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216 × 138 × 21 mm
216 pages
112 illustrations, 88 in colour
01 Oct 2012

Geranium Kasia Boddy

Reaktion’s new ‘Botanical’ series is the first of its kind, integrating horticultural and botanical writing with a broader account of the cultural and social impact of plants. In that sense, the South African geranium (the enduring, if confusing, common name for the genus Pelargonium) is perhaps the perfect plant to inaugurate the series. The story of the geranium’s inexorable rise encompasses many other historical narratives: from plant hunting to commercial cultivation; from the role of plants in alternative medicine and the philanthropic imagination to changing styles in horticultural fashion.

Geraniums were first collected by seventeenth-century Dutch plant hunters on the sandy flats near present-day Cape Town, and before long wealthy collectors and enterprising nurserymen were competing for this latest rarity to grace their hothouses. But the geranium was not destined to be a fashionable exotic for long: scarlet hybrids were soon to be found on every cottage windowsill and in every park bedding display, and the horticultural backlash began. Today geraniums can be found throughout the world, their widespread use in food and perfume manufacture as well as floral display exemplifying the global industrialization of plant production.

In Geranium, Kasia Boddy details how the cheerful and amenable geranium remains a plant that many love and others love to hate, but above all it is a flower that is seldom ignored. Featuring numerous fine illustrations, Geranium explores the ever-changing image of the plant as portrayed in painting, literature, film and popular culture worldwide.

‘Kasia Boddys enchanting cultural history of the geranium traces our changing attitude to the flower . . . [she] does a wonderful job of selecting the most delicious literary cuttings for her book on the lovable plant and its place in our culture.’ — Daily Telegraph

‘Boddys writing is witty, deft and elegant, her scholarship lightly worn, her trawl through literature, painting, film and historical archive, packed with sharp insight. This modest book, through the medium of an unassuming plant, places gardening where is should be: a fundamental part of social history at the the heart of our social, cultural and imaginative life.’ — Gardens Illustrated

Geranium has the charming, leggy habit of its subject, sprawling across everything from greenhouse design to novels. Youve got to admire a book that leans on no less a garden lover than T. S. Elliot to make a case for the rise and fall of the geranium . . . part of an attractive, lavishly illustrated new series, perfect for house gifts if youre visiting someone wholl welcome you with clean towels and a trowel.’ — New York Times Book Review

‘Monographs can be dull and technical affairs, but the newBotanical series from Reaktion is something else. This book by a Cambridge don is a clever, lively and literary account of the social history of geraniums more properly Pelargonium. It is a fascinating study that takes the reader from the flowers African origins to our modern bedding plant, thecherishable common without which no summer is complete . . . There is something for everyone here and the illustrations are as scholarly and entertaining as the text. Readers who are looking for ahow to grow it manual may be disappointed, but those in search of a beautifully produced book with plenty of learning worn lightly should be delighted by Geranium.’ — The Garden

‘Drawing on an extraordinary variety of references the author leads us through the changing perceptions of geraniums from barometers of moral hygiene to symbols of suburban angst and emblems of sun and cheer with great learning, simply communicated. Their role in literature and art is expertly and engagingly revealed. The images are abundant and eclectic, ranging from commercial ephemera to fine art, and wonderfully capture the ebullience of their subject.’ — Garden Design Journal

‘London-based Reaktion Books publishes handsomely designed and beautifully written volumes on subjects you might not think youre interested in. Exhibit A today is Geranium by Kasia Boddy. The best thing about this book . . . is the focus on cultural history. The strictly botanical information can be found in plenty of places, but where else is a reader to find an analysis of what the geranium signifies in terms of social class and domestic contentment?’ — Boston Globe

‘Whether youre a hard-core gardener or simply have a curiosity about plants, the new Botanicals from London-based Reaktion Books are sure to command your attention . . . the books go beyond the standard treatment of their subjects, combining accessible horticultural writing and a look at a plants cultural and social impact. The books are both scholarly and playful.’ — Chicago Tribune

‘Boddy skillfully traces the humble houseplants rise from its native southern Africa to every windowsill in South London, and beyond . . . whats extraordinary about Boddys short book: she convincingly argues for pelargoniums influence on the shape of Western culture . . . perhaps biographers of persons could learn something from Boddys approach, wherein telling one story in fact means telling many.’ — Los Angeles Review of Books

‘The author skillfully weaves together references about geraniums from Darwin, Dickens, and other authors to show how their roles changed from rare exotics to common, well-known garden and house plants, and discusses the new technologies, such as greenhouses, that made the development of new cultivars possible. The book is richly illustrated throughout with over 100 spectacular images (mostly in color) of geraniums in works of art, herbarium specimens, and photographs, and includes extensive references. Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Boddy traces the geranium from its African birthplace to its ubiquitous presence in Western art, literature, culture, and, of course, gardens. She is at her best when describing the lowly plants cultural significance. A rose may always be a rose, but in Boddys far-ranging survey, the geranium is, at different times, a pregnant symbol, a potent talisman, a Proustian prompt, and an agent of social reform.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘As its bright cover suggests, this book is not snobbish about the mass appeal of red geraniums . . . the range of allusions to geraniums and their social setting is an eye-opener . . . If anyone doubted whether a whole book could profitably be devoted to geranium or indeed pelargoniums let them try reading it.’ — Hortus

‘This is a social and cultural history of the geranium, a story which ranges from early spats about its botanical nomenclature to it place in art, literature and the many cultural forms of gardening . . . scholarly and gorgeously illustrated.’ — Australian Garden History

‘if you are interested in sociology, art, history and literature, this book will be a joy for you to read . . . The book is well written, entertaining and enlightening . . . a fine and distinctive addition to the literature and history of the geranium . . . Geranium should be enjoyed by all garden and geranium enthusiasts pelargonistes as well as social historians and botanists who want to understand these plants and their historical context and contributions. This book is highly recommended.’ — Central Coast Geranium Society

‘Boddy describes the uses of some 280 species, originally sought as symbols of wealth as well as for their medicinal properties. Abundant illustrations throughout this book bring into play the uses of geranium in gardening, art, advertising, and even movies. This book is quite fascinating, providing a detailed and unusual description of a very popular plant.’ — Chicago Botanic Garden

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Kasia Boddy is Reader in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge and has published widely on British and American literature and film. She is the author of The American Short Story Since 1950 (2010) and Geranium (Reaktion, 2012), and the editor of The New Penguin Book of American Short Stories (2011).


1. Out of Africa
2. New Familiars
3. Bedding and Breeding
4. The Geranium in the Window
5. Brief Fall, then Inexorable Rise

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