Reviews - What do customers think about Botanic Gardens: A Living History (Gardens)?
Perfect mix of text & photos, subject & expertise- Sep 14, 2008
Seemingly consigned as a perpetual wallflower to the decorative floral garden, the botanic garden gets it due in this nicely designed book that has enough examples with well-done photos to please those whose emphasis is on the visual, and enough information to satisfy those who want more history of the many listed gardens specifically, and the botanic or 'physic' garden in general.
While botanic gardens might be decorative, and have at least some eye-catching floral sections, that's incidental to their purpose of fulfilling the role of part natural history museum, part living catalog of medicinal plants & curiosities. I have seen botanical garden books that featured either a particular garden or several from one region or country (the New York, Brooklyn, London's Kew have more than one book dedicated to their collections), but I have not come across a compendium like this one. Every part of the world is covered, and it seems every effort was taken to be thorough. Not content to cover just the major botanical gardens, every continent is represented by several collections. The editors and contributors place more importance on history and uniqueness rather than size or proximity to large population areas. Apparently, judging by pictures of some gardens in rather inhospitable climates, aesthetics and flashiness were not a prerequisite either (who knew that the almost treeless landscape of Iceland had a botanical garden that wasn't confined to greenhouses ?) Its this inclusion of the odd and unique, plus the effort to cover as much of the world as possible, that makes this book a nice addition for natural history and gardening fans both. It also has lengthy essays about the history of botanical gardens, especially when they were more of a working physic garden for medicines of the time than the research/museum collections that they've evolved into. The 20-page "Where Art & Science Meet" essay penned by Margaret Stevens is the highlight of these.
Minor quibbles: while the fantastic University of British Columbia botanical garden in Vancouver, Canada is included, the equally interesting Van Dusen Botanical Garden a few miles to the east is not. And while several natural history/botanical artists are mentioned, the pioneer of butterfly metamorphosis, explorer of Surinam, and more --- Maria Sibylla Merian --- is left out. But these are a matter of personal feelings, and I can't see anyone not enjoying this lushly photographed and well-written oversize book. Hasn't it always been the measure of great travel books that they make you want to visit the places it covers ? Same thing here...you'll want to see these gardens.