A RAGE FOR ROCK GARDENING: The Story of Reginald Farrer: Gardener, Writer & Plant Collector

Nicola Shulman, Author
Nicola Shulman, Author . David R. Godine $20 (128p) ISBN 978-1-56792-249-3
Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Ebook - 98 pages - 978-1-907595-99-8
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When it was published in the U.K. in 2002, this slim volume earned considerable praise from both garden writers and literary critics. That's fitting, because while Farrer (1880– 1920) virtually invented rock gardening as it is now practiced and revolutionized garden writing, his ambition was to be a "literary figure." His novels ranged from "entirely mortal" (The House of Shadows ) to "dreadful" (Through the Ivory Gate ), but represented what he thought of as his higher calling. Journalist Schulman's biography puts Farrer's highly successful horticultural activities in the context of his frustrated grander aspirations. It is a balanced portrait of a brilliant but "touchy, reproachful, extremely demanding, painfully solipsistic" man, told succinctly and tastefully. Farrer's relationship with his rigidly Christian parents was poor and became abysmal when he converted to Buddhism. Letters to his Oxford classmate Aubrey Herbert strongly suggest a homosexual orientation. Schulman presents this information simply and directly; it's relevant but not central to the story. What is central is Farrer's talent for observing, growing, describing, cataloguing and discovering alpine plants. He literally traveled to the ends of the earth to find new ones, braving hardship and danger on expeditions to China, Tibet and, finally, Burma, where he died. With this brief work, Schulman reveals a brilliant, charming and idiosyncratic character. Illus. (Oct.)

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