And How They Shaped Our World
(London, Atlantic Books, hb 2013, pb 2014; New York, Overlook Press, 2014)
In this fascinating excursion into the world of flowers, horticultural historian Jennifer Potter turns her forensic attention to seven flowers that have inflamed hearts and minds in cultures around the world. The lotus, lily, sunflower, opium poppy, rose, tulip and orchid: each has shaped our world in a different way, and each has a story to tell that will take you by surprise.
Accepting nothing on trust, Potter tracks her flowers across the globe, alert to unexpected cross-currents. Her questions are simple and direct: where and when did the flowers originate? What power or influence have they exerted over the affairs of man, and how did they acquire it? What show have they made in gardens? How and why have their powers transmuted into art?
In a narrative that reads like a detective story, she reveals some astonishing truths: how Confucius saw virtue and modesty in his native orchids while the ancient Greeks saw only sex in theirs; how the opium poppy travelled eastwards from its Mediterranean birthplace, sparking an illicit opium trade that would later return to haunt the West; and how tulip fever would flare in the flower’s Turkish homeland, a century after the Dutch outbreak of this deadly disease.
Here are the flowers of life and death; of purity and passion; of greed, envy and virtue; of hope and consolation; of the beauty that drives men wild. All seven demonstrate the enduring ability of flowers to speak metaphorically – if we could only decode what they have to say.
‘This literary delight will surely become compulsory reading for flower enthusiasts everywhere.’
‘… the exploration of less-visited corners of garden history produces new insights in every paragraph.’
‘… endlessly beguiling … Potter’s range of reference is huge.’