In Which I Am So Not Sneaky In Gift Buying

Potted History: The Story of Plants in the Home - Catherine Horwood

So my mother's birthday is in a few months and I've actually managed to buy her books ahead of time that I saved on a wish list months ago. (This never happens. I have no idea how I suddenly became organized, but I'm pretty sure it will pass.) So now I have to not let her see this book for a few months.


...And of course I'm going to end up reading it. I tried pretending I wasn't, but that's only lasted a day. However the tricky bit will be reading it and not getting surprised by mom coming around a corner to see what I'm up to. Luckily it's fairly short (200 pgs), lots of nice color photos. Seems somewhat coffee table-bookish, but the author has a background in history, so I'm interested to see how she approaches the subject. Ahem, while pretending that I'm just checking to see if mom will enjoy it, of course. Actually this is never a book I'd have picked up for myself - I'm really good at neglecting-to-death most plants that I've been given.


From the book jacket:


There are plenty of books on how to look after houseplants but no one has shown us how and when and why these plants came to be found in our homes.


In this fascinating book we learn how potted plants are as subject to fashion as pieces of furniture. For the Victorians it was the aspidistra in the front parlour; for us it is the orchid in the designer loft. We find that Wedgewood created a market for special bulb pots and that some of Conran's early designs were for houseplant containers. Then there is the story of mignonette - a modest plant but once prized in every home for its intoxicating scent. Now that scent is lost to us forever.


Throughout the ages the choice of potted plant has been influenced as much by the layout of our houses, the levels of dirt and pollution and the equipment to hand as by the 'exoticks' that have become available. Now, when opportunities are so great, we seem happy to treat houseplants as disposables. Perhaps a better understanding of the miracles that were once achieved will encourage greater effort and we will once again seek to enjoy Sir Hugh Platt's 1608 vision of a garden 'within doores,' a garden that is 'garnished with sweet hearbs and flowers.'


Catherin Harwood's novel combination of social history, plant history, and the history of interior design is intriguing. Her illustrations come from a variety of unusual sources since potted plants can be found in many unexpected corners.


Also interesting, about the image on the front of the book:


Pedlars, or "Botany Bens,' selling potted plants from the back of an ass-drawn cart, were a common sight on eighteenth-century city streets, occasionally even trading plants for old clothes. (Thomas Rowlandson, Cries of London, 1799.)