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A history of the garden in fifty tools

Bill Laws
University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 

Cloth, 224 pp., $25.00.

Bill Laws presents a novel approach to the history of the garden in this charming book. He explores the use of 50 tools arranged according to various parts of the garden, although only a few are exclusive to those areas. Most of his choices are what we would consider ordinary tools, but others are a little surprising. Certainly Wellington boots, hats and gloves are often a necessity, but usually not thought of as “tools.” The same could be said of Latin and a radio, listed under “The Vegetable Garden”. However, in defense of Latin, Linnaeus' binomial system of plant classification has served as a common language for gardeners for over 200 years. Music as a means of harmony and peace has a long history in gardens, from the Romans' use of wind chimes to pacify the gods. Some thought music would benefit garden plants but Darwin disproved this by playing his bassoon to a mimosa, only to find that the sound did not affect the plant (p. 108). Laws provides detailed descriptions of all the tools, from the smallest trowels and pruners to the largest cultivators, with instructions on how to choose, use and properly maintain them. He also discusses accessories such as hoses, pots, sundials, scarecrows, and even how to encourage birds. Along with very practical information, he gives the reader fascinating and often humorous historical garden tales. - Joan Richards, volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden.