Book Bag

This article originally appeared in the Book Bag section of the November 30, 2011 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Staff Writer

Flora's Empire: British Gardens in India

By Eugenia W. Herbert

University of Pennsylvania Press

Eugenia W. Herbert, a professor emeritus of history at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, writes that the British have long had the reputation of being particularly passionate about plants—a "nation of gardeners," as the saying goes—and that their former world empire gave them the opportunity to bring myriad exotic plants to the home country.

But the British also planted extensive gardens in their overseas possessions to try and replicate "home" as much as possible. In Flora's Empire, Herbert notes that India to British eyes was an "untamed land" that needed the visible stamp of civilization that gardens could convey—and that gardens, just like architecture and English law, were a manifestation of imperialism.

Flora's Empire includes photos, period illustrations and personal accounts of how the British brought cowslips, hollyhocks and other species to India, leaving a legacy that has endured even since India won independence in 1947.