Book Review: The English Garden Tour

The English Garden Tour: A View Into The Past, by Mavis Batey & David Lambert

This is exactly what you want a book about gardens to be, if you are fond of visiting them and reading about them and putting them in their appropriate historical, literary, and social contexts. One of the more interesting anecdotes of this book is the discussion of the garden of the ancestral home of the Leighs, the family of Jane Austen’s mother. Mrs. Austen (along with her family) visited the gardens and thought them to be much more beautiful than they were expected to be, and much less formal, although traveling through them required a key (as was the case in Mansfield Park), only to find that when they returned to the place later on the relative of theirs that owned the estate was in the process of improving the gardens to make them more formal and less naturalistic, something which may have influenced Mansfield Park, that most dark of Jane Austen novels. To be sure, there are a lot more anecdotes in this book that demonstrate the wide reading and research done by the authors, but this ought to whet your appetite for what this book has to say about the historical gardens of England, of which there are many, well worth seeing and reading about.

This book is about 300 pages long and it is divided in a chronological basis based on how old the gardening style of the particular English garden is. The book begins with a preface as well as a discussion of what it means to be a garden tourist of historical English gardens, being tourists not only in space but also in time (1). After that comes a brief discussion of why there are so few survivors of English medieval gardens given the hundreds of years that have taken place since those gardens were in existence (2). This is followed by a look at various Tudor and Stuart gardens, including Kenilworth Castle, some of which happen to have been restored in what the authors consider to be excellent condition. After that comes a longer list of restoration gardens which have been restored, largely based on historical record, and many of which are also highly praised for their authenticity and interest as gardens, as well as the great houses they are attached to (3). This is followed by the largest section of gardens, and that are the eighteenth century gardens attached to such places as Blenheim, Wroxton Abbey, and Mount Edgecumbe (4). After that comes a smaller selection of nineteenth century gardens, including the Crystal Palace (5), which also has a few gardens of considerable interest. The book then closes with a bibliography, notes, and an index.

One of the striking aspects of this book is the level of detail that is provided about the historical gardens. The authors of this book have done an immense amount of reading to show not only the gardens in their present state but also to examine the design of the gardens originally as well as the historical layers and sometimes historical reconstructions that gardens have taken. England has done a very good job at documenting its gardening history and, at times, of seeking to recover history that has been lost due to changing tastes. A great many gardens have been very different based on original garden designs, the effects of changing fads and fashions in gardens, as well as the way that houses were destroyed and rebuild, changing the relationship between the home and garden, some of which was a very precise relationship as originally designed. Some people may find the level of detail of this book overwhelming, but for me, this is exactly what I want to read about a garden. If you agree, this is a book that I can definitely recommend for you, so long as you like the detail and the history and literary context it brings to bear on English gardens.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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