We have all seen garden gnomes that resemble one of Disney’s seven dwarfs but have you ever wondered how gnomes entered the garden scene? Gordon Campbell’s book, The Hermit in the Garden, will answer your questions and more. He traces the history of having an ornamental hermitage and hermit in the garden from Hadrian’s villa in Imperial Rome to its heyday in eighteenth century England, and to its decline in modern times. Carefully researched, the book is illustrated with numerous black and white photos and a few in color.
Cambell’s study points out that in the eighteenth century after the number of religious hermitages declined some of the wealthy landowners began to build follies that included one or more hermitages. In a chapter on the hermits, the author tells us that sometimes the landowner hired a man to be the hermit on his estate, set up an automaton hermit, or even became the resident hermit himself. Being a hermit is not easy, according to documents Campbell cites, because landowners put restrictions on their hermits in regard to bathing and grooming. Campbell goes on to describe hermitages in Georgian England, Ireland and Scotland and includes some contemporary hermitages and their hermits, noting that a minor renaissance has occurred but that life as a hermit as changed. A catalogue of hermitages in England is included but they are mostly destroyed or extant (i.e. ruinous); only a few have been rebuilt or replicated. A brief discussion of hermits and hermitages on the continent concludes the text.
The Hermit in the Garden is very informative book about a unique subject. It is written in a scholarly fashion with many of documents cited to get at the truth about the subject. A great addition to the library of anyone interested in garden history.
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