A Garden of Marvels Highlights and Giveaway

A Garden of Marvels Highlights and Giveaway

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As promised, here’s a follow-up to Ruth Kassinger’s guest rant.  She wrote the very popular Paradise Under Glass and now A Garden of Marvels, which was published just this week.

I don’t review many garden books because I passed the learning-to-garden phase years ago and of the few books I try, I rarely like one well enough to recommend it.   But Ruth doesn’t write how-to books; she’s a storyteller.  (Like our Amy.)  And stories, if they’re this well written, I enjoy.

A Garden of Marvels is subtitled “The Discovery that Flowers have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work” and that’s a tip-off to the good news that this is no Botany for Gardeners, which was about as readable as an outdated textbook.  (Sorry!)

In contrast, A Garden of Marvels is thought-provoking and a delight to read, and the reviewers seem to agree.  Some of my favorite parts of it cover:

– How early scientists gleaned their misunderstandings of how plants work through reason, rather than observation, an approach that was “embraced and interpreted by the medieval Catholic Church and then the late-medieval universities.”  Thus, knowledge of botany progressed not at all from the third century B.C. to the 17th century!

– The “extreme gardeners” who compete to grow the largest pumpkin use gardening tips unknown to us regular gardeners:  “So, many growers cap their emergent female flowers with a plastic cup or a sock – a sort of pumpkin condom – so that some randy flower on some loser vine won’t knock up their pedigreed virgins.”

– I’m considerably more respectful of roots after reading that: “It takes an extensive root system with trillions of bacteria supplying billions of root hairs to gather sufficient nitrogen, as well as water and other minerals, to support even a small plant.”

– The search for a perennial substitute for the easy-to-harvest but resource-intensive annual wheat species that dominates agriculture.

– The “amazing grasses” that may be the biofuel of tomorrow, especially Miscanthus giganteus, which grows to 15 feet tall and produces twice the biomass per acre as switchgrass.

– The chapter on “Cheap Sex” that sent me to this Youtube video of a bee “pseudocopulating” with an orchid.

– The author’s own journey from writing poetry to international reports for federal agencies and finally to freelance writing anything and everything that needed to be written.  But with a growing portfolio, mere pamphlets turned into books, especially science books for young readers, and finally two plant-centric books for adults.  And what she’ll do next is anybody’s guess.

– And why Ruth Kassinger is an indoors-only gardener. “No outdoor gardening with dog’s-breath heat and humidity, murderous mosquitoes, and horrible hundred-legged beasties for me.”  But Ruth, how do you really feel about the outdoors?

Win a  Copy

Just leave a comment here and we’ll choose one at random to receive a copy of A Garden of Marvels.  Contest ends Friday March 7.

Ruth’s Famous Greenhouse Revealed!

After reading the book I boldly contacted the author to invite myself to meet her on her home turf so that I could see her “paradise under glass.   Hey, it was January and I  needed a plant fix – at least that was my excuse.  And it turns out that her version of a greenhouse is prettier and more homey than the usual type because it’s a large addition that flows naturally into the living room but can be closed off to retain moisture and the right temperature.  Here’s a quick video, followed by photos.


Ruth sent me home with kumquats and Meyer lemons.  They’re so much tastier than the ones shipped up from Florida in winter.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on February 28, 2014 at 7:43 am, in the category Science Says.

    • Chris N
    • 23rd April 2016

    This sounds like a great book and a fun read. I’d love to have this book!

    • Sarah H
    • 1st October 2016

    Seems like a fun, attention grabbing book!

    • Cynthia
    • 13th October 2016

    This book sounds amazing. Something to think about as I wander through next week’s Philadelphia Flower Show.

    • Thomas
    • 21st October 2016

    I never thought I’d ever see the words ‘pumpkin condom’ in an article!

    • Laura Bell
    • 23rd October 2016

    I was intrigued until I read the part about not gardening outdoors.

    • kermit
    • 3rd November 2016

    Well, I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I suppose love of the outdoors and love of plants are not mutually dependent, are they? We certainly have all met people who loved the outdoors without being particularly interested in or knowledgeable about plants. She’s in good company – Nero Wolfe, the famous detective, had the top floor of his building devoted to orchids, and he hated the outdoors.

    • Laura Bell
    • 10th November 2016

    I see your point. I know lots of outdoorsy folks who can’t tell an oak from an oleander. But I’m not into skiing, or golfing or hunting as they are. The idea of plants not being paired with the outdoors just feels … foreign … to me. Yes, I have houseplants. And as often as possible, I get them outside (usually for re-potting or hosing down, but still) for a few hours. Maybe it’s that I fancy myself to be a farmer like my parents & grandparents, despite the clear-cut evidence presented by my postage-stamp suburban backyard. It’s not that I can’t get used to the idea of indoors-only gardening. It’ll simply take some adjusting.

    • Ruth Kassinger
    • 13th November 2016

    Here’s to Nero Wolfe! One of the great things, I think, about gardening is that it’s an activity and a joy to all kinds of people at every age and stage of their lives. My mother now lives in a retirement community, which has an orchid house where residents can care for their plants under ideal conditions. All the plants are at a height appropriate for people in wheelchairs. A very cool idea!

    • Lizabeth
    • 14th November 2016

    Both of these books are going on my read list at the library. BTW Can she give away her wonderful greenhouse? Serious drooling on this one

    • Ruth Kassinger
    • 14th November 2016

    I can’t give it away, but if you’re in the area, contact me through my website and come by and take a look!

    • Lauren
    • 15th November 2016

    Seems right up my alley!
    The pictures made me feel a certain connection to her- as if we were somehow old friends decided by her plant choices. Funny how a greenhouse can do that to a person.

    • Erika
    • 15th November 2016

    Thank you for the review! It is difficult to find good books on the subject. Can’t wait to read!

    • Kris Peterson
    • 16th November 2016

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a book like this were added to the reading lists of botanists? Anything that inspires wonder and a true appreciation for plants would seemingly be a welcome addition to the curriculum.

    • Natalie N
    • 16th November 2016

    this looks lovely! nice way to get excited about gardening after the winter

    • Russ Talbot
    • 16th November 2016

    Sounds like a good “bedtime” read with my spouse!

    • Alda Stich
    • 17th November 2016

    As you can see, I do wedding and celebration flowers. My greenhouse is the most essential room in the house. I have been doing IPM for more than a dozen years and it is the most exciting, challenging and important work I have ever attempted. The greenhouse today, March 1 is starting to come out of diapause with these lengthening days. Many of the plants are starting to bud. As I write it is 0 degrees outside. Spring comes late here and Fall usually arrives early. Keep up the good work. With best wishes to all,
    Alda Stich

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