The cul­ti­vat­ing class

Guilt grew as green spa­ces be­came plea­sur­able more than pro­duc­tive places, says Lisa Hop­kins

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Lisa Hop­kins is pro­fes­sor of English at Sh­effield Hal­lam Univer­sity.

Gar­dens and Gar­den­ing in Early Mod­ern Eng­land and Wales By Jill Fran­cis Yale Univer­sity Press, 412pp, £35.00 ISBN 9780300232080 Pub­lished 26 June 2018

Agar­den is a love­some thing. So too is a nice book about gar­dens, and this is a very nice book in­deed, hand­somely de­signed, gen­er­ously il­lus­trated and packed full of in­for­ma­tion and de­tail. Its stated aim is “to ex­plore what early mod­ern gar­den­ers were do­ing in their gar­dens”, to which end it of­fers chap­ters on gar­den­ing books; so­cial con­text; El­iz­a­bethan gar­dens; 17th-cen­tury gar­dens; who was ac­tu­ally do­ing the gar­den­ing; new de­sign con­cepts; knots; gar­den or­na­ments; the prob­lems caused by the Civil War; and, fi­nally, the sud­den in­flux of new plants caused by voy­ages of trade and ex­plo­ration.

Much has been writ­ten on the great gar­dens of the pe­riod, but Jill Fran­cis’ in­ter­est is more in the gar­dens of the gen­try, such as Sir John Og­lan­der, gar­den­ing at Nun­well on the Isle of Wight, who knew that he ought to re­duce his ex­pen­di­ture but couldn’t re­sist fruit trees. He con­fessed in his com­mon­place book that he has been “so fool­ish as to be­stowe more mon­eyes then a wise man would have in fflow­ers for the gar­den”. There was much to tempt him, for while ev­ery­one knows about tulip fever it is per­haps not so widely re­alised that cro­cuses, ra­nun­cu­luses and anemones were all ei­ther newly, or much more widely, avail­able, dra­mat­i­cally ex­tend­ing the sea­son of in­ter­est of the av­er­age gar­den and leading to a new fash­ion for plant­ing flow­ers.

Fran­cis’ sen­si­bil­ity is less that of an art his­to­rian than of a weeder and dig­ger, and this makes her an acute reader of the gar­den­ing man­u­als that start to pro­lifer- ate from the mid-16th cen­tury on­wards. She is, for in­stance, quick to spot when th­ese are im­i­tat­ing clas­si­cal or con­ti­nen­tal sources and there­fore prof­fer­ing ad­vice not re­ally suited to con­di­tions in Eng­land and Wales (one won­ders how read­ers in north­ern coun­ties got on with the muchre­peated guid­ance on grow­ing olives). She is alert, too, to what peo­ple wrote in their copies (or how they coloured them in). She has also looked at por­traits and paint­ings, par­tic­u­larly the puz­zling im­age of the grounds at Llan­nerch that may or may not rep­re­sent a real late-Re­nais­sance gar­den cre­ated in Denbighshire by the splen­didly named Mut­ton Davies (doubt arises be­cause his neigh­bour, Sir Thomas Han­mer, in­formed a cor­re­spon­dent that he knew of no great gar­dens in Wales). Even if it was not real, Llan­nerch pre­sum­ably ex­pressed an as­pi­ra­tion, and what peo­ple hoped for from their gar­dens is some­thing else to which Fran­cis is sen­si­tive, as too to the sense of guilt that at­tached to the shift from gar­dens as pro­duc­tive to gar­dens as places of plea­sure and leisure.

The book traces a fur­ther cul­tural cur­rent aris­ing from the grow­ing urge to gar­den in a way that one might term em­pir­i­cal, test­ing the re­ceived wis­dom of gar­den­ing books against how plants ac­tu­ally per­formed in real peo­ple’s Welsh and English gar­dens. I think that Fran­cis could have made slightly more of the fact that gar­dens could also be places for the expression of faith. The pos­si­ble sym­bol­ism of the gar­den at Lyve­den New Bield, for in­stance, is rel­e­gated to a foot­note. This is, how­ever, a very small reser­va­tion about an in­tensely plea­sur­able read.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.