From the towering Burmese magnificum, with its three-foot-diameter trunk and its masses of sweet-smelling purple flowers, to the potted pink azalea, glowing like a burning bush on the backyard garden patio, Rhododendron is a genus of infinite variety and beauty.
There are 1,025 known species: it is a native of the snows of the Himalayas and the swamps of the Carolinas, the jungles of Borneo and the island inlets of Japan. It is also one of the oldest of plants – many believe the dove that returned to Noah’s ark was carrying a rhododendron sprig – although it has been known to western horticulture for only 300 years. The curious history of Westerners and rhododendrons is full of swashbuckling plant collectors and visionary gardeners, colonial violence and ecological destruction, stunning botanical successes and bitter business disappointments. And it is here related with consummate skill by Jane Brown, an English garden writer clearly besotted by these “glorious and scented strangers, with their mouth-watering candy colors, their cascades of way bells or iridescent globes proffered in ruffs of green leaves.”
From its origins fifty million years ago to its arrival in England in the early 1600s; from its export from America by John Bartram in the 1760s to its vigorous collection by Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in the 1870s; from the foundation of the British Rhododendron Society in 1915 to the genetically engineered hybridizations of the early 21st century: this is the sweeping and exciting botanical epic that Jane Brown provides in this remarkable book. She achieves exactly what she sets out to do – “to construct a history of the genus Rhododendron that pays tribute to the mystery and majesty of these plants” – and does so with a scholar’s thoroughness and the anecdotal skill of an enthralling entertainer.
Painstakingly, she tracks the rhododendron through history, myth, art, literature.
—Dana Goodyear, New York Times Book Review
Brown’s entertaining homage to the majestic rhododendron provides a voluminous exploration of the development and significance of this lusciously romantic and elegantly exotic garden gem.
This well-researched romp through the horticultural history of a widely grown ornamental plant is highly recommended for all libraries and for general readers and specialists alike.
—Brian Lym, Library Journal
A quick dash through Jane Brown’s chatty book will make you feel like royalty.
—Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History Magazine