Alan Titchmarsh, the beloved English garden writer and television personality, has used his folksy, amusing style of writing to present an easy-to-read history of English gardens in his book, Royal Gardeners - the History of Britain’s Royal Gardens.
The book discusses the ways in which the Kings and Queens of England influenced the evolution of English garden style. Henry II and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, created several enclosed gardens which would allow ladies to sit in safety and privacy, surrounded by ‘flowery mead’ (the forerunner of our wildflower lawns). None of these gardens have survived, but one has been authentically re-created at the Great Hall in Winchester, which, in Henry’s time, was the capital of the country. Walled gardens are still a very popular element of English gardens.
Queen Elizabeth I had a powerful effect on gardening. People wanted to gain favor with the Virgin Queen and they planted elaborate gardens in order to entice her to visit them. She liked terraces, knot gardens, arbors and roses, so these were planted at all the best manor houses.
The great expansion in exploring the world brought a crucial plant back to England from China: Camellia sinensis. Thus began the British passion for tea.
Titchmarsh continues through the centuries, showing the reader how the Royal families influenced gardening trends. The book has lots of gorgeous color photographs which illustrate the various gardens mentioned. Numerous side articles break up the narrative, focusing on one aspect of gardening in each era: plants that were imported to England, important gardeners in each century, gardening tools and how they evolved and lots more.
It also describes how French, Italian, and Dutch garden design and features affected English garden design, and how English garden design finally developed into a style of its own.
The book ends with the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who is well known as a gardener with a keen interest in organic gardening. His estate, Highgrove, uses no pesticides, but encourages wildlife through nest boxes and bird feeders, and improves the soil with copious amounts of compost. So today’s royal family is still leading the way in gardening trends.
Titchmarsh knows his subject and races through the past thousand years of gardening in a light, entertaining way. This is definitely a worthwhile book for anyone interested in English garden style and in English gardening history. It’s published by BBC books.
NOTE: I purchased this book with my own funds.