A Natural History of English Gardening 1650–1800 Mark Laird

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

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).

"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

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

"[A] handsome and substantial volume, visually sumptuous and intriguingly diverse."—Charlotte Gere, Art Newspaper

"This is a mighty, lavishly illustrated and densely written tome. It’s packed with interesting morsels I enjoyed reading in bite-sized chunks . . ."—Veronica Peerless, English Garden

"The extent of Mr. Laird’s research and memory for learning is remarkable."—Charles Quest-Ritson, Country Life

". . . a spectacularly beautiful piece of book-making."—Charles Elliott, Literary Review

"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

"[A] vast, stunningly illustrated history of gardening in England."—Nature, 11th June

"This is a major new work, a substantial work of scholarship and a beautiful piece of publishing."—Good Book Guide

"Dazzling illustrations inform a detailed exploration of the link between nature and culture in 18th century gardening."—Jennifer Potter, Gardens Illustrated

"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

". . . the detail and breadth of its sources are breathtaking; the gorgeous trade card of a Turnham green nurseryman; John Evelyn’s sketch of the whale beached on the strand below his house at Deptford; the letters of botanical collector Peter Collinson to the Bishop of Carlisle about the summer drought of 1765 when 'all looks like the sunburnt fields of Asia.' This is an extraordinarily beautiful book."—Anna Pavord, World of Interiors

"This is a very thorough, well-researched exploration of the development of English gardening . . . A hefty tome that will appeal to passionate, thoughtful gardeners."—Georgette McCready, Bath Magazine

". . . a multitudinous book (in the best sense): it addresses new visitors to the natural garden, it speaks to those who have followed Laird’s progress from horticultural practices to birds and beasts."—John Dixon Hunt, Historic Garden

"With an interest in nature once again taking centre stage, the author sets us timely bench marks from an earlier age. Above all, the sheer beauty of the volume is a triumphant affirmation by the author and publisher of the value of printed books in a digital age."—Min Wood, The Garden

“[A] beautifully illustrated exploration [. . .] With paintings, engravings, poetry and letters, as well as household accounts and nursery bills, Laird transforms our understanding of the English landscape garden –Emma Clegg, Bath Magazine    

“[A] beautiful big book, a feast for the eyes...sumptuously illustrated with contemporary botanical art”—Katherine Swift, English Garden

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

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.

  Winner of the 2019 Elisabeth Blair MacDougall Book Award, sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians

"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