by Nicola Shulman

Publisher:  Short  Books  (2002)
ISBN 1 904095 21 6



Short Books are publishers who specialise in brief biographies.  Nicola Shulman’s life of Reginald Farrer – one of the last of the world’s great plant collectors – may be only 125 pages long but it paints a sympathetic and rounded portrait of this little known contributor to gardening history.

Farrer was not only a plant collector; he had his own alpine nursery and was a novelist (unsuccessful) and a garden writer.  The ‘rage for rock gardening’ grew to a great extent out of Farrer’s books.  It led to an increased demand for hardy plants and influenced the appearance of gardens and the style of garden writing for generations.

Shulman sets her biography of Farrer in the context of gardening at the time Farrer entered it, the start of the 20th century, and the political and social background that affected his plant hunting expeditions.  She includes quotes from his family and contemporaries and finishes with a few examples of horticultural writing that show Farrer’s influence.  There are eight plates, five of which depict plants discovered by Farrer (many more examples are given in the text).

I found this book to be an excellent ‘first stop’ which – despite having only a short bibliography and no index or references – has inspired me to discover more about who and what has influenced the development of gardens.

Shirley Barnes