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Cultivating Wisdom -There's More to Gardening Than Growing Plants; a book review for

Gardening - Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom, edited by Dan O’Brien, Wiley-Blackwell  

Here is a gardening book unlike any other. If someone had told me that, with an overview of the philosophies that propelled civilization, we might arrive at a better understanding of the role that gardens have played in our history, I wouldn’t have believed it. And yet, here it is - a collection of essays to reminder us that there is more to gardening than just growing plants.

Wiley-Blackwell is the scholarly division of John Wiley and Sons. Under the guidance of editor, Fritz Allhof, Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Western Michigan University, the publisher has produced a series of books titled Philosophy for Everyone. Each volume in that series undertakes an overview of different topics essential to contemporary civilization. Subjects, ranging from motherhood to cycling and from Christmas to porn, are examined from the perspective of the erudite scholar.

Dan O’Brian, Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University, is the editor responsible for this volume on gardening. He targets not only the green-thumb thinker but any reader who is fascinated by the historical evolution of civilization. In this multi-faceted collection of essays, all related to gardens and gardening, the contributing writers draw upon their knowledge and strengths in the disciplines of history, theology, archival studies, music theory, art history, anthropology and the classics.

A five-part book, it begins with a section titled The Good Life. This thematic umbrella allows Isis Brooks to discuss the rewards of gardening on a physical and philosophical level. Meghan T. Ray adds an article about the ethics of gardening in Ancient Greece and Rome, Mathew Hall questions the exclusion of plants from gardening ethics, and Helene Gammack examines historical trends in agricultural self-sufficiency.

Part Two, Flower Power, focuses on the strength of the garden as a cultural and a political statement. Jo Day considers the ancient gardens of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Crete and examines their function as symbols of political and spiritual power. Michael Moss scans the history of the British Empire from the vantage point of vegetable consumption, Laura Aurrichio writes about Lafayette’s garden in France, influenced both by British gardening methods and plants from America and Elizabeth A. Scott argues that allotment gardens helped stimulate the political activism of lower- income citizens in the UK.

In Part Three, The Flower Show, writers examine the subject of the garden-as-spectacle. Eric MacDonald discusses gardening and gardens as a source of enchantment while Ismay Barwell and John Powell take the reader on an intellectual journey. They submit that while gardening is an artistic expression similar to other plastic arts, it differs from them in one substantial way. Gardening presents the passage of time visually, in the same way that music does so audibly. Finally, Gary Shapiro surveys the philosophy that inspired the design and function of Central Park, in New York City.

The metaphysical garden or, The Cosmic Garden, is the focus of Part Four. Here, Robert Neuman explains how the gardens at Versailles conveyed an illusion of royal grandeur, Mara Miller examines a garden’s ability to structure time, and Dan O’Brian, following the ideas of philosopher David Hume, argues that, by functioning as a refuge away from deep thought and reflection, a garden can play a therapeutic role.

In the final section, The Philosophers’ Gardens, Susan Toby Evans writes about the gardens of the Aztec-Philosopher Kings, Gordon Campbell surveys the gardens of Epicurus and the golden age associated with his writings, and Anne Cotton analyzes Plato’s drama, Phaedrus, in which Socrates compares philosophical development to the growth of plants in the garden.

Reading this book has been an experience so enchanting, that I am eager to revisit each of the essays, to re submerge myself in their expertise. If one is a gardener, this is a publication reserved for cold winter nights or long plane rides; for the non-gardener, it is an engaging private symposium. One might also call it “variations on a theme of gardening”, enriched by diverse intellectual disciplines and unexpected perspectives of t´╗┐he contributing authors.