Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #142

The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, 2009

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2012-04-01

Andrea Wulf, in The Brother Gardeners, starts at the beginning of the 18th century. Up to that time gardening was "traditionally the preserve of the aristocracy...now, amateur gardeners began to take an obsessive interest in their smaller plots." Her focus is on the transformation in England, but much of this was fueled by the interchange with American gardeners and particularly the importing of American plants to English gardens.

Most compelling is the four decades of correspondence between Peter Collinson (1694-1768), a merchant and avid gardener in London, and John Bartram (1699-1777), a farmer and self-taught botanist near Philadelphia. Bartram regularly shipped boxes of seeds, pressed plants, and occasionally live plants, while in exchange Collinson would ship books and tools, and even clothes for Bartram's family.

Collinson would use his connections to introduce Bartram wealthy and learned Americans, hoping to find new and different plants. These introductions came with specific instructions, "'Pray go very Clean, neat & handsomely Dressed to Virginia' and don't 'Disgrace thyself or Mee.'" As time passed, however, the roles changed as the farmer from the colonies began to assert his importance in these exchanges, forcing Collinson and his clients from the English learned class to recognize Bartram's knowledge, skills, and importance to their endeavors.

Excerpted from the Spring 2012 Arboretum Bulletin.

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