The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

Published: 2021 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Hachette 3. Inverleith House [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 4. Agave Americana plant [Public Domain] via Wellcome Collection.

Set in 1822 Edinburgh, the widowed Elizabeth Rocheid has come to live with her aunt. She is fascinated with the Botanic Gardens that border her aunt’s house, and she becomes acquainted with the head gardener (based on the real William McNab). When the rare Agave Americana plant is due to flower, more than one person is interested in the seeds that could be harvested from the flower, and some will resort to anything to get some.

I found this to be a very enjoyable read. The background story of the development of the Royal Edinburgh Botanic Gardens is fascinating, and the author brings the setting to life vividly. The characters fit into the era perfectly, and I enjoyed the perspective of the two main female characters. I don’t agree with The AU Review who judged it “a slow, character driven novel” and “There is something about The Fair Botanists that holds the reader at arms length.” Personally I was fully immersed. The ending was satisfying, if a bit contrived, as noted by The Scotsman: “there are just a few too many happy endings – some of them a shade improbable.”

“Lady Liston lifts her wineglass in a toast.”… “To the lady botanists,” she adds. “And you young ones so fair.”


“If it is possible to move three thousand plants on carts from one place to another then surely she will succeed in moving her life five hundred miles north and settling in a well-provisioned and respectable household.”

“Three maids and a cook cannot contain the old lady, who howls, barefoot, as they chase her across the grass.”

Author: Sara Sheridan

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