Book Review Heading


The Brightest Jewel
A History of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin

By E. Charles Nelson and Eileen McCracken
Original watercolours by Wendy Walsh
Published by Boethius Press, Kilkenny, Ireland, 1987

Reviewed by Winsome Shepherd

This 268 page, well produced book, is a welcome addition to the histories of Botanic Gardens now considered a sub-discipline of Garden History. Charles Nelson needs no introduction to members of the R.N.Z.I.H. for two articles of his were published in the Annual Journal No. 16 1989. Moreover this same Journal features a section entitled "Focus On Botanic Gardens". The story of the Glasnevin Garden links very well with this theme and draws attention to the role Botanic Gardens might be expected to play in the 21st century and particularly our N.Z. botanic gardens.

The two articles of Dr. Charles Nelson demonstrated a high quality of scholarship. The Brightest jewel which he has co-authored with Eileen McCracken reaches a similar high standard. The first two chapters — "The origin of Botanical Gardens" and "The early history of Irish Botany and the first botanical Gardens" are as well written and researched as any that I have read on these subjects.

Development of the Dublin National Gardens emphasises the difference between European Botanic Gardens and those which developed in the British colonies in the 19th century. The science of Botany and the skill of the gardener go hand in hand but in Glasnevin this culminates in the Garden becoming the home for Ireland's National Herbarium which houses a most important assemblage of native flowering plants, gymnosperms, and cryptograms, as well as extensive collections of specimens from Great Britain and all round the world. The Australian Gardens at Melbourne and Sydney, like Glasnevin, hold national collections but New Zealand botanic gardens did not follow the same path. In Glasnevin the entire running of the garden reflects this scientific background and expertise of their staff but even so the skill of the gardener is not forgotten and the public can still admire colourful bedding displays and well presented plant collections. Glasnevin functions both as a research centre and a teaching garden and therein lies the difference with our N.Z. Gardens.

As the authors tell the story of Glasnevin, emphasis is directed to the successful 19th century introduction of plants to cultivation. From our point of view it is satisfactory to know that some plants and seeds sent by N.Z. collector, Henry Travers, were successful and that some still survive today at Glasnevin. Under Director David Moore there was an association with the Sydney Botanic Garden where David's brother Charles Moore was its Director. This was an important link in the early distribution of plants as both men strove to improve the collections in their respective gardens.

Illustrations for the book have reproduced well except for some of the early documents. This is unfortunate for their impact and meaning is lost on the reader. Apart from this criticism The Brightest Jewel is thoroughly recommended, placing on record the importance of this Irish Botanic Garden as a world centre for botanical research, teaching and horticulture. The authors have done an excellent job in bringing this garden to our attention.

Horticulture in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1990 1(2): 27

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