Yale Uni Press £14.99
Paperback review: The Making of the English Gardener - Plants, Books and Inspiration 1560-1660, By Margaret Willes
Digging over our blooming past
Saturday 03 August 2013
One might expect a history of the English gardener that focused on the 16th and 17th centuries to be an entirely male-dominated one, and, as Willes shows, that is often the case. There were hierarchies, of course, that kept women out of it: "herb-women" whose medicinal expertise lay in the plants they grew were not welcomed or taken seriously by wealthy men such as William Cecil who wanted gardens designed in a classical manner. And those who brought back exotic plants from far-off lands were male explorers, not female ones.
But after the first book on gardening appeared, written by Thomas Hill and published in 1558, women not only read advice on keeping herb and vegetable gardens (famine in 1597 had starving folk turning to root vegetables, traditionally the food of the poor), but they published it, too, like Blanche Henrey. Such women as Lady Mildmay and Bess of Hardwick owned gardening manuals, although, as Willes admits, these are really only "tantalising glimpses" of what women might have known and read. But Lady Fettiplace grew her own flowers to be dried, powdered and distilled, and Lady Russell designed a garden performance involving her daughters, as a show for the visiting Elizabeth I – the first with speaking parts for women.
These may just be glimpses, but as civil war forced sons of great families to Europe, who later brought back with them what they learned in great gardens abroad, Willes marries the particular with the global, and intriguingly links decoration and detail – aspects more associated with women – with this era of male gardeners and garden designers.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre