Cover image for A rage for rock gardening : the story of Reginald Farrer gardener, writer & plant collector
A rage for rock gardening : the story of Reginald Farrer gardener, writer & plant collector
Shulman, Nicola.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : David R. Godine, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvi, 119 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 20 cm
General Note:
"Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2002 by Short Books, London."
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SB63.F318 S48 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A hundred years ago there was a pronounced change in the direction of British gardening. The garden was transformed from a plaything for the rich to a democratic exercise, a hobby for the millions. Few figures were more central to and prominent in this transition than eccentric Reginald Farrer, whose passion for alpines would put a rockery in the backyards of countless enthusiasts and whose adventures in Tibet and China collecting elusive and exotic specimens, including the wild tree peony, a new buddleaia, and even an entire new genus called Farreria, were the stuff of legends. But Farrer was a strange man, a tortured soul. Tormented by physical disabilities (he had a hare lip, a "pygmy body," and a cleft palate) he developed a personality to match: defensive, restless, yet productive and endlessly energetic. Although "born to endless night," within his realm of horticultural exploration and exploitation, he was a giant, parlaying his disadvantages into advantages, becoming one of the great plant hunters of his age, repeatedly travelling to Japan and Tibet to collect new species and, through the influence of his extraordinary series of books, changing forever the art and practice of Western gardening.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

There are men who, by virtue of their circumstances and personality, become perfectly suited for the mission that will become their life's work. So it was for Farrer, a physically disfigured, socially inept misfit who, at an early age, discovered a love of rock gardening and a passion for alpine plants. Although he would overcome his physical limitations, eventually venturing to uncharted regions of China and Tibet on plant-collecting expeditions, he longed to be a novelist. While success in that milieu eluded him, his literary flourishes found an outlet when he began writing lyrically about his gardens. Indeed, Farrer's almost anthropomorphic attitude toward his beloved alpines was expressed in such intimate and individual terms that Farrer is credited with ushering in the intensely personal and eminently readable style of garden writing that would forever change the nature of the craft. Portraying Farrer as a difficult and determined, influential and intrepid plant collector, gardener, and writer, Shulman's succinct and incisive biography brilliantly illuminates one of modern horticulture's founding fathers. --Carol Haggas Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved