight of pineapples growing in the rediscovered garden at Heligan in Cornwall: "There is something far more miraculous about this juicy yellow orb, with all its chin-dribbling lusciousness, emerging from the chill of a bleak Cornish frameyard and piles of dung, than about all the sun-drenched fruits jetted from afar daily to our supermarket shelves."
For the future Brown looks back to the healing comfort of plants, citing as an example Monty Don's Snowdrop Garden at Wythenshawe Hospital designed for parents who have lost a child. Allied with this is a fascination with Zen Buddhist gardens promising contemplative fulfilment and of, above all, the boom in organic gardening which will ensure that we and our gardens will be in a healthier state than ever. This lovely book interestingly and wittily makes us aware of the ancient and colourful lineage of which we are a part. Venerating England's most popular pastime in the remembrance that "it is this, the simplest and yet most precious combination of us and our soil that bonds us in the pursuit of paradise, will all who have gone before and those yet to come." --Rachel O'Connor

Home and Garden
Jane Brown

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