A Rage for Rock Gardening – Nicola Shulman

A Rage for Rock Gardening - Nicola Shulman
A Rage for Rock Gardening – Nicola Shulman

A slim tome about a short-lived Edwardian plant collector with a passion for alpines that took him to the eastern Himalayas and north Burma. Reginald Farrer doesn’t sound like a particularly pleasant chap. “Of his time”.

The book was on The Guardian’s Top 10 books about the Himalayas. I’ve been working my way through the ones I bought last year, including The High Road to China by Kate Teltscher and  by Jan Morris’s wonderful Coronation Everest. For me, the Himalayan connection in A Rage for Rock Gardening is somewhat tenuous, not helped by the fact that I’ve not been to Gansu province in northwest China which is where Farrer did his mountainous plant hunting, presumably down in what is now Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

I would recommend the book to fans of garden history though as it covers the transition from gardens being formal to family, and Farrer and his contemporaries introduced many familiar flowering plants we know today including varieties of Viburnum, Magnolia and Peony, as well as the gorgeous Gentians that I know and love from my many treks in Nepal.

The writing style read “very posh” to me, as did the use of Mrs, Mr etc in the acknowledgements. And lo, when you look up Nicola Shulman, you realise why.

Publisher page: A Rage for Rock Gardening: The Story of Reginald Farrer, Gardener, Writer, and Plant Collector – Nicola Shulman

When Men And Mountains Meet – John Keay

When Men And Mountains Meet - John Keay
When Men And Mountains Meet – John Keay

The subtitle says it all “Exploration of the Western Himalayas, 1820-1875”.

Slow to start, the later chapters – from Gardiner onwards – were a speedier read.

Lots of looking at the handy maps at the start of the book, and cross referencing with my Hindu Kush Adventure, Central Asia Overland, Himalayan Journey from Lhasa to Kashgar and Autumn in Ladakh trips.

Part of what makes this a fascinating period of history is that, as John Keay concludes, none of these explorations would feasible today given the borders and accompanying tensions between India, Pakistan and China. I’d love to be able to trek from Leh to Yarkand…..

AbeBooks page: When Men And Mountains Meet – John Keay

Barrow’s Boys – Fergus Fleming

Barrow's Boys - Fergus Fleming
Barrow’s Boys – Fergus Fleming

If you can ignore the very bloke-ish blurb on the covers and the fact that Fergus Fleming is Ian Fleming’s nephew, this is a thorough set of biographical snippets on an Arctic, Antarctic and Saharan explorer theme. After all, what is a desert but a hot dry version of the icebound wastes at the poles.

I still delight in the fact that one of the earlier and most astute explorers was William Scoresby. For a long time I’d assumed Philip Pullman had made up the name Lee Scoresby. Perhaps he did – although I doubt it – but I like the idea that aëronaut explorer Lee and and arctic explorer William share a surname and a sense of decency.

Back to the book – worth a read if you’re interested in 19th Century English Explorers.

Publisher page: Barrow’s Boys – Fergus Fleming

Magic & Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel

Magic & Mystery in Tibet - Alexandra David-Neel
Magic & Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel

I gave up on Alexandra David-Neel’s account of her exploration – philosophical and physical – of Tibetan Buddhism in the early 20th Century.

The writing style’s so dated it’s difficult to discern what’s accurate and what’s orientalist interpretation.

Abebooks page: Magic & Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel

Another Planet – Tracey Thorn

Another Planet - Tracey Thorn
Another Planet – Tracey Thorn

Growing up in Brookmans Park in the 70’s and 80’s, Tracey Thorn accumulated more music memories than I have, and definitely had a more ‘adventurous’ teenage experience than I did in suburban Solihull.

Scattered though out, and coming into focus at the end, are the relationships with her parents, and how you reevaluate them with hindsight and the benefit of your own experience.

Publisher page: Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia – Tracey Thorn