by Charles  Elliott

Publisher:  Frances Lincoln  (2002)
ISBN 0 7112 2009 3



This delightful book is a miscellany of 38 essays, many of which were written for the American magazine Horticulture.  The author is American himself, lives in London and gardens on the Welsh Marches.  He professes to be ‘no gardener’ but this book gives lie to that, being crammed with gardening insights, hints and knowledge.

Elliott mixes the history of garden plants – common nettles as well as great trees – with the adventures of well- and lesser-known plant hunters and collectors and with stories of his own gardening efforts.  Whilst I found Elliott’s denigration of his own gardening knowledge, which is obviously extensive, often grated on me, his subjects are well researched (he acknowledges his use of the horticultural libraries in London).  He gives the Latin as well as the common names for plants and there’s even a chapter on the history of plant nomenclature.  Elliott endeared himself to me by including a personal memoir about the late Geoff Hamilton amongst stories of the achievements of Reginald Farrer, Pere Delavey and other ‘unusual characters’.  In Retrospect looks at gardening ‘mistakes’, for example the introduction of Rhododendron ponticum, as well as innovations, like Wardian Cases and the discovery of how strawberries are pollinated, that have changed the face of English gardens.

This is a ‘dip into’ book, helped by its index (but I should also have welcomed a full list of references), good for bedtime reading.  At £14.99 hardback (A5 size, 192 pages) and with the paperback due out in autumn 2003, it would make a charming gift for anyone interested in garden history.

Shirley Barnes