Flora's Empire: British Gardens in India
Like their penchant for clubs, cricket, and hunting, the planting of English gardens by the British in India reflected an understandable need on the part of expatriates to replicate home as much as possible in an alien environment. In Flora's Empire, Eugenia W. Herbert argues that more than simple nostalgia or homesickness lay at the root of this "garden imperialism," however. Drawing on a wealth of period illustrations and personal accounts, many of them little known, she traces the significance of gardens in the long history of British relations with the subcontinent. To British eyes, she demonstrates, India was an untamed land that needed the visible stamp of civilization that gardens in their many guises could convey.
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This is a very well-researched book, and quite well written indeed. The writing style is brisk and easy to read. It does not give a hint of deep erudition, which is good in that it makes the book approachable. I think that she was wise enough to confine herself to the British Gardens, with hints of information about the Mughal Gardens. Sadly our own literature does not seem to point in the direction of many gardens in the strictly Hindu tradition. I do think that we do need to be thankful to the Mughals for some of the great gardens that they created. These were works art, as the book clearly demonstrates. The British Gardens, while being really good, are the creations of individuals who had a passion for gardening. This is good in a way, because it made the gardens more democratic. The book is replete with hidden facts, and is a pleasure to read.