Elizabeth in the Garden

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am

Elizabeth in the Garden
by Trea Martyn
Faber and Faber HK$142

Reading this will make you want to see the playgrounds described. Sadly, Elizabethan gardens are now 'only ruins and reconstructions', writes Trea Martyn, in her volume about the 'spectacular' design of these wonderlands. The thrust of the book is the competition for the queen's favour between two of her courtiers, Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Sir William Cecil, her chief political adviser. While others may try to win a woman's heart with flowers, these men went further: knowing how much Elizabeth I loved walking through gardens for exercise, they embarked on a quest to woo and wow her by creating gardens with exotic plants, mazes, canals, statuary and fountains. Dudley's landscape at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, and Cecil's at Theobalds Palace in Hertfordshire were, Martyn writes, 'masterpieces of Renaissance design' that had Elizabeth extending her visits to weeks at a time. The book should appeal to historians and gardeners, who will surely find the planting methods and 16th-century plant lists fascinating. Martyn has dug deep in her research and deserves bouquets for her efforts.