These intrepid adventurers were more than willing to risk life and limb to track down exotic blooms in some of the world’s remotest corners to grab the huge financial rewards offered by wealthy clients.
T.L. Mogford, who can trace his own roots back to a line of famous horticulturalists – including a great-uncle who has an apple tree named after him – harnesses his botanical heritage and his gift for storytelling for an exhilarating historical action yarn filled with danger, suspense and derring-do.
Entertaining from first page to last, The Plant Hunter has everything that makes an adventure story a thumping good read… fascinating real history, rich period detail, atmospheric locations, a seductive romance, and an eclectic mix of characters with all the exciting authenticity of H Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In 1867, the King’s Road in Chelsea is a sea of plant nurseries, teeming with beds and borders full of musk roses, monkey-puzzle trees, forsythia and a host of valuable and exotic plants.
And each of these glossy emporiums is fuelled by the dangerous world of the plant hunters – daring adventurers, known to be ‘wild and reckless,’who are dispatched into uncharted lands in search of botanical wonders to grace some of England’s finest gardens.
Twenty-one-year-old Harry Compton is as far from a plant hunter as one could imagine – a handsome salesman plucked from the obscurity of the nursery growing fields to become ‘the face that sold a thousand plants,’ principally to undiscerning women clients.
But one small act of kindness to an Irish plant hunter sees Harry inherit a precious gift – a specimen of the Icicle Tree, a fabled tree said to be ‘the most beautiful on God’s green earth’ and last heard of in The Travels of Marco Polo, a map, and a portable greenhouse called a vasculum.
Seizing his chance for fame and fortune, Harry, who possesses a ‘flint edge’ beneath his charm, sets out to make his mark. But where there is wealth there is corruption, and soon Harry is involved in a crime and fleeing England.
His destination is Shanghai where the plan is to seek out help from his late mother’s cousin but there are others in search of the Icicle Tree and Harry is soon rounding the Cape of Good Hope and sailing up the Yangtze alongside young widow Clarissa Lockhart – with both of them in pursuit of the plant that could change their futures.
The Plant Hunter proves to be an extraordinary, propulsive ride from the sedate nurseries of London to wild and wonderful 19th century China alongside the irrepressible, and sometimes perilously volatile, Harry as he encounters all manner of flora and fauna, and a charismatic collection of good guys and bad guys.
Readers cannot help but revel in the addictive lure of visiting new and faraway countries where rare and exotic flowers and plants held the power to capture the imaginations and hearts of those who dared to meet the challenge of seeking them out.
Sharing the thrills, chills and frissons of amour is the charmingly spirited and plucky Clarissa whose transformation from weeping widow to that rare thing in Victorian society – a woman able to live, travel and think independently – is one of the principal joys of this full-throttle adventure.
Add on an intriguing exploration of the social, political and colonial issues that were embedded in this mid-Victorian period, plus a heady mix of mystery, murder, discovery and drama, and Mogford delivers a visual, verbal and sensuous feast of reading delights.
Ideal for fans of history, adventure, intrigue… and botany!
(Welbeck, hardback, £12.99)