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The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  560 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
One January morning in 1734, cloth merchant Peter Collinson hurried down to the docks at London’s Custom House to collect cargo just arrived from John Bartram, his new contact in the American colonies. But it was not reels of wool or bales of cotton that awaited him, but plants and seeds…

Over the next forty years, Bartram would send hundreds of American species to England,
Hardcover, 350 pages
Published May 6th 2008 by William Heinemann
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Oct 09, 2009 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dad
This was a fascinating and accessible book. I learned so much from it, I don't know where to begin. Except maybe to say that Fuchsia is NOT pronounced Fyou-sha, oh no. It should be pronounced FOOKS-ia after our dear Mr. Fuchs. I can hardly wait to try that out on the garden store clerk come spring.

This sweeping history of gardening and botany in the 18th century is compulsively readable and full of interesting trivia and tidbits about famous gardeners and botanists. Some of whom I'd actually hea
Gli inglesi prendono la botanica molto seriamente e Andrea Wulf racconta la loro storia in modo piacevolissimo.
Si parte dai primi giardini e dai primi ibridi creati dall'uomo, che avrebbero potuto essere condannati per eresia: si pensava che i fiori e le piante si riproducessero senza attività sessuale, per cui far nascere un nuovo fiore manipolando polline, stami e pistilli era azzardato. Alla fine anche i grandi botanici fanno come i bambini: mentono. "l'ho trovato in giardino, l'ho mica fatto
Jan 05, 2013 Leslie rated it really liked it
What a pleasure this book was for me. It worked on me like a tonic. I get spring fever every year about this time and I guess I've already seen all the "how-to" garden books at our library 'cos none of them seem to tell me anything new anymore. (I can still hear my 3rd grade teacher's words reverberating in my head,"Yes dear, but if you would only APPLY what you learn..."). So this book came along at the perfect time for me. I want to eat, sleep, and talk of nothing but gardening, I love history ...more
Jul 11, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction-read
A well-researched and wonderfully written book about the beginnings of modern botany, the origins of the English-style garden, the export of American plants to Europe, and the personalities of the men who made all these things happen, The Brother Gardeners is a fascinating read and a rich reference book. In a time when everyone who has ever planted a petunia feels qualified to write a gardening book, it is refreshing to find a scholarly book based on thorough research that is not only readable a ...more
Mar 13, 2014 Katie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, gardening
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical book that traces the English obsession with gardening through the 18th century. This book brought together so many random pieces of historical and botanical information I have learned in the past and solidly rooted them in the lives of significant individuals who revolutionized our understanding of the plant world. We learn about Fairchild who creates the first hybrid; Collinson and Bartram who share information and plants across the ocean; Linnaeus who class ...more
Mar 01, 2013 Mila rated it really liked it
Exactly as the back cover promises: "Bringing to life the science and adventure of eighteenth-century plant collecting, this is the story of how six men created the modern garden and changed the horticultural world in the process."

The book started out a bit too slowly for me. but later on it got more interesting. I enjoyed reading about Carl Linnaeus's life in Uppsala, Sweden, the best. I still like him even though he was a bit full of himself. I also enjoyed Wulf quoting Linnaeus:
"When I obser
Mar 30, 2015 Zuska rated it liked it
I liked this book a lot, but would have loved it if it had undergone a little more/better editing. The transformation of English gardening, the rise of England as the garden center of the world, the beginning of the global trade in plants, the role John Bartram of Philadelphia played in Americanizing the English landscape - these are fascinating stories. But you have to slog through some less-than-compelling prose to get them; the story-telling is sometimes repetitive, sometimes gets you lost,, ...more
Douglas Dalrymple
Jul 17, 2013 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let’s say three-and-a-half stars, but I’ll round it up. This is a nicely done history of botany and the birth of popular gardening in eighteenth-century England. Wulf makes crisp portraits of Linnaeus and Joseph Banks but mostly focuses on the decades-long friendship and correspondence between Pennsylvania’s John Bartram and Peter Collinson in London. It was largely through the seed and plant boxes dispatched by Bartram to Collinson that the English landscape – and the idea of the English garden ...more
A surprising book about how the British did not become the West's most obsessive gardeners until they were able to get plants from their American colonies, especially Pennsylvania. They got them through the correspondence of an English merchant, Collinson, and an American farmer, John Bartram. Initially a man of modest social stature, Bartram's botanical interests led to renown and an important role in Pennsylvania's intellectual life. He was friends with Ben Franklin and gave Oswego tea its Eng ...more
Robert Davidson
Apr 17, 2016 Robert Davidson rated it it was amazing
Great entertaining read with lots of history thrown into the mix on the lives of two men , one in colonial America and the other in England. True Gardeners tend to be an obsessive lot so the movement of seeds and plants from America to England was not an easy task in that Era, however these two kept at the project for many years. Traveling around the U.K. one can see the results of their endeavors along with many others who brought back vast numbers of plants and trees from the Empire to the tem ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wulf tells how British gardening evolved in the eighteenth century under the guidance of a network of botanists and horticulturists (Thomas Fairchild, Peter Collinson, William Bartram, Philip Miller, Linnaeus, Daniel Solander, and Sir Joseph Banks), many of whom were fascinated by plants from abroad and changed the British landscape by finding and importing plants from every continent. Wulf's glossary/table of imports is particularly useful.
Alessandra Piceci
Feb 10, 2016 Alessandra Piceci rated it it was amazing
Mi è piaciuto tantissimo: la storia della botanica raccontata in modo divertente e interessante, una serie di aneddoti e curiosità collegati anche alla storie e alla geografia. Lo consigli anche ai non appassionati di giardinaggio
Taylor Bright
Jun 28, 2012 Taylor Bright rated it liked it
This is an excellent addition (and introduction) to the botanical phenomena of the 18th century and how one American was at the forefront of what would become a craze.
Mar 20, 2017 Becky rated it it was amazing
Andrea Wulf is simply a brilliant writer, and this volume was as well researched and written as her other books. Without exaggerating personalities or events, she tells a wonderful, historical story.
Nov 22, 2013 MaryJo rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. When I started gardening, I learned about perennials from the extensive listings in the White Flower Farm catalog. I remember hiking in Glacier Natl park and being astonished that I recognized so many of the wild flowers, relatives of the ones I knew from the cultivars in the catalog. Now I know why! The much celebrated "English garden" was based on plants collected in North America in the 18th century! I loved reading another account of the Chelsea physic garden whic ...more
Seán O'Hara
Currently reading, and finding this book interesting and informative. The author at times seems to be swept up in the personal hyperbolic style of the historic persons she is writing about (rather than giving us a more objective version of events). Unfortunately, I am also finding a number of erroneous factoids that would seem to represent sloppy or harried research. Example just read - in the first footnote of chapter 3, the author mentions that "When Carl Linnaeus was knighted in 1761 (antedat ...more
Il libro è molto bello. La ricostruzione storica delle vicende legate alla passione tutta inglese per il giardinaggio e le piante esotiche, che si intreccia con la loro visione del mondo e la loro storia, è veramente accurata e appassionante. Migliaia di piante hanno fatto letteralmente il giro del mondo per la gioia sia degli appassionati, che avevano il piacere della scoperta e del collezionismo, che dei commercianti che ne traevano anche un buon profitto. Se devo trovare un difetto nell'opera ...more
Jose Santos
Apr 25, 2011 Jose Santos rated it it was amazing
Este livro relata como seis botânicos do séc. XVIII revolucionaram o mundo botânico e da jardinagem dedicando as suas vidas ao estudo das plantas e à procura de novas plantas por todo o mundo, viajando, colhendo e estudando novos exemplares que eram trazidos das colónias britânicas. Mas este livro é muito mais do que isso. Para além da sua importância no mundo botânico, estes seis homens, Peter Collinson, John Bartram, Philip Miller, Carl Linnaeus, Daniel Solander and Joseph Banks tiveram as sua ...more
Oct 19, 2013 Baylee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
Questo libro è davvero fantastico e mi è piaciuto tantissimo! Si presenta come un saggio su come e quando è nata la botanica e la passione smodata degli inglese per i giardini, ma sembra un romanzo.

E' evidente, anche dalle numerosi fonti citate, che l'autrice si è documentata molto per scrivere questo libro e il risultato è entusiasmante. Ogni vicenda, storica o scientifica, viene narrata dal punto di vista dei protagonisti, descritti con cura nella loro passione per la botanica e nelle loro man
John Hornyak
Mar 17, 2013 John Hornyak rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book! From the Amazon description:
Bringing to life the science and adventure of eighteenth-century plant collecting, The Brother Gardeners is the story of how six men created the modern garden and changed the horticultural world in the process. It is a story of a garden revolution that began in America.

In 1733, colonial farmer John Bartram shipped two boxes of precious American plants and seeds to Peter Collinson in London. Around these men formed the nucleus of a botany movement, whic
Apr 26, 2012 Savanna rated it really liked it
This book is a wonderful mix of history and botany told in an engaging narrative style. Wulf traces the origins of England's obsession with gardening over the course of two centuries and through the stories of six interconnected figures central to botany during that period. The dual focus of the book is (1) how England began to import plants from all over the world and (2) how the botanists and gardeners she portrays transformed the world of plants from a myth-riddled field entirely lacking in c ...more
Jul 04, 2013 Susannah rated it it was amazing
Ms Wulf tells the story of the exchange of information, plants, seeds, and correspondence between British and colonial American gardeners and botanists as a lively tale of adventure and discovery. One can easily visualize the persons as they are described from their individual fastidiousness and impolitic cravings of the latest garden fashion down to their cloth buttons and florid complexions! Traveling with William Bartram as he scales a lonely rock edifice and becomes trapped overnight in a su ...more
Dec 17, 2016 Trebledb rated it it was amazing
Terrific and detailed book oriented towards the avid gardener. Andrea Wulf is the most exceptional writer and historian. I have loved the two books of hers that I have recently read.
Dec 17, 2011 Karl rated it really liked it
The Brother Gardeners is about the advancement of what author Andrea Wolf describes as practical horticulture, systematic botany and imperial expansion during the 18th century. Individuals such as John Bartram and Peter Collinson embodied the craze for plants during this period where commercial seed trade and nurseries in England exploded in popularity. Carl Linnaeus helped standardize plant names transforming botany from strictly a pastime for the scholarly elite to a pursuit undertaken by a la ...more
Shawn Thrasher
May 01, 2011 Shawn Thrasher rated it really liked it
Botanists working together really changed the world in the 18th century, at least that's what Andrea Wulf argues, and I came away from her book in complete agreement. The Brother Gardeners is enjoyably readable (I was a little afraid it would be a dry and dusty). I knew next to nothing about Captain Cook and the voyage of Endeavor before reading the book, and didn't realize that the Bounty (Mutiny On) was on a botanical adventure to Tahiti. The craftiness and self absorption of Carl Linnaeus was ...more
Kathy Piselli
Aug 09, 2016 Kathy Piselli rated it really liked it
Who knew the voyage of the Bounty (of mutiny fame) was to harvest breadfruit from Tahiti and plant it in the West Indies as a cheap food for slaves? The portrait of the vain, self-promoting Linnaeus was not taught in my biology book. And the rivalries - still to be found among "brother" gardeners today - people thieving each others plants - common in many suburban neighborhoods. John Bartram's role was fascinating. I was aware of his son William's peregrinations through the south; now I know the ...more
As a gardener who grew up near Philadelphia, I truly enjoyed learning about John Bartram, who is one of the 4 gardeners/botanists that the book follows. This book describes the intense plant trade between America and Britain and its dramatic effect on British gardening and the development of the "English garden" style that everyone aspires to achieve in their flower borders. The great Carl Linneaus is also presented as well as his binomial naming system for the classification of plants (and late ...more
Fascinating history that illustrates the connections between early American botanists with supporters and botanists in England, and some in Europe. John Bartram (his house and garden are a historic site in Philadelphia) was essential in identifying and collecting most of the American plants that became part of the English cultivated landscape and garden. Also, because these gentlemen (and only men were mentioned) were interested in the scientific progress they were enamored of Linnaeus' scientif ...more
Jul 14, 2013 Chrissy rated it really liked it
I gave this 4 stars because I love how Wulf can make botany interesting. Her more recent, Founding Gardeners is one of my favorites, but this one is more suited to those who are really really into plants. I admit that I skimmed that heavy botanical descriptions. What was cool to read was the connection of Europe and "the colonies" even during the revolutionary war just so that plants could be sent/received (ships were allowed passage through special arrangements), and the controversy of organizi ...more
May 14, 2010 Lynne-marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A splendid introduction to how the brotherhood of botanists and gardeners in the 1700's within the British Empire and without, brought plants from the newly discovered lands of the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Indonesias to Britain and Europe and set about creating what we know now as the jandin anglais. They were unequaled in their devotion, in some cases for their outright courage, and for their vision. Including Linneas who cataloged the whole into an understandable catalogue, these men gav ...more
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Andrea Wulf is a biographer. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners, published in April 2008. It was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and received a CBHL Annual Literature Award in 2010. She was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now resides in Britain.
More about Andrea Wulf...

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