In 2017 came a dream commission – to write a short illustrated history of the English garden for the National Trust. But what exactly do we mean by ‘English garden’? The serene green landscapes of Capability Brown? The flower-packed rooms of Hidcote? The naturalistic exuberance of Wildside? Or a cosy cottage garden with roses round the door? The Story of the English Garden follows the development of our greatest art form from Roman times to the present day, showing how the garden has been all these things, and uncovering all kinds of surprises along the way.
The ‘green gym’, for example, is not a modern idea, but was pioneered by the Tudors, who favoured a regime of healthful exercise in the garden before breakfast. Who would have guessed that bowls was once so popular a game that Edward III banned it, fearing it was distracting men from their archery practice? Or that Tsar Peter the Great’s idea of a good time was to be pushed round the garden in a wheelbarrow? John Gerard’s famous herbal of 1597 introduces a curious new plant called the potato – but also the Orcadian barnacle tree, which he swears grows shells rather than fruits, from which hatch geese.
Illustrated with glorious photographs from the National Trust’s incomparable photo archive, The Story of the English Garden offers a lively and accessible introduction to garden history, revelling in the variety, artistry and delight of England’s gardens.
'The great strength of the book lies in the writing style, which is easy and breezy, and the discrimination of the author in choosing key gardens, texts and paintings. This book is as well-written as Jenny Uglow’s A Little History of British Gardening (2005) but eclipses it in terms of detail, interpretation and accuracy.'
'The book isn’t solely about the stylistic development of the English garden. The author entertainingly describes the relationship between the English and their gardens, and how horticulture has become firmly entrenched in the collective psyche.'
'Using the archives of the National Trust, Edwards’ work is an entertaining and comprehensive history of gardens in England. Beautifully illustrated, the book traces the history of gardens from the medieval period, through the Georgian and Victorian era to contemporary designs.'
‘Informative and entertaining book providing the perfect introduction to the history of our garden making.’
The Sunday Times