Geraniumby Kasia Boddy
?Reaktion's new 'Botanical' series is the first of its kind, integrating horticultural and botanical writing with a broader account of the cultural and social impact of plants. In that sense, the South African geranium (the enduring, if confusing, common name for the genus Pelargonium) is perhaps the perfect plant to inaugurate the series. The story of the geranium's… See more details below
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?Reaktion's new 'Botanical' series is the first of its kind, integrating horticultural and botanical writing with a broader account of the cultural and social impact of plants. In that sense, the South African geranium (the enduring, if confusing, common name for the genus Pelargonium) is perhaps the perfect plant to inaugurate the series. The story of the geranium's inexorable rise encompasses many other historical narratives: from plant hunting to commercial cultivation; from the role of plants in alternative medicine and the philanthropic imagination to changing styles in horticultural fashion.
Geraniums were first collected by seventeenth-century Dutch plant hunters on the sandy flats near present-day Cape Town, and before long wealthy collectors and enterprising nurserymen were competing for this latest rarity to grace their hothouses. But the geranium was not destined to be a fashionable exotic for long: scarlet hybrids were soon to be found on every cottage windowsill and in every park bedding display, and the horticultural backlash began. Today geraniums can be found throughout the world, their widespread use in food and perfume manufacture as well as floral display exemplifying the global industrialization of plant production.
In Geranium, Kasia Boddy details how the cheerful and amenable geranium remains a plant that many love and others love to hate, but above all a flower that is seldom ignored. Featuring numerous fine illustrations, Geranium explores the ever-changing image of the plant as portrayed in painting, literature, film and popular culture worldwide.
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“Handsomely designed and beautifully written volumes on subjects you might not think you’re interested in. . . . The best thing about [Geranium] and Oak . . . is the focus on cultural history.”
“Whether you’re a hard-core gardener or simply have a curiosity about plants, [these] two titles . . . are sure to command your attention. . . . Titles in the Botanical series combine accessible horticulture writing and a look at the plant’s cultural and social impact. The books are both scholarly and playful.”
“Boddy’s writing is witty, deft, and elegant, her scholarship lightly worn, her trawl through literature, painting, film, and historical archive, packed with sharp insight. This modest book, through the medium of an unassuming plant, places gardening where it should be: a fundamental part of social history at the heart of our social, cultural, and imaginary life.”
“Do I need to say, I ignored all my other jobs and read the book from cover to cover over the next 24 hours? . . . As an in-depth study of the areas of British and American culture touched by the common red geranium, there is nothing to compare to this book. . . . Well-written, entertaining and enlightening.”
“Drawing on an extraordinary variety of references the author leads us through the changing perceptions of geraniums from barometers of moral hygiene to symbols of suburban angst and emblems of sun and cheer with great learning, simply communicated. Their role in literature and art is expertly and engagingly revealed. The images are abundant and eclectic, ranging from commercial ephemera to fine art, and wonderfully capture the ebullience of their subject.”
“Kasia Boddy’s enchanting cultural history of the geranium traces our changing attitude to the flower. . . . [She] does a wonderful job of selecting the most delicious literary cuttings for her book on the lovable plant and its place in our culture.”
“Geranium has the charming, leggy habit of its subject, sprawling across everything from greenhouse design to novels. You’ve got to admire a book that leans on no less a garden lover than T. S. Elliot to make a case for the rise and fall of the geranium. . . . Part of an attractive, lavishly illustrated new series, perfect for house gifts if you’re visiting someone who’ll welcome you with clean towels and a trowel.”
“If you are interested in sociology, art, history and literature, this book will be a joy for you to read. . . . The book is well written, entertaining and enlightening. . . . A fine and distinctive addition to the literature and history of the geranium. . . . Geranium should be enjoyed by all garden and geranium enthusiasts—pelargonistes—as well as social historians and botanists who want to understand these plants and their historical context and contributions. This book is highly recommended.”
“Boddy describes the uses of some 280 species, originally sought as symbols of wealth as well as for their medicinal properties. Abundant illustrations throughout this book bring into play the uses of geranium in gardening, art, advertising, and even movies. This book is quite fascinating, providing a detailed and unusual description of a very popular plant.”
“Monographs can be dull and technical affairs, but the new Botanical series from Reaktion is something else. This book by a Cambridge don is a clever, lively and literary account of the social history of geraniums—more properly Pelargonium. It is a fascinating study that takes the reader from the flower’s African origins to our modern bedding plant, the ‘cherishable common’ without which no summer is complete. . . . There is something for everyone here and the illustrations are as scholarly and entertaining as the text. Readers who are looking for a ‘how to grow it’ manual may be disappointed, but those in search of a beautifully produced book with plenty of learning worn lightly should be delighted by Geranium.”
“Boddy skillfully traces the humble houseplant’s rise from its native southern Africa to every windowsill in South London, and beyond. . . . In subtle ways, their their presence continues to inform our notions of gender, class, and race. (In Chicago’s summer of 1964, a geranium in a white person’s windowsill signified that they opposed racism.) This is what’s extraordinary about Boddy’s short book: she convincingly argues for pelagonium’s influence on the shape of Western culture.”
“[Boddy] skillfully weaves together references about geraniums from Darwin, Dickens, and other authors to show how their roles changed from rare exotics to common, well-known garden and house plants, and discusses the new technologies . . . that made the development of new cultivators possible. The book is richly illustrated throughout with over 100 spectacular images of geraniums in works of art, herbarium specimens, and photographs.”
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