Rebecca Preston
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‘The scenery of the torrid zone’
Imagined travels and the culture of exotics in nineteenth-century British gardens
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Horticulture, like natural history, developed in an ad hoc fashion, seeking, collecting, cataloguing and improving specimens for British consumption. Combining a civilising bent with absolute faith in the idea of technological progress, the culture of exotics as explained in the gardening press was intent on adapting alien stock to British conditions. The search for plants for British gardens was not confined to the British empire proper, although formal imperialism certainly facilitated their extraction and transplantation. The mainstay of British and Continental European botanical imperialism in the nineteenth century was the Americas. In the last third of the nineteenth century it became common for horticultural writers to praise British flora over exotic introductions. Cultivating exotics in British gardens was a way of familiarising unknown tropical landscapes which, for most people, would remain otherwise distant, hazy places palpable only through travellers' representations.

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