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

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  380 ratings  ·  83 reviews
This is the fascinating story of a small group of eighteenth-century naturalists who made Britain a nation of gardeners and the epicenter of horticultural and botanical expertise. It’s the story of a garden revolution that began in America.

In 1733, the American farmer John Bartram dispatched two boxes of plants and seeds from the American colonies, addressed to the London
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Knopf (first published May 6th 2008)
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Oct 13, 2009 Melody rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
Douglas Dalrymple
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
Taylor Bright
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.
Delaney Green
As a gardener, I find the plant history fascinating. As a lover of history, I appreciate the carefully researched facts, dates, and gardener biographies. As a writer, I enjoy the delicate way Wulf weaves in both provincial and progressive attitudes of the times. The pictures were just what I needed to see for my current project, and it is useful--as was Philip Miller's Dictionary--to have so much information in one place. I am delighted to add this book to my shelves as both a writing and a gard ...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
Jose Santos
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
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
John Hornyak
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
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
Read this for my non-fiction library book group.

Interesting look at how modern English gardens came into existence. Many of the plants found and propagated were from the American colonies. the author also included the fated Mutiny on the Bounty and what caused that mutiny.

The obsession was not only about botany but about how to improve the ENglish economy after the defeat by the American Colonies and setting up new trade and creating new trade in the EAst and West Indies.
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
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
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
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 20, 2011 Fostergrants rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Plant Nerds
Shelves: plants
Absolutely deserves five stars from me. Wulf managed to dig up the juiciest bits and pieces with her thorough research and put it together in an entertaining and readable package. What could have easily become a textbook-ish and patronizing book, was instead a rich and amusing journey through the early history of exploration, botany, and aesthetic gardening. The personalities and lives of the early naturalists comes through and carries the book along nicely. She manages to convey their passionat ...more
Daniele Foa'
Il libro è anche interessante, ma ha due grosse pecche:
1) Non dà riferimenti sul sistema monetario in vigore nel periodo (a cosa corrispondon scellini, ghinee e quant'altro?);
2) La realizzazione in formato e-book per kindle è pessima: manca la suddivisione dei capitoli, giusto per fare un esempio. In pratica è un pdf convertito.
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
So that's where the English garden came from...ironic. Enjoyed this inspiring little tome. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough registrants for the book club - no discussion. Glad I had a chance to read it though.
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
The history of the beginnings of global plant exchange: well written and I think brilliant.
Mar 17, 2012 Claire rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Great book and a fast read. And, you need not just be interested in botany, horticulture, gardening, and/or colonial history to enjoy Andrea Wulf's easy-to-read material. Who knew that American plants, as well as seeds, seedlings and cuttings from other sources around the world, helped create the "traditional" English garden? I certainly did not. And, I never imagined that a gardening boom in Britain during the 18th century is what led to today's passion for gardening around the world. Superbly ...more
Interesting book for anyone who is a plant or history nerd.
I enjoyed this book so much. I know it's not fiction, but it brought to life for me some of the names on Botany and the history of how such an amazing range of plants came to the UK. Collison's enthusiasm and Bartam's tireless searches across the early US colonies to find new plants for British gardners were brought to life by Wulf's prose. It's amazing that so many of the plants we see on a day to day basis and alost pay no regard to, are actually foreign imports whose very presence here was ha ...more
The Brother Gardeners was a solid, interesting read about one of my favorite topics—gardening and gardening history (mostly in the UK). It won't necessarily pull people who aren't gardeners or interested in history into the fold, but it will interest those who are.

For a fuller review, some photographs (many of the garden), and general chatter, stop by my blog, Bookwyrme's Lair.
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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...
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and Three Hundred Years of English History The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

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