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.
Underground places and spaces, people and history.
As I said in my weeknotes, I’d found I was reluctant to read Robert Macfarlane’s latest, taking it with me on holiday more out of a sense of “I ought to” rather than “I want to”. I’m not sure what was putting me off – perhaps the title and the theme, or the size, but as ever with Robert Macfarlane’s writing it drew me in from page 1.
One of those books I set aside… Partly because of the lure of Lethal White, and partly because I found the structure a bit of a slog: The Secret Life of Trees reads a bit like a list of trees padded out with taxonomic and evolutionary background. I craved some social or history detail.
I feel I ought to pick it up again at some point, seeing as I’d just got to Order Fagales aka Oaks, Beeches, Birches Hazelnuts and Walnuts, which covers most of the trees here at Forty Acres.