This is the story of the plants that human beings have grown during our 11,000-year-long endeavour to cultivate the land. The story, told over some 400 pages, explores just how cultivated plants differ from their wild ancestors and how such changes have come about. The book stands as a companion volume to the earlier publication Two Blades of Grass; it dealt with the history and the processes of cultivation, whereas Cultivar is concerned with what we cultivate: our domesticated plants. It addresses how we have become totally dependent upon these “man-made” forms for our food and other products and to a large measure the beauty of our gardens. Cultivar looks back to the changes every emerging civilisation made to a few of their local wild plants that now populate the world’s farms, orchards and productive gardens. The narrative goes on to explore how our ever-increasing understanding of genetics puts us on the threshold of huge changes across the whole of the world’s domesticated flora.
Alongside this march of scientific plant breeding the book tells another, older story, that of a certain kind of cultivator’s search for perfection, their pride in being linked to the introduction of a new flower, fruit or vegetable and the right to name it. It is a tale of astute powers of observation, tenacity and a generous measure of good luck.
Both Cultivar and Two Blades of Grass carry comprehensive glossaries and indexes together with lengthy bibliographies.
Peter Thoday in this sequel to Two Blades of Grass, the story of cultivation, claims that “surrounded and dependent on cultivars we may be, but for many people neither the concept nor the role of cultivars is ever considered” and it’s true, how many of us ever stop to consider our dependence on these man-made plants and how they originated? In this exceptionally well written and researched book, Thoday’s narrative examines the development of cultivars through time before explaining the science behind plant breeding. The book is littered with fascinating anecdotes and tells a long and complex story in an understandable way. This could have become a dry academic account but it is far from that- it is scientifically accurate, yet a fascinating read, full of interesting facts, techniques, people and crops.
Dr David Rae; Director of Horticulture, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
This book is both rich in facts and extremely readable. It should appeal to a wide readership in addition to professionals in agriculture and horticulture. The writer emphases the history and development of cultivated plants in Britain; but includes field crops, staples and vegetables of global importance. Alongside a section on contemporary plant breeding, there is a strong sympathetic thread towards subsistence farmers. This story of the development of cultivated plants is enriched by observations drawn from the author’s wide experience.
Raymond A. T George, Consultant UN Food and Agricultural Organization.