John Tradescant designs gardens for Sir Robert Cecil as James I takes the throne of England. Through these lofty connections, Tradescant is able to travel to faraway places to collect rare plants for cultivating on his master’s estate. After Cecil dies, Tradescant’s reputation as a botanist brings him to the attention of the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham is self-indulgent, immature, and the King’s favorite. Tradescant immediately falls under the duke’s spell and will do anything for him, much to his wife’s despair. She warns her husband of the duke’s depraved behavior, but Tradescant remains loyal, too loyal. Buckingham, through an attack on France, where Tradescant accompanies him, nearly brings England to financial ruin. In the midst of battle, the duke draws his gardener into a forbidden liaison. King James, then his son Charles I, spend lavishly on themselves while ignoring the growing discontent, the starvation, among subjects on the verge of civil war.
I found Tradescant extremely naïve about Buckingham’s flaws. The story is episodic in the beginning but picks up when Buckingham comes on the scene. Gregory includes details of this naturalist’s work with exotic plants and his innovative gardening techniques. An interesting, if not always involving, read.