Quiet evenings in hotel rooms are perfect opportunities for doing some reading, and I took advantage of it. Lately, I’ve been interested in garden history, and I picked up biographies of two of the great names in garden-lore: Reginald Farrer, and the Veitch family dynasty while I was in Montreal.
The first, “A Rage for Rock Gardening” by Nicola Shulman, is a small book and a quick and entertaining read on the short life of Farrer. Farrer was an eccentric and impossibly egotistical Edwardian fellow, who would have been right at home in a scene from Brideshead Revisited. In spite of eccentricities, disabilities, and exasperated parents, he was a great adventurer and made several stunning discoveries on his world travels.
The second, which I’m still reading, is “Seeds of Fortune” by Sue Shephard. It’s an epic story about five generations of the great Veitch family of England. The Veitch name lives on in the botanical names of countless of their plant discoveries, and they were key figures in the early years of the Royal Horticultural Society and the renowned Chelsea Flower Show. The book starts in 1768 with a young and ambitious Scotsman, and takes us through to the family’s fate and the downfall of their nursery dynasty in the 20th century. It takes us back to the days of England’s great gardens, and to a time when plant-collecting in unexplored foreign realms was dangerous work that claimed many lives and great fortunes.