A wild and wonderful exploration of the history of the Rose Tree – or Rhododendron
From the giant, long-lived Rhododendron falconeri, with its peeling cinnamon bark on sculptured trunks to the delicate potted azalea on the garden patio, almost everyone has a rhododendron within reach of their daily lives. But who knows anything about this mysterious plant?
Two hundred years ago the rhododendron was dragged to Britain from the dizzying heights of its natural habitat in the Sino-Himalayas by avaricious British collectors. Some of the species mutated; others proved hardy and easy to hybridise. Today the rhododendron has made a greater impact on the English landscape than any other plant.
Jane Brown uncovers the rhododendron's story which reaches back hundreds, some say thousands, of years (the dove returning to Noah's ark was, apparently, carrying the leaf of a rhododendron). The Aztecs favoured it for their pleasure gardens (although the Jesuits believed they discovered it); the Chinese use it in medicines; mariners used it as ballast cargo; it has excited royal passions (Edward Prince of Wales surrounded himself with them at Virginia Water in the 1920s) and been the source of personal feuds (in the Rhododendron Society). After the First World War the government thought enough of the plant to fill Windsor Great Park with them in order to cheer up the nation.
The epitome of bad taste, the scourge of conservationists or a majestic and ancient beauty forced to exist out of its natural habitat? Jane Brown ultimately asks: What is the rhododendron for? Though all plants have an ultimate purpose to their existence, the rhododendron apparently has no obvious one.
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Praise for IN PURSUIT OF PARADISE:
‘A fresh and beautifully illustrated account of gardeners’ ideals and their realisations… Open it at any page and one is hooked’ Natasha Spender, Daily Mail
‘The most enchanting, erudite and thought-provoking book on the subject to be published for many years’ Amanda Craig, Independent on Sunday
‘Completely absorbing’ Peter Parker, Daily Telegraph
‘A series of idiosyncratic, delightfully informative and elegantly written essays…This year’s ideal Christmas present for the literate gardener’ Sir Roy Strong, Sunday Express
‘A genuinely important contribution, not just to understanding gardens of the past, but to how we might get the most pleasure from the gardens of the future’
Montagu Don, Observer
‘If you want to be impressively well-informed about why every self-respecting home must have a patio, or why delphiniums, gladioli and larkspur are distinctly passé, then latch on to this illuminating book’
Penelope Lively, Mail on Sunday
‘Be warned. This is a rich brew, not to be taken in one gulp. Gardening in this book encompasses science and history, philosophy and art, literature and the military, politics and sex… it is all tremendous fun’
Ruth Gorb, Guardian
Jane Brown is the author of Gardens of a Golden Afternoon, Eminent Gardens, a biography of Lutyens, and The Pursuit of Paradise: A Social History of Gardens and Gardening.
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