A Natural History of English Gardening 1650–1800 Mark Laird

Publication date:
28 May 2015
Paul Mellon Centre BA
440 pages: 292 x 260mm
300 color + 100 b-w illus.

A beautifully illustrated exploration of the quest for order within the garden, and within the natural world

Inspired by the pioneering naturalist Gilbert White, who viewed natural history as the common study of cultural and natural communities, Mark Laird unearths forgotten historical data to reveal the complex visual cultures of early modern gardening. Ranging from climate studies to the study of a butterfly’s life cycle, this original and fascinating book examines the scientific quest for order in nature as an offshoot of ordering the garden and field. Laird follows a broad series of chronological events—from the Little Ice Age winter of 1683 to the drought summer of the volcanic 1783—to probe the nature of gardening and husbandry, the role of amateurs in scientific disciplines, and the contribution of women as gardener-naturalists. Illustrated by a stunning wealth of visual and literary materials—paintings, engravings, poetry, essays, and letters, as well as prosaic household accounts and nursery bills—Laird fundamentally transforms our understanding of the English landscape garden as a powerful cultural expression.

More about this title

For a look inside Mark Laird's A Natural History of English Gardening visit the YaleBooks blog.

Mark Laird is a historic landscape consultant and garden conservator and teaches landscape history at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Previous books include The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720–1800 and Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (Yale).

“With humor, wit and compassion, Mark Laird presents human-biological life in and around the garden: the charm of natural creatures, the heartbreak of weather, the thrill of the bloom. His manuscript is a monumental achievement in its command of historical data. He has unleashed archival material from diverse sources never brought to bear on the complex world of eighteenth-century gardens and landscapes.”—Therese O’Malley, associate dean, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art

Winner of the 2013 David R. Coffin Publication Grant, given by the Foundation for Landscape Studies.

‘Not only is it visually gorgeous – a rich cabinet of curiosities with watercolours of magnolias in voluptuous flower, intricate engravings of butterflies, the imperious head of an American flamingo – but is also meticulously illustrates Mark Laird’s scholarship… His text is as grandly miscellaneous as nature itself and he lightens erudition with wit.’—Kate Kellaway, the Observer.

“Filled with stunning visuals, from watercolors of wildflowers to the narcissus and thistles stitched on a satin petticoat worn to the Prince of Wales’s ball in 1741.”—Mieke Ten Have, Vogue

‘Mark Laird, the great landscape historian, gives a superb narrative about the plants, events, people and studies that form the backdrop of English gardening, from John Evelyn to Gilbert White. Exquisite contemporary illustrations support his prose.’—Jane Owen, Financial Times.

“Gorgeous . . . the absorbing illustrations support an unexpectedly engrossing text. Laird divertingly explores the dramatic lives of the great and often pioneering gardeners of the day . . . Filled with inspiration. . . . [and] the kind of information that will blossom in your mind as you deadhead or weed, linking your own speck of the planet to the long ago and the far away.”—Mitchell Owens, Architectural Digest

“Sumptuous . . . highly accessible . . . Much more than a natural history, this book is a magnificent horticultural opus.”—Eryn Carlson, Boston Globe

‘Laird’s mammoth book is magnificent in its own terms, written with wry elegance and a warm heart, its scholarship never overwhelming the telling detail.’—Richard Mabey, New Statesman.

‘Mark Laird’s sumptuous book, beautifully illustrated and produced… is a trove of scholarship, packed with new research’—Jenny Uglow, TLS.

“[A] magnum opus . . . carefully crafted and well-researched, replete with extensive full color illustrations, plans, paintings, journal entries, correspondence, and notations . . . An important book that provides new insights into the discipline of garden history.”—Patrice Todisco, Landscape Notes

Finalist for the 2015 George Wittenborn Book Award, given by the Art Libraries Society of North America.

Winner of the 2015 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize sponsored by the Foundation for Landscape Studies.

“Laird delves into areas of English garden history that have never before been so clearly delineated. . . . Hundreds of beautiful color illustrations help illuminate the text.”—Adam Levine, Better Homes and Gardens Country Gardens

“Sumptuous . . . fascinating . . . this book belongs on the shelf of any serious gardener.”—Rita M. Hassert, American Gardener

“A crossover treasure for garden lovers and botany fans . . . gorgeous . . . original and fascinating . . . Illustrated by a stunning wealth of visual and literary materials, paintings, engravings, poetry, essays, and letters . . . a must for lovers of English gardens.”—Sara Evans, Art of the Times

“Revealing . . . Laird examines in fascinating detail the broadly creative environment of the amateur gardener in the 18th century.”—Michael McClelland, Canadian Architect

“Find food for thought in A Natural History of English Gardening . . . Through period literature, artwork, and scientific data, author Mark Laird explores the cultural heritage shaped by early efforts to bring order and understanding to botanical majesty.”—Victoria magazine

“A great book filled with information on how the quintessential 'English garden' came to be.”—Will Cooper, Chief Creative Officer at Ash NYC, quoted in Architectural Digest