Queen Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry, and Spectacular Gardens

Written by Trea Martyn
Review by Kathryn Johnson

In this book (previously published in the UK under the title Elizabeth in the Garden) garden historian Trea Martyn concentrates on a relatively neglected aspect of Elizabeth I’s reign: her courtiers’ attempts to outdo each other in creating magnificent gardens.

I found this to be an informative and entertaining book, although I caught myself skimming when Martyn veered off her subject of gardening into Elizabethan politics, sometimes more than seemed necessary to put the competitors’ horticultural exertions in context. Martyn makes up for this, however, in her lovingly detailed descriptions of the grounds of Kenilworth Castle, where Robert Dudley strove to impress the queen, and of Theobalds Palace, where his rival William Cecil concentrated his efforts. Martyn also tells us about the entertainments that took place on these grounds, the gardeners who made all of this splendor possible, and about what was planted in these gardens: novelists who live in dread of committing agricultural bloopers will be relieved to know that it is perfectly all right to have William Cecil serving potatoes to Elizabeth, as they were in his kitchen garden.