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Elizabeth in the Garden | book review | Trea Martyn


A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Design


Book cover of Trea Martyn's "Elizabeth in the Garden"
Source: http://www.treamartyn.com/

Looking at all these pictures of modern gardens with their clipped hedges, monochromatic colour schemes and use of Cor-ten steel, I wonder if people using them actually have fun walking or lying about. How is any of the five senses (besides sight) satisfied if there are no flowers, no birds, no fruits, no fountains, no herbs? It would not appear that a "conceptual" garden offers a lot beyond the concept or theoretical abstraction itself, merely a physical framework for a particular design theory. A whole lot of mind games:





Can the garden above be called a "pleasure garden?" (No, it's not a rhetorical question!)



After reading Trea Martyn's Elizabeth in the Garden (London, Faber and Faber, 2008),  I discovered that the rich and powerful in mid 16th century Elizabethan England certainly used gardens as locations to put on games for pleasure, profit (political capital) and influence. Her (Martyn's) story 

...is a story of two lost gardens and the powerful men who created them in their battle for ascendancy. Queen Elizabeth was their audience and muse. Inspired by her love of gardens, her favourite of the time Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and her chief minister, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, competed for her favour by laying out innovative and extravagant pleasure gardens at their palaces for when she came to visit--which was very often. page 3


Now, let me get this out of the way. I'm not a student of Elizabethan history and know only about the Virgin Queen, the victory over the Spanish Armada, and Sir Francis Drake on a very cursory level (High school history classes lost in the mists of time.) More interesting to me was the conflict between Dudley--the younger of the two, dashing, impetuous-- and Cecil--older and more cunning and how their rivalry for Elizabeth's affections and favours were manifested in the building of their fantastic gardens. I use this adjective because fantasies were created and brought to life in the pleasure grounds for Elizabeth's delight. 

Their gardens represented power, influence, and unabashed symbols of their love for the Queen:
The pleasure grounds of Kenilworth and Theobalds were made--at enormous cost-- to be lived in by Elizabeth....Her love of gardens made gardeners of courtiers, statesmen and soldiers. She encouraged Dudley and Cecil to lead the way. In their lifelong rivalry and devotion to their queen, they created the most sensational gardens ever seen in England. The lost world of the Elizabethan garden holds an enduring fascination pp. 297-8

The Elizabethan garden was many gardens in one, composed of mazes, wild hunting grounds, terraces, herb gardens, knot gardens, outdoor theatres and pools. It drew much inspiration from the Italian Renaissance gardens of the day at Villa d'Este, Villa Lante and Villa Medici.

The gardens at Kenilworth and Theobalds, long ago destroyed by Elizabeth's successors, were magical places where Elizabeth would enjoy feasts pageants, plays, fireworks, and mock-sea battles (among other activities) held in her honour. They were also places of intrigue, mystery and of assassination attempts!

Elizabeth was, apparently, also a lover of horticulture and at Theobalds, we are introduced to the famous "herbalist" John Gerard. He was also a physician, pharamacist, and horticulturist to royalty. I learned that certain highly-scented flowers were symbols of love and devotion like the rose and the "gillyflower" or carnation and planted expressly so that Elizabeth could appreciate their scents. Herbs like hyssop, lavender and rosemary were grown for culinary and, ahem, personal hygiene applications. The growing of lemon and orange trees was reserved for royalty and was unknown and out of reach to the public given their rarity.

Martyn weaves history and horticulture together with Elizabeth connecting everything and everyone together. In many ways, modern gardens commissioned by the wealthy are still outward expressions of power and status and that hasn't changed since the Egyptians. But along with the power, the Elizabethans knew how to have a good time!

Anyone else interested in reading about history and horticulture in the same book? Can you suggest some good titles?


Elizabeth in the Garden:
A book review of Trea Martyn's "Elizabeth in the Garden" by Paul Jung, owner of a Toronto organic and ecological gardening services company.
Published by: Faber And Faber Ltd.
Date published: 07/28/2008
Edition: New edition
ISBN: 978-0571217014
Available in Paperback


Garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog by Paul Jung
Martyn weaves history and horticulture together with Elizabeth connecting everything and everyone together. In many ways, modern gardens commissioned by the wealthy are still outward expressions of power and status and that hasn't changed since the Egyptians. But along with the power, the Elizabethans knew how to have a good time!
Elizabeth in the Garden
Date published: 05/07/2009
4 / 5 stars










By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog"
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