God Almighty planted the first garden,"" Healey reminds us in this survey of plant discoveries and British, American and French botanists. The first cultivators--the primal gardeners--were almost certainly women, men being much too busy hunting, fighting, and bragging. This is a book for the armchair gardener's winter leisure, gossipy and wayward, moving from Babylon's Hanging Gardens (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) to descriptions of gentians along the Trans-Siberian Railway, to the rain forests of Brazil. The father of botanical studies was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle and author of the first systematic treatise on flowers. In Pliny's Natural History radishes are evaluated: they ""breed wind wonderful much. . . . A base and homely meat therefore it is, and not for a gentleman's table. . . ."" Healey moves on through the later transfer of the potato from Peru to Spain and the great tulip madness that swept Holland and made rare bulbs worth fortunes. He wistfully eulogizes great gardeners of the past, including John Tradescant (Keeper of His Majesty's Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms--for Charles I) who made the first English expedition to bring back species never seen before: he returned with tulips and cherry, pear, walnut and apricot trees. He discusses what is known of the first hybrids and early cross-fertilization. The book is written in an easy, anecdotal, often humorous fashion--calling attention to little known contributors to the medicine chest, the dinner table or the front lawn.