Seed and nursery catalogs have been arriving in gardeners’ mailboxes for months already, fueling dreams of spring gardens all winter long. If that’s not been enough to make you (or your favorite gardener) plant-crazy, here are three more chances, three books ready to jump-start your garden plans.
Ken Druse (author of the ground-breaking The Natural Garden and Making More Plants, among other titles) found himself compelled to come up with his own word to convey the spirit of his newest book, Planthropology. Druse defines planthropology as the study of “a plant’s life story,” its habits as well as its history. The book is packed full of stories: Druse delves into garden history, art history and science, always led by his passion for plants; chapters are interspersed with brief stand-alone pieces on garden design, art projects, conservation and more. Some of the stories—of famous plant hunters, for example—have been told before, but what brings them together and makes them new is the voice that tells them. This is a very personal book, as its subtitle suggests: these are “the myths, mysteries, and miracles” of the author’s “garden favorites.” Druse has a fine eye as a plant portraitist, and in a profusely and inspiringly illustrated book, only about a dozen of the illustrations aren’t his own. That helps make Planthropology a vision, literally, of the plants that inspire him, and any gardener who even comes close to Druse’s level of plant-passion will welcome the opportunity to dig deeper into what he has to show and tell.
The name of the rose
Hungry for more stories? You’ll find almost more than you can count in Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello’s A Rose by Any Name, and all of them are coming up roses. Brenner, a former editor of Garden Design and Martha Stewart Living, and Scanniello, former curator of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Cranford Rose Garden, parse more than 1,200 rose names, spinning out enough lore to make a rosarian swoon. “Eclectic” hardly begins to cover the book’s mix, and even if roses aren’t your particular thing, I’d bet there’s some bit of information—it would be unfair to call it trivia—relevant to whatever your specialist subject might be. Royalty? Celebrities? Writers? Soldiers? They’re in there. Politics? Religion? Geography? Fashion? Yup. The authors make it perfectly clear that this isn’t the place for rose how-to’s—but if knowing the “who?” and “where?” and “why?” of your garden plants appeals to you, you’ll happily read on. I have to admit that I kept picking up A Rose by Any Name and diving in wherever it fell open. I’ll never look at a rose catalog or a rose garden the same way again.
Last summer, after years and years when raising basil and a handful of other herbs had been all the food gardening I did for myself, I planted a small plot of summer essentials—tomatoes, peppers, runner beans (and, OK, a lot of basil and parsley). Take it as a sign of the frugal times we’re in, or as more evidence that the notion of eating locally is spreading. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself inclined to grow some food this spring and summer, you won’t be alone. And if you’re looking for a bit of advice, Virginia Hayes’ The Gourmet Garden takes the gardener from the very beginning of the process—germinating seed, designing a garden—all the way to the table, offering a harvest of recipes ranging from basics like assembling a bouquet garni to glimpses of world cuisine. The horticultural advice the book offers is straightforward, if a bit noncommittal on the details, a consequence, perhaps, of it being destined for a far-flung readership (the book suggests suppliers in the U.K. and Australia as well as in the U.S.) On the other hand, that stretch means there are plants included which are utterly new to me, and perhaps to you, too. Winged bean? African-horned cucumber? Who knew? Will they grow in New Hampshire? That’s information I would need to track down elsewhere, but for jump-starting a kitchen garden wish list, and as a source for the basics about growing and cooking a diverse blend of vegetables and fruits, greens and herbs, The Gourmet Garden should prove handy.
Writer and gardener Kelly Sundberg Seaman is still waiting for spring to arrive in New Hampshire.