- True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860–1930
Ian Tyrrell’s, True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860–1930 tells a series of interconnected stories about the exchange of trees, bugs, knowledge and dreams between California and Australia. In so doing, the author demonstrates the importance of the “Pacific exchange” in shaping the cultural landscapes of the two regions. Australians and Californians were drawn to one another by similar environments, expanding networks of communication, the perception that their societies occupied peripheral positions in the world economy, and most importantly, by similar historical patterns of development. In the 1870s, reformers in both places sought to transform societies shaped by gold mining, large-scale monocropping, and pastoralism into egalitarian societies based on small-scale agriculture and morally cleansing garden landscapes. The dreams and projects of these reform movements form the center of Tyrrell’s story.
In California, visions of the garden landscape emerged in conjunction with the rise of horticulture in the Central Valley. Fruit growers such as Sarah and Ellwood Cooper criticized broad-acre wheat production for creating land monopolies, migrant (non-white) labor forces, and vast monocultures. In a departure from the wilderness ethic espoused by John Muir and the Sierra Club, these propertied, well-educated and largely Anglo reformers believed that local environments could be improved through the “acclimatization” (i.e., introduction) of useful, aesthetically pleasing plants from elsewhere. One of the places to which these idealistic “renovators of nature” turned in search of new species was Australia.
Among the introduced biota that would alter the Californian landscape were several species of eucalyptus, promoted both as ornamentals and for reforestation projects. Spurred on by the enthusiasm of Ellwood Cooper and real estate developer Abbot Kinney, eucalyptus planting became a “mania” in the 1870s as streets, farms, orchards and even the University of California’s Berkeley campus were lined with gum trees. Investments in eucalyptus for lumber did not take off until the early 1900s, amid growing concern about a national timber shortage. But the U.S. market for eucalyptus hardwoods never approached that of Australia. Tyrrell argues that this can be explained primarily by changing timber markets and the regeneration of softwood forests in the United States (which ameliorated fears of a timber shortage). By the 1920s, demand for hardwoods declined as the construction trades turned to concrete and steel building materials. Also, labor costs associated with seeding eucalyptus further diminished their popularity as a timber commodity. However, the eucalyptus did succeed in becoming an integral part of California’s cultural landscape; by the 1920s, many observers assumed that the tree was a native species. [End Page 450]
Around the same time that the eucalyptus craze was taking root in the western United States, Australian-based forester John Ednie Brown began promoting the Monterey Pine of California as the key to transforming the arid Australian bush into lush forest. Not unlike the Californian proponents of acclimatization, Brown favored the Pine for a mixture of aesthetic and utilitarian reasons. Although his theories about the ability of tree plantings to transform the arid bush country into lush garden landscapes proved false, the Monterey Pine became extremely popular in southern Australia where it began to replace cut over stands of eucalyptus. In 1903, a growing surplus of Monterey Pine prompted the Australian government to build a sawmill. By the 1920s, the tree was widely cultivated in tree farms throughout much of southern Australia. Ironically then, the Monterey Pine, of little economic importance in California, became a valuable timber commodity in Australia. In contrast, the eucalyptus, an important timber species in its native Australia, found a niche in California primarily as an ornamental shade tree.
Tyrrell’s chapters on the eucalyptus and Monterey Pine highlight the value of his transnational perspective. Readers are able both to compare the fates of two introduced species in distinct environments and understand how the histories of the two species were interwoven by a similar set of ideas about resource management and landscapes. The author...