England's Magnificent Gardens: How a Billion-Dollar Industry Transformed a Nation, from Charles II to Today (Hardcover)
In 2006, William Alexander wrote a book about starting a vegetable garden, where he humorously tallies all of his expenses. That book was called The $64 Tomato, because that's what the author figured out he'd spent per tomato harvested the first year. (That's $90 a tomato in 2022's dollars). Roderick Floud, an economic historian and probable garden enthusiast, has used a much more sophisticated method to compare the true costs that went into building the magnificent National Trust gardens in England. Using the concept of average earnings, the 12 pound annual wage that a worker got in 1750, becomes $33,000 dollars today. This is a very original and highly detailed book that ventures from grand palaces and stately homes up to today's allotments and garden tourism. Along the way, Floud shows that gardening is the number one pastime of Britain, only rivaled by video games and the Internet.— From Carla's Picks (2021-2022)
In this rich, revelatory history, Sir Roderick Floud, one of Britain’s preeminent economic historians, writes that gardens have been created in Britain since Roman times but that their true growth began in the seventeenth century; by the eighteenth century, nurseries in London took up 100 acres, with ten million plants (!) that were worth more than all of the nurseries in France combined.
Floud’s book takes us through more than three centuries of English history as he writes of the kings, queens, and princes whose garden obsessions changed the landscape of England itself, from Stuart, Georgian, and Victorian England to today’s Windsors.
Here are William and Mary, who brought Dutch gardens and bulbs to Britain; William, who twice had his entire garden lowered in order to see the river from his apartments; and his successor, Queen Anne, who, like many others since, vowed to spend little on her gardens and instead spent millions. Floud also writes of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the founder of Kew Gardens, who spent more than $40,000 on a single twenty-five-foot tulip tree for Carlton House; Queen Victoria, who built the largest, most advanced and most efficient kitchen garden in Britain; and Prince Charles, who created and designed the gardens of Highgrove, inspired by his boyhood memories of his grandmother’s gardens.
We see Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, who created a magnificent garden at Blenheim Palace, only to tear it apart and build a greater one; Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, the savior of Chatsworth’s 100-acre garden in the midst of its 35,000 acres; and the gardens of lesser mortals, among them Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, both notable garden designers and writers.
We see the designers of royal estates—among them, Henry Wise, William Kent, Humphrey Repton, and the greatest of all English gardeners, “Capability” Brown, who created the 150-acre lake of Blenheim Palace, earned millions annually, and designed more than 170 parks, many still in existence today. We learn how gardening became a major catalyst for innovation (central heating came from experiments to heat greenhouses with hot-water pipes); how the new iron industry of industrializing Britain supplied a myriad of tools (mowers, pumps, and the boilers that heated the greenhouses); and, finally, Floud explores how gardening became an enormous industry as well as an art form in Britain, and by the nineteenth century was unrivaled anywhere in the world.
“A new kind of garden history . . . Filled with fascinating and often surprising details.”
“Amazing. Floud casts his net wide.”
“Immensely engaging . . . Remarkable . . . Surprisingly rewarding.”
—The Daily Telegraph
“Floud takes us shilling by shilling through pretty much the whole history of gardening in England, offering some fine anecdotes along the way.”
—The Literary Review
“A very different kind of gardening book. It’s not about design or horticultural techniques but is a history—the first of its kind, the author claims—of the economics of gardening, financial excess and all, from Charles II to today . . . Extraordinarily interesting [and] full of fascinating detail about everything from working-class gardens, kitchen gardens and nurseries to the astonishing cost of some rare plants and their shrinking value over time.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“A remarkable tale of economic scale and social realities . . . Illuminating.”
“From the deep pockets of the eighteenth-century aristocrat to those of the twenty-first-century hedge-fund manager, huge amounts of money have been spent on gardens’ design and upkeep.”
—The Sunday Times (London; Book of the Year selection)
“Terrifically interesting, a real eye-opener . . . Even gardeners who don’t count the cost will be fascinated.”
—Evening Standard (Book of the Year selection)