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: 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 traveling 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.
One of the most wickedly enjoyable gardening books of this season is Nicola Shulman’s brief, scintillating portrait of another imperfect genius, Reginald Farrer, in A Rage for Rock Gardening.
—The New York Times
All gardeners should read this book.
[The] reader will blink, first with astonishment, then with pleasure at every detail. Shulman has produced an elegant mini-masterpiece.
A wonderfully concise and shrewd account of an interestingly ambivalent figure & a vivid picture of the world of early 20th century plant-collecting.
As good as biography gets: pithy, funny, touching, never less than captivating.
—Cressida Connolly, Vogue
Written with an eye for foible and the telling detail, this is a magnificent little book, as perfectly suited to the student of human nature as it is to fans gardening and exotic travel.
—Katherine Powers, The Boston Globe