ultimately a testament of love. It is about deeply felt place- making of the kind that roots a person in a landscape in which accreted memory gives meaning to the rest of life, making our solitary journey richer. It is also about hope and renewal because, as every gardener knows, a garden is never finished and there is always next spring. – EBR
ancient wildwood had already diminished,” she writes, with- out much evidence at hand. But soon the sources accumu- late, and even a plant list or a ledger can offer valuable clues. Writing for pleasure and driven by curiosity, she would simply like to know more about the gardens and people of times past and per- haps answer a question or two posed by a friend.
A Little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow (New York: North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) English Pleasure Gardens by Rose Standish Nichols with a new introduction by Judith B. Tankard (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, 2003)
The author of books on William Hogarth, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot, Uglow seems most at home in the past few centuries. More than half of this history is devoted to the years from 1702 to the present – years when evidence of gardens in literature, paintings, engrav- ings, and other documents is most abundant. Uglow draws on her own memories, as
A history that stretches from prehistoric times to the present is bound to con- tain a few peri- ods treated with a broad brush – as in Jenny Uglow’s A Little History of British Gardening. “More settled ways of life began around 2000 BC and by 1200 BC the
well. “When I was thirteen my family moved from the bleak Cumbrian coast to Dorset,” she writes, “and I was astounded at its velvety overflowing greens, its almost suffo- cating lush- ness. The garden summed up storybook Victoriana.” Her closing pages touch on issues of the twenty-first century, including global warming:
lines from several angles as she moved her lawn chair from one place to another, she was ready to place more permanent garden furniture in spots where it would be pleasant to sit and read or ruminate. Yet, experiencing the transit from open lawn to shady woodland and the vari- ation in scenes as one moved through the garden was important, too. Therefore, she needed to configure the ground plane, defining beds for shrubbery in a way that would connect its several parts physically as well as visually. As Browning puts it, she likes “a wandering sort of garden” but one in which all the parts cohere.
Nor was she afraid to use some eccentric ornamental features within her garden. These might be eye-catching items from a yard sale, such as two upended stone drag- ons supporting a tiny tabletop suitable for drinks, or gifts from friends, such as a small Buddha or a pair of gnome- like garden sculptures verg- ing on kitsch. But, if these were placed in just the right spot, they acquired an endear- ing charm. This kind of orna- ment is, of course, a far cry from the stone sculptures of mythological deities that inhabit the old villa gardens Sitwell describes, but they, too, have meaningful associa- tions of a personal nature.
Finally, what both Sitwell and Browning impart is the notion that a good garden is
“The leaves on the oak trees are opening earlier; the aphids are coming sooner and there are more of them.”
tial relations. This is, in short, not an inclusive history of gardens but a designer’s his- tory, a record of significant details. What Nichols liked, she wrote about. What she disliked is absent or unillus- trated in English Pleasure Gardens – a fact better appre- ciated after reading Uglow’s Little History of British Gardening.
“The driest of the lists bring a vanished world to life,” Uglow comments before mentioning items in the account books of a Cistercian monk in Hampshire, circa 1260 C.E. Manure carts, gar- den gloves, forks, spades, buckets, and sieves all help to sketch in the gardening world of Medieval England, along with lists of vegetables sold, gallons of honey produced, and vats of cider stored. Black-and -white illustrations appear on nearly every page of this book, and colorplates fill the signatures, but some aspects of garden history only can be conveyed in words. From Anglo-Saxon England – a warlike period around the tenth century C.E., when Christianity had not yet entirely taken hold – comes a charm, or magic recipe, for making unpromising land fruitful:
Take by night, before it dawns, four turfs from the four corners of the plot, and make a note of where they belonged. Then take
oil and honey and yeast, and milk from each beast that is on the land, and a portion of each type of tree that is growing on the land, apart from the hard- er woods, and a portion of each nameable plant, excepting buckbean only, and then apply holy water and let it drip thrice on the underside of the turf and say then these words: grow, and multiply, and fill the earth.
This charm, a remnant from the so-called Dark Ages, is like a piece of a broken chain, part of a long tradition of using and caring for the land that Uglow has set out to retrieve. It is a tradition of gardening among the rich and the poor, the famous and the obscure, the exquisite and the commonplace. Others have traced the same tradi- tion, with more or less emphasis on aesthetic, social, or environmental factors. And Uglow acknowledges her well-known predecessors, including Miles Hadfield, Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe, Penelope Hobhouse, and Christopher Thacker. Many readers have on their shelves books by these and other writ- ers. Now, as popular and scholarly monographs contin- ue to appear, do we really need yet another history of
Rose Standish Nichols cov- ers a somewhat shorter peri- od – from the time of the Romans in Britain (with glimpses of gardens in Egypt, Assyria, Persia, and Greece) to “Modern Gardens,” circa 1900. As in Uglow’s history, England is the geographical focus. At the same time, Nichols draws freely from the traditions of Italy and France as well, from antiquity through the late eighteenth century. Pliny and Varro, Raphael and Vignola, Le Nôtre and Rousseau all appear in this account of English pleasure gardens, along with Chaucer, John Evelyn, and other British writ- ers, ending with Reginald Blomfield, Gertrude Jekyll, and their contemporaries. Long quotations abound, but the text is fairly brief (in this edition, 275 pages, densely illustrated).
As Judith Tankard explains in the introduction, Nichols was, among other things, a professional designer of gar- dens. All the drawings not taken from archives and old books are by Nichols’s own hand – delightful drawings, revealing a designer’s under- standing of textures and spa-