Reviews / Compte Rendus - Edwinna von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930

Reviews / Compte Rendus

Edwinna von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930

Alex Wilson
Nova Scotia Museum
Edwinna von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930 (Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd., 1984) 197 pp., ill. Cloth $29.95, ISBN 0-88902-983-0.

1 The success of this book depends largely upon the reader's expectation of it. Most garden histories deal with landscape design, plant material and the individuals involved in the creation of outstanding gardens. This work is more of a sociological document. That is not to say that these traditional subject areas have been overlooked in Rhetoric and Roses, but far more space is devoted to the various social movements dictating the nature of garden endeavours in Canada during the first three decades of this century.

2 In the introductory "Background" section, the motivation for gardening in the context of the various reform movements of the early twentieth century is explained. This unit also includes a good brief history of ornamental gardening in Canada from 1604 to the early 1900s (prior to the period dealt with in this work).

3 The book then continues with chapters on railway gardens, which were primarily a propaganda tool to promote the productivity of the west; school gardens, which the supporters believed would develop discipline and character in the country's youth; civic gardens, which were expected to raise the moral tone of urban dwellers; and home gardens, which were necessary to achieve social status for the owner. Much of the text in these chapters is devoted to the attitudes of the principal proponents of these garden movements and the reaction of the public to them.

4 The first three chapters grouped under the heading "The Supporters" provide overviews on the development of the Canadian nursery trade, horticultural publication in Canada and the major contributions of Canadian plant breeders. The development of each of these topics is somewhat superficial as any national treatment must be. However, it does provide a background for much needed, detailed regional works. The author herself laments the lack of information about Quebec.

5 The book concludes with an essay on the preservation of historic gardens in Canada, contributed by Susan Buggey of Parks Canada. This is an area of considerable contemporary concern and makes a most appropriate "Afterword."

6 The reproduction of the numerous black-and-white illustrations in the text is something of a disappointment. The originals appear to have been taken from a variety of printed sources and were probably lacking in quality themselves, but the poor contrast and the rather transparent paper has detracted from the impact of the work. The book design, on the other hand, is quite attractive with its wide margin for illustrations and captions. I must admit I took an immediate dislike to the main title thinking it to be rather "fluffy" for such a well-researched document. It is only now that I have read and digested the material that I can fully appreciate its meaning.

7 Edwinna von Baeyer's Rhetoric and Roses is obviously not the last word to be written on the history of Canadian gardening. It does deal with a rather brief but dynamic period of horticultural endeavours in our nation's history and looks at the subject from a specific (i.e., social context) point of view. It is a worthy contribution to the literature and will undoubtedly provide useful background for future studies.

Alex Wilson