A Natural History of English Gardening


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Mark Laird

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A beautifully illustrated exploration of the quest for order within the garden, and within the natural world

Inspired by the pioneering naturalist Gilbert White, who viewed natural history as the common study of cultural and natural communities, Mark Laird unearths forgotten historical data to reveal the complex visual cultures of early modern gardening. Ranging from climate studies to the study of a butterfly’s life cycle, this original and fascinating book examines the scientific quest for order in nature as an offshoot of ordering the garden and field. Laird follows a broad series of chronological events—from the Little Ice Age winter of 1683 to the drought summer of the volcanic 1783—to probe the nature of gardening and husbandry, the role of amateurs in scientific disciplines, and the contribution of women as gardener-naturalists. Illustrated by a stunning wealth of visual and literary materials—paintings, engravings, poetry, essays, and letters, as well as prosaic household accounts and nursery bills—Laird fundamentally transforms our understanding of the English landscape garden as a powerful cultural expression.

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Mark Laird is a historic landscape consultant and garden conservator and teaches landscape history at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Previous books include The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720–1800 and Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (Yale).

"With humor, wit and compassion, Mark Laird presents human-biological life in and around the garden: the charm of natural creatures, the heartbreak of weather, the thrill of the bloom. His manuscript is a monumental achievement in its command of historical data. He has unleashed archival material from diverse sources never brought to bear on the complex world of eighteenth-century gardens and landscapes."—Therese O’Malley, associate dean, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art

"Filled with stunning visuals, from watercolors of wildflowers to the narcissus and thistles stitched on a satin petticoat worn to the Prince of Wales’s ball in 1741."—Mieke Ten Have, Vogue

"Mark Laird, the great landscape historian, gives a superb narrative about the plants, events, people and studies that form the backdrop of English gardening, from John Evelyn to Gilbert White. Exquisite contemporary illustrations support his prose."—Jane Owen, Financial Times

"Gorgeous . . . the absorbing illustrations support an unexpectedly engrossing text. Laird divertingly explores the dramatic lives of the great and often pioneering gardeners of the day . . . Filled with inspiration. . . . [and] the kind of information that will blossom in your mind as you deadhead or weed, linking your own speck of the planet to the long ago and the far away."—Mitchell Owens, Architectural Digest

"Sumptuous . . . highly accessible . . . Much more than a natural history, this book is a magnificent horticultural opus."—Eryn Carlson, Boston Globe

"[A] magnum opus . . . carefully crafted and well-researched, replete with extensive full color illustrations, plans, paintings, journal entries, correspondence, and notations . . . An important book that provides new insights into the discipline of garden history."—Patrice Todisco, Landscape Notes

"[A] handsome and substantial volume, visually sumptuous and intriguingly diverse."—Charlotte Gere, Art Newspaper

"Laird delves into areas of English garden history that have never before been so clearly delineated. . . . Hundreds of beautiful color illustrations help illuminate the text."—Adam Levine, Better Homes and Gardens Country Gardens

"Sumptuous . . . fascinating . . . this book belongs on the shelf of any serious gardener."—Rita M. Hassert, American Gardener

"Important . . . a rich, coherent whole . . . Laird greatly expands the bounds of English garden history . . . A Natural History of English Gardening is a splendid achievement."—Davyd Foard Hood, Magnolia

"A crossover treasure for garden lovers and botany fans . . . gorgeous . . . original and fascinating . . . Illustrated by a stunning wealth of visual and literary materials, paintings, engravings, poetry, essays, and letters . . . a must for lovers of English gardens."—Sara Evans, Art of the Times

"Revealing . . . Laird examines in fascinating detail the broadly creative environment of the amateur gardener in the 18th century."—Michael McClelland, Canadian Architect

"Find food for thought in A Natural History of English Gardening . . . Through period literature, artwork, and scientific data, author Mark Laird explores the cultural heritage shaped by early efforts to bring order and understanding to botanical majesty."—Victoria Magazine

"A great book filled with information on how the quintessential 'English garden' came to be."—Will Cooper, Chief Creative Officer at Ash NYC, quoted in Architectural Digest

Winner of the 2013 David R. Coffin Publication Grant, given by the Foundation for Landscape Studies

Finalist for the 2015 George Wittenborn Book Award, given by the Art Libraries Society of North America

Winner of the 2015 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize sponsored by the Foundation for Landscape Studies.

  Winner of the 2019 Elisabeth Blair MacDougall Book Award, sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians
ISBN: 9780300196368
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
440 pages, 10 1/4 x 11 1/2
300 color + 100 b/w illus.
Mrs. Delany and Her Circle

Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts

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Edited by Joanna Marschner with David Bindman and Lisa L.

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