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Thomas Blaikie (1751-1838)
The ‘Capability’ Brown of France

Patricia Taylor

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Subject: Biography/ Gardening History
royal octavo
Illustrated: numerous paintings, photographs, drawings
ISBN: 1 86232 110 8
Paperback £20

Thomas Blaikie, born in 1751 at Corstorphine near Edinburgh, was the most fashionable garden designer in France at the end of the 18th century. He laid out and planted the gardens at Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, for the Comte d’Artois (later Charles X). Other famous gardens followed, and Blaikie’s diary gives an insight into the social life of the court where he was a great favourite of Marie Antoinette.

As social history, his life is compelling. Blaikie was Britain’s first professional Alpine plant collector. The young botanist’s diary account of the plants, the people and the customs of the remote mountain regions he visited will captivate both the general reader and the alpine enthusiast, particularly the six days he spent climbing near Chamonix with Michel-Gabriel Paccard, the future conqueror of Mont Blanc. The excerpts from his diary portray dramatically the events, both personal and public, that marked the onset of the French Revolution. His personal witness of the breakdown of public order at the Revolution ends with a graphic description of the massacre of the Swiss guards at the Tuileries in 1792.

Thomas Blaikie’s importance to garden history is increasingly recognised. This biography reveals a man of undoubted charm, shrewd, frank and single-minded. Equally at home in peasant’s hut or in the gardens of Versailles, he was, as one reviewer put it, ‘one of those remarkable Scotsmen who not only make themselves at home anywhere but achieve success by sheer force of character’.