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‘My innocent diversion of gardening’: Mary Somerset's plants

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Mary Somerset, first Duchess of Beaufort, was respected in her day as a collector and cultivator of plants, both exotic and common, on her estate in Badminton. And yet, when she writes to Sir Robert Southwell  in 1694, she is surprisingly humble about her achievements, calling hers an ‘innocent diversion of gardening’. Manuscript and published papers make it clear, however, that Somerset's work with plants was impressive and influential, hardly an ‘innocent diversion’. This essay demonstrates how Somerset's work with plants blurs the line between ‘gardening’ and the twin fields of horticulture and botany. By revaluing the kind of work Somerset did and the knowledge it embodied, we can reposition her (and potentially, other women like her) as a player in the early fields of botany and horticulture, as a woman who saw herself as contributing to bodies of knowledge in significant and lasting ways.
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Keywords: Mary Somerset; botany/horticulture; gardening; women's writing (in early modern England); women/history of science

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Publication date: 2011-02-01

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