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Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens

By Margaret Goldik

A review of Recreating Eden: A Natural History Of Botanical Gardens by Mary Soderstrom

Published on April 1, 2001

Recreating Eden: A Natural History Of Botanical Gardens
Mary Soderstrom

Véhicule Press
$24.95
240pp
1-55065-151-X

Mary Soderstrom’s lively tour of nine botanical gardens puts each into an historical and philosophical context. She has picked three representatives of the oldest gardens, three from the 19th century, and three from the 20th. The result gives an overview of some of history’s fascinating byways and characters, and an exploration of how societies have perceived God’s role in the natural world. The thumbnail sketches of the botanists and explorers are rendered with Soderstrom’s usual clean prose. A large mass of material is presented, but each chapter is broken down into titled sub-divisions which help make the information accessible.

Interviews with the directors of some of the gardens give an insight into the obstacles that exist both for gardens and for the planet as a whole. Some of the news is alarming: in a project to save seeds as genetic material for the future, there are species of plants from which seeds cannot be taken because there are not enough plants left. Soderstrom never downplays such environmental perils, and throughout this book there is a sense of gratitude that the custodians of the gardens take their stewardship seriously.

The photographs, many taken by the author, are beautiful, and the small botanical-themed woodcuts sprinkled throughout the book add an old-fashioned charm.

Recreating Eden can be used as a guidebook – it has information about admission fees, shady corners to rest, even about which food from Singapore’s street vendors is safe to eat – but it is much more. This is a great summer read for armchair travellers, history buffs, and gardeners. M.G. mRb

Margaret Goldik is a former editor of the Montreal Review of Books.

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