William Robinson 1838-1935. Father of the English Flower Garden

John Dixon Hunt reviews a work on an outstanding botanist and horticulturalist.

John Hunt | Published in
  • William Robinson 1838-1935. Father of the English Flower Garden
    Mea Allan. 255 pp. and 37 illustrations and other line drawings. (Faber and Faber, 1982)
William Robinson's is a fascinating life. A largely self-made man, he progressed from carrying water buckets on an Irish country estate to the National Botanical Garden, Dublin, and thence to the Royal Botanic Society's garden in Regent's Park. Here a fine blend of hard work, ambition and extensive research trips on behalf of the Society to gardens throughout England and Scotland established him among the noteworthy young botanists and horticulturalists of his day. He resigned from Regent's Park in 1866 at the age of twenty-eight to devote himself thence forward to a career of journalism, books and travel.

He combined these three activities with vigour, reporting his travels in France and the Alps and his discoveries among nurseries, parks, private gardens and (above all) wild nature to The Gardeners' Chronicle and The Times. Out of these journalistic contributions came his early volumes, Cleanings from French Gardens (1868) and Alpine Flowers for English Gardens (1870). Then he was off to the United States in 1870 to meet more botanists, to explore the high Sierras, but also to track down his father who (Mea Allan supposes) supplied enough cash for him to found The Garden 'newspaper' a year later.

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