The Flower of Empire

The Flower of Empire

An Amazonian Water Lily, the Quest to Make It Bloom, and the World It Created

Book - 2013
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In 1837, while charting the Amazonian country of Guiana for Great Britain, German naturalist Robert Schomburgk discovered an astounding "vegetable wonder" - a huge water lily whose leaves were five or six feet across and whose flowers were dazzlingly white. In England, a horticultural nationwith a mania for gardens and flowers, news of the discovery sparked a race to bring a live specimen back, and to bring it to bloom. In this extraordinary plant, named Victoria regia for the newly crowned queen, the flower-obsessed British had found their beau ideal. In The Flower of Empire, Tatiana Holway tells the story of this magnificent lily, revealing how it touched nearly every aspect of Victorian life, art, and culture. Holway's colorful narrative captures the sensation stirred by Victoria regia in England, particularly the intense race among prominentBritons to be the first to coax the flower to bloom. We meet the great botanists of the age, from the legendary Sir Joseph Banks, to Sir William Jackson Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to the extravagant flower collector the Duke of Devonshire. Perhaps most important was theDuke's remarkable gardener, Joseph Paxton, who rose from garden boy to knight, and whose design of a series of ever-more astonishing glass-houses - one, the Big Stove, had a footprint the size of Grand Central Station - culminated in his design of the architectural wonder of the age, the CrystalPalace. Fittingly, Paxton based his design on a glass-house he had recently built to house Victoria regia. Indeed, the natural ribbing of the lily's leaf inspired the pattern of girders supporting the massive iron-and-glass building. From alligator-laden jungle ponds to the heights of Victorian society, The Flower of Empire unfolds the marvelous odyssey of this wonder of nature in a revealing work of cultural history.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, [2013]
ISBN: 9780195373899
Characteristics: xii, 306 pages, [16] pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm


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islandangler Dec 15, 2013

This book grew on me. It tends to waffle at first, and you get the idea that the author is padding her way through the topic. But for the botanist and gardener, it provides a detailed and vivid account of how some of the greatest names in 18-and 19th-century science made their contributions to horticulture, and where the money and support came from for some Britain's greatest gardens. Includes a rivetting account of Paxton's life and legacy, from boyhood to his masterpiece, the Crystal Palace. The writing style is a tad gratuitous in places, but Holman has done a fine job researching her material.

Jul 12, 2013

The author interweaves the stories of the botanists, intrepid explorers, and their wealthy aristocratic and industrialist sponsors who contributed to the boom in the horticulture of exotic plants, discovered in the blank spaces on the globe, in England in the early 19th century. The author is passionate about her subject almost to overwhelm the reader's capacity for hyperbole and to exceed the bounds for biographical inference. An interesting view of the changing role of the class structure in England in this period too.


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