by Jennifer Potter

Publisher:  Atlantic Books (2006)
ISBN  18 43543346

Hardback £19.99


We have all probably heard of John Tradescant, but how many of us know that there were two of that name father and son; both gardeners; both collectors; but, as we read in this engrossing book, quite different men in their skills and outlook.  The book can be read on two levels.  First, as a fascinating historical detective story, with the biographical details meticulously drawn from brief diary entries, royal account books, plant catalogues and references made by friends and contemporaries, and secondly, as a plantsman’s guide to the introduction of plants from northern Russia, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Americas.

Apart from the world of plants we learn of Tradescant’s Ark the strange collection of curiosities, animal, vegetable and mineral, that were gathered together in the family house in Lambeth.  This has rightly been called the first English museum, containing amongst much else, shells, snowshoes, an American Indian cloak, the hand of a mermaid, and it became the Ashmolean collection in Oxford following certain apparently underhand dealings by the lawyer Elias Ashmole after the death of the younger Tradescant.

The book is a pleasure to read, the many footnotes and references being contained at the end so that they do not inhibit the flow of narrative.  Jennifer Potter reviews for the Times Literary Supplement as well as other papers and magazines and she is the author of three novels as well as two books accompanying gardening series on TV.

Margaret Burford