Don't forget that Sally MacKenzie is giving away a signed copy of her newest book, The Naked Earl, and the Hoydens are giving away a full set of the Naked Books (Duke, Marquis and Earl!).
True confession time--I’m not much into research. I don’t hate it, it’s just that I often end up falling in and drowning when I’d only meant to stick my toe in. And nine times out of ten, I end up deciding I really didn’t need that nugget of information I was searching for.
In The Naked Earl I got tangled up in gardens. Since the only thing I know for certain about plants is they make me sneeze, I had a definite learning curve. It turns out horticulture was quite a hot topic in the 18th and 19th centuries for at least two reasons: theories of garden design were changing and the variety of available plants was expanding.
The bulk of The Naked Earl is set at Baron Tynweith’s estate. Lord Tynweith prefers the older, formal style of gardening that was already falling out of favor in the early 1700s--orderly, geometric designs with parterres and topiary. I chuckled at this line from Alexander Pope’s satirical “Catalogue of Greens to be disposed of by an eminent Town Gardener” which one of my books said appeared in the Guardian in 1713: “a Quick-set Hog shot up into a Porcupine, by its being forgot one Week in rainy weather...” Maybe that’s what inspired me to give Tynweith a twisted sense of humor--he has a separate topiary garden where the shrubbery is trimmed to depict some inventive shapes not suitable for viewing by the ladies of the party.
Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716-83), among others, swept away many formal gardens when he redesigned properties in a more natural style--though his form of “natural” often had him totally redoing the estate, digging lakes where there weren’t any and planting hundreds of trees. Uvedale Price (1747-1829) and Richard Payne Knight (1750-1824) found Brown’s efforts boring--they favored the more irregular Picturesque style of landscape gardening. Humphry Repton (1752-1812), possibly the most prominent garden designer of the Regency, brought pieces of these various design philosophies together. Repton was an accomplished salesman. He produced “Red Books” which allowed clients to see what their property would look like before and after his proposed work. Some “Red Books” survive today.
Once a landowner decided on a design, he now had a much wider variety of plants to incorporate into his garden. Travelers--missionaries, soldiers, even professional plant hunters (!)--collected specimens from all over the world and sent them back home. The number of nursery gardens--and nursery catalogues--greatly increased. The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804, and the collection of exotic plant species at Kew grew rapidly during this time.
Here are a few of the books I poked through to educate myself, however slightly, on botanical issues: Plants in Garden History by Penelope Hobhouse (ISBN 1-86205-660-9); Seeds of Fortune A Gardening Dynasty by Sue Shephard (ISBN 0-7475-6066-8)--an account of the horticulturally significant Veitch family; and Regency Design by John Morley (ISBN 0-8109-3768-9). (I love the picture on the cover of Regency Design. According to the jacket, it’s called “The Artist and His Family” by Adam Buck (1813). Check it out on Amazon. What do you think that child is doing with the cat? Don’t you think all hell is about to break loose?)