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NONFICTION : THE HISTORY OF GARDENS by Christopher Thacker (University of California: $40, hardcover; $16.95, paperback). : THE VICTORIAN GARDEN by Tom Carter (Salem House: $19.95).

June 22, 1986|Barbara Saltzman

Christopher Thacker's mission is best summed up in his closing lines: "Gardens are one of the best stories--the sort we read again and again." If not the best story of gardens, Thacker's is an exhaustive, and exhausting, one that bears rereading. His 16 chapters travel to some of the best gardens the world has seen: "among vanished and almost-vanished and existing gardens, to discuss their lovely and most fragile history." The tracery cuts across China, Japan, ancient Persia, through medieval and Renaissance gardens, formal French and European glories, including Versailles, through "picturesque and gardenesque" 19th-Century workings and contemporary efforts by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. Since each chapter and subtopic has been the subject of many a book, this volume merely skims the surface, though eruditely, sprinkling in appropriate poetry and illustrations.

Tom Carter's history of the Victorian garden is for those whose appetite has already been whetted, perhaps by Thacker. Carter provides fascinating details, intriguing for their own sake and for their insight into the English society of the time. Though both books may lack the charm and wit of others' efforts at garden history, such as Ronald King's "The Quest for Paradise," they add nicely to the garden bookshelf.

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