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Gifts from the Gardens of Chinaby Jane Kilpatrick
Synopses & Reviews
Many of the worldand#8217;s most renowned and exciting ornamental plantsand#151;including magnolias, roses, rhododendrons, tree peonies, lilies, and blue poppiesand#151;have their origins in China. In the mid-nineteenth century, professional plant hunters were dispatched by nurseries and botanic gardens to collect living botanical specimens from China for cultivation in Europe, and it is these adventurers and nurserymen who are often credited with the explosive bloom of Chinese flowers in the West.
But as Jane Kilpatrick shows in Fathers of Botany, the first Westerners to come upon and document this bounty were in fact cut from a different cloth: the clergy. Following the Opium Wars, European missionaries were the first explorers to dig further into the Chinese interior and send home evidence of one of the richest and most varied floras ever seen, and it was their discoveries that caused a sensation among Western plantsmen. Both men of faith and talented botanists alike, these missionaries lent their names to many of the plants they discovered, but their own stories disappeared into the leaf litter of history. Drawing on their letters and contemporary accounts, Kilpatrick focuses on the lives of four great French missionary botanistsand#151;Pand#232;res Armand David (of Davidia involucrataand#151;the dove treeand#151;and discoverer of the giant panda), Jean Marie Delavay, Paul Guillaume Farges, and Jean Andrand#233; Souliand#233;and#151;as well as a group of other French priests, Franciscan missionaries, and a single German Protestant pastor who all amassed significant plant collections, as she unearths a lost chapter of botanical history. In so doing, she reminds todayand#8217;s gardeners and botanistsand#151;and any of us who stop to smell the rosesand#151;of the enormous debt owed to these obscure fathers of botany.
The first plant enthusiasts to reach China found a wonderful array of unfamiliar garden plants that had been nurtured by Chinese gardeners for thousands of years. This is the story of the struggles, the daring and the dogged perseverance of those early collectors. Where would we be without magnolias, camellias, chrysanthemums, tree peonies, repeat-flowering roses, viburnums and so many more? Jane Kilpatrick writes with knowledge and affection of the amateur pioneers and the plants they introduced to an audience that had not realized the flowers they had seen on wallpapers, silks and ceramics could be real.
The first to come upon the bounty of Chinese flowers were Catholic missionary priests who were also remarkable botanists. They spent hours collecting in their districts, and sending dry specimens back to European botanists. Many of the plants they discovered carry their names, but few know of the David behind Davidia involucrata, or the Hugonis of Rosa hugonis. The chapters in this work focus primarily on the lives of four great French missionary botanistsand#151;Pere Armand David, Pere Jean Marie Delavay, Pere Guilaume Farges, and Pere Jean Andre Soulieand#151;and also a group of other French priests and Franciscan missionaries who collected, in addition to one German pastor, the only Protestant missionary to make significant plant collections. Pere David is among the best known, having discovered the Giant Panda, but the others have disappeared into the thick of history. This book will help ensure that todayand#8217;s gardeners and botanists appreciate the debt owed to this obscure group, drawing on their journals, drawings, and other historical documents.
Celebrates the skilled gardeners of Imperial China through new research that opens a new chapter in the story of our garden plants.
About the Author
Jane Kilpatrick is an Oxford-educated freelance historian and garden writer who is based in the UK. She is the author of Gifts from the Gardens of China: The Introduction of Traditional Chinese Garden Plants to Britain 1698-1862.
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