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A Little History Of British Gardening Kindle Edition
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If that was all there was to it, this book wouldn't have kept me reading. Where Jenny Uglow is strong is in citing lots of sources; the major ones, however, are the same as appear in any number of other books on the subject. Using garden writers as sources can be misleading. William Robinson, though a powerful self-publicist, was never as influential as he would have liked people to think, and Sissinghurst is as famous as it is because it was unlike most gardens, not because it was typical. For every masterpiece produced by Jekyll and Lutyens, there were a million gardens where tender bedding in lurid tones continued to rule, and it is only in the last few decades that public parks have abandoned the style - not for reasons of taste, but of cost. Public parks, incidentally - a hugely important part of the story - merit a single paragraph in the whole book, and the influential RHS gardens at Wisley are not mentioned at all.
Uglow is also disappointing on the gardens of the ordinary people. There is plenty of material, yet the concentration is, as in older books, on the gardens of the rich and the great. The story of the florist's societies, a fascinating tale of working men competing to raise and show the very best plants - and one which survives to this day, with regular specialist shows in the heartland of the North as well as at Wisley - deserves more; if this subject interests you, try Florists' Flowers and Societies (Shire garden history), you won't be disappointed.
This book does come further up to date than most of the older studies. Instead of stopping at Jekyll, or at the Second World War, Uglow attempts to bring the story as far as the 1980s. But this section is also very slight, and skips over the stylistic changes, the renaissance of vegetable growing and the organic movement with unseemly haste. 'Organic' gardening (Uglow gives it quotation marks as if it was some kind of weird fad) doesn't even get a paragraph to itself, being shoved in with compost heaps in a passing mention. Though Uglow picks out John Brookes for his considerable influence on the design of all sizes of gardens, she ignores totally the huge importance of Adrian Bloom's promotion of 'low-maintenance' gardens using conifers and heathers - surely the most influential post-war force whose impact can still be seen everywhere from stately homes and parks through to urban front gardens.
Overall, despite the large number of references and footnotes, this book gives the impression of having been written by someone with little personal depth of knowledge of the subject. It is as if Uglow, having been 'bitten by the gardening bug', decided to produce a book on the subject simply by doing a lot of research in the sources and ploughing ahead. Unfortunately for her gardening is a subject with a great deal of depth, and other readers may, like me, find themselves charmed and irritated in equal measure.
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