4 February 2011
The story of mankind’s ability to conquer the plant world over the past 400 years and harness it to serve the human species is the subject of a new book by Bodleian Library Publishing.
An astonishing 430,000 green plant species and 350,000 flowering plant species have been identified since the early sixteenth century. According to Stephen Harris, author of Planting Paradise, ‘these figures reflect the exploration, the accumulation and synthesis of knowledge about plants over the past five centuries. Plant diversity drove horticulturalists to enrich European gardens and scientists to try to understand how plants functioned and how such diversity arose.’
In their attempts to master the plant kingdom, gardeners transformed habitats and brought together plants from across the globe to produce imitations of natural environments and fantasies of their own devising. While the botanic gardens of early modern Europe had largely been a means of supplying surgeons with medicine, by the seventeenth and eighteenth century the interest in gardens had spread to all levels of society. Gardens became a tapestry of many diverse botanical histories: some plants were native, some were introduced, and others evolved in the garden.
Beautifully illustrated with rarely-seen botanical image from the Bodleian Libraries and herbaria in the University of Oxford, among the finest in the world, Planting Paradise tells the fascinating story of how the garden became a symbol of human interactions within the botanical world. Examining the changing role of the garden in Britain from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century, it looks at the reasons behind the explosion of interest in what Darwin called the ‘abominable mystery’ of plants, and the rise of horticulturalists’ obsession with the cultivation and domination of plant species.