I received a very unique book for review a couple of months ago, Queen Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn. The author is a garden historian (which is one of my new dream jobs) and the book is an exploration of the great gardens of the Elizabethan era. Lest you think this is all about landscape design, the subtitle is "A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Gardens". As it turns out, the story of Elizabethan gardens is also about those who sought to impress Elizabeth and the two men who were closest to her - the love of her life Robert Dudley and William Cecil her chief political adviser - were the ones most determined to do so. The plot, as they say, thickens. Martyn isn't writing only about historic garden design (but man does she deliver on that score) but also all the machinations going on around the throne for Elizabeth's favor. You will never look at party planning again after you see what these men were willing to do to be on their queen's good side.
I first remember reading about Elizabeth and Dudley in Victoria Holt's My Enemy the Queen which is about Dudley's second wife (the woman he married after it became clear that Elizabeth, while loving him, was not going to marry anybody). I read every single Holt book when I was in junior high and loved them. And for everyone who thinks gothic romance is a waste of time, well, when I picked up this strong nonfiction title on Elizabeth, I completely knew what was going on with all the major players because of the Holt I read 25+ (cringe) years ago. Pretty cool, eh?
I'm going to write a thorough review of Queen Elizabeth in the Garden, probably with another garden title I'm reading, but I wanted to recommend it quickly now as a scholarly title that manages to be entertaining, just gossipy enough and yet enormously informative on a topic that most of us know very little. I wish Martyn would write a long essay on researching it - she does have a wonderful final chapter in the book about places she visited and what she learned but honestly, it just made me want to know more! The work she has done here is so impressive - can you imagine deciding to write about gardens that have not existed for hundreds of years? Her dedication is just amazing. I really wanted to know more about her sitting in those libraries and going over old plans and talking to librarians. Of course that should tell you how compelling this book is - Trea Martyn makes you want to learn more about Elizabeth and Dudley and what might have been said (or done) and how he and Cecil created those magical places. The most bittersweet part of the book is that we will never know how beautiful the gardens were; there are no Elizabethan gardens left in England. Martyn went to Italy (where gardens from that era survive) so she could an idea of what they were like.
Is it crazy that I get kinda sad just thinking about that?
[Post pic of a garden I think is just amazing - Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC.]