For Christmas giving or your own library: a king’s ransom of beautifully written books and facsimile editions on trees, plants and flowers, parks, gardens and manmade landscapes for year-round reading and looking. Here are 16 selections:
The Tulip Anthology, Ron van Dongen (Chronicle Books) Foreword by Anna Pavord (Chronicle) Hardcover. 240 pp 11 x 14 in. Color images throughout. A transplanted Dutchman, van Dongen lives in Oregon, is a connoisseur of tulips, travels to the Netherlands annually in search of bulbs he might cultivate and photograph, and grows about 40 varieties for the pure joy and beauty they offer as subjects for his photography. Author of a dozen books, he swapped black-and-white for color photography and we are the richer for it.
This is a lush book with images that may help us understand why Tulipomania in the 17th century bankrupted Dutch investors who were in mad pursuit of the rare varieties (usually caused by a virus) that sold for a king’s ransom in the marketplace. Q &A with van Dongen plus slideshow
This book’s foreword by Anna Pavord as an introductory chapter, is a complement to her New York Times best-seller Tulip: The Story of a Flower That Has Made Men Mad, which traces the bulb’s early history (to Turkey) through “tulip fever” in the Netherlands in the 17th century to today’s status as a favored flower in landscapes and home gardens(1999, still in print). They make a fine twosome for serious gardeners and those who love history. Anna Pavord talks about her current 10 favorite tulip bulbs
Wild Flowers, Sarah Raven. 500 photographs by Jonathan Buckley (Bloomsbury USA). Described as an encyclopedic volume, Wild Flowers weighs in at 6 pounds and carries a hefty pricetag. For those serious about native plants, she focuses on plants native to Great Britain, many of which will be familiar to American readers. Raven is one of Great Britain’s favorite gardening-cooking writers with an outpost at Perch Hill, her farm in East Sussex.
Gingko: The Tree That Time Forgot, Dr. Peter Crane OBE (Yale University Press). 408 pp 61 illus. $40 Sir Peter Crane’s years as executive director of London’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew no doubt offered him time and proximity to develop this paean – scientific, social and cultural – to the gingko, a tree with a lineage back to the age of dinosaurs and known to many of us as a contemporary street tree and a backyard specimen. In Crane’s case, the historic ginkgo that likely inspired the book dates from the 1760’s when King George III was in residence at Kew Palace –and it still lives! That’s a reminder, Crane tell us, that the gingko is tough and resilient, but it nearly went extinct. Probably first cultivated 1000 years ago in China, the gingko survives today thanks to people who admired its longevity, beautiful leaves and edible nuts when it was seriously waning. It is a single species – no known living relatives – and a living fossil that has survived 200 million years!
Crane, who is dean and professor of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and an internationally known botanist, is a great storyteller. His story is also a lesson for all who would ignore and misuse forests, woodlands and even urban streets where individual champion trees and whole stands are at risk from development, pollution and human whims.
Check out the lengthy author interview and photos at Yale 360.
Mahogany: The costs of luxury in early America, Jennifer L. Anderson. (Harvard University Press). The finest examples of New World craftsmanship – from Newport RI and New York – are 18th- and 19th-century pieces of mahogany furniture (dressers, desks, side tables, chairs) that are valued into the millions at auction.
Rarely considered: Caribbean mahogany was scouted, cut and transported by enslaved workers – who were sometimes even branded with their owners’ monograms – then loaded onto waiting ships, often at great peril for workers’ safety and lives. This is complex story – real estate battles, riots, blended families of whites and Caribbean blacks (secret marriages, children born outside marriage). Once you read the book, you may never again look at museums’ glorious examples of mahogany furniture quite the same way. Watch an interview with the author on CSPAN New York Times article
American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the Making of a Nation, Eric Rutkow. (Scribner), 406 pp hardcover/ ebook available. Every chapter of American history is imbued with the story of how trees from our forests fought wars (the masts on British warships), enabled the whaling industry, built railroads and stockyards, supplied the wood for early villages and later the ticky-tacky suburbs of mid-20th century. This is a dense book, organized in discrete chapters that make it easy to read and rest, as you absorb the people (Henry David Thoreau/Johnny Appleseed/Teddy Roosevelt), places (Central Park/the Adirondacks) and events (Allied planes in WWI) in the life and death (American elm, American chestnut) of forests and woodlands in the US – a natural resource as precious as oil and gas. Meet the author in a National Public Radio interview (Diane Rehm show). Read the Wall Street Journal review
New York City of Trees, Brian Swett. (Quantuck Lane ) 152 pages, $29.95. Fifty of photographer Brian Swett’s favorite city trees – from all five boroughs –tell stories: trees saved, protected, preserved and sadly even lost. These trees are the keepers of the past, as he points out since “trees physically hold the years of the city as carbon in their rings.” A tulip polar, the tallest tree in Queens (134 feet when measured in 2000), survives on the Long Island Expressway. There’s a magnolia strangely out of place in New York’s climate, but possibly protected by a row of brownstones in BedStuy that may create a microclimate. Then there’s an English elm, known informally as the hangman’s elm, in lower Manhattan, although no one ever was hung from that tree. Radio interview with Swett and slide show. Wall Street Journal review.
Magnificent Trees of The New York Botanical Garden, Larry Lederman. Monocelli Press $50. A four-season photographic essay on trees, 200 images, photographed at the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden, outlines the passage of time (fall/winter/spring), the beautiful and the rare (some primeval New York forest still stands there), offering plenty of room for quiet reflection. Sadly, NYBG was hardhit by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, with 500 trees — some rare, some old, all mourned — uprooted or destroyed in the Thain Forest and other garden areas. Lederman took the images pre-Sandy. The book is a powerful testimonial to decades of careful work by NYBG’s horticulturists and gardeners and the inevitability of change. Video interview with photographer Larry Lederman.
The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, David Haskell. (Viking, 2012). Available in hardcover/paper/Nook. An evolutionary biologist and ecologist, Haskell used his senses but no tools, other than a hand lens, to spend a year in exactly the same spot daily to observe nature and record his observations. Haskell, who teaches at the University of the South(Sewanee TN), selected a spot about one square meter inside the 13,000-acre forested tract owned by the university as his place to sit, watch, listen, and conduct mindful breathing. It was his “…window of leaves, rocks and water” that he focused on and through which he viewed the natural world.
Haskell’s field notes of are a kind of observational poetry that others have shared in writings, for instance Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) and EO Wilson (The Naturalist). The Forest Unseen was a Pulitzer-Prize finalist. New York Times book review.
The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome, Gordon Campbell (Oxford University Press), 17 £. While we joke about silly bearded ceramic gnomes that appear in travel ads (Expedia) or in movies (Audry Tatou’s Amelie), real-life hermits with beards once lived in small, rustic temples and shrines created for them by 18th-century British aristocrats as ornamental hermitages on their estates. Bizarre? Yes. But the idea of a small, simple abode for escape and contemplation goes back to the time of Hadrian (2nd century AD), who built a miniature villa on an island near his villa as a place for retreat. The idea fell out of favor by the mid-19th century (hermits ended up being too hard to find and too lonely) and the ceramic versions took over. Learn more about author Gordon Campbell in a Boston Globe article– includes an interview and a photo essay of actual hermit structures and shrines.
The Vertical Garden, Patrick Blanc. ( WW Norton). 208 pp $65. Inventor of the vertical garden, Blanc, who is both a botanist and artist, has projects worldwide – Singapore, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beirut, Berlin, Ibiza, Paris, among others – that embrace the use of living vegetation applied to exterior and interior walls of all sorts of buildings, from museums and shopping centers to private homes. My personal favorite is the Quai Branley Museum in Paris where un mûr végétal covers an entire façade. His most ambitious work is about to be unveiled: the world’s tallest vertical garden on the Jean Nouvel-designed One Central Park (Sydney, Australia). Norton has just published an update to his original The Vertical Garden book; and there are editions in French (Le Mûr Végétal, de la nature à la ville) and in German (Vertikale Garten, die Natur in der Stadt). His goal: make walls flourish as places of biodiversity! Blanc’s web site
Planting: A New Perspective, Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (Timber Press), 280 pp, 268 color photos, 30 color illustrations. Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf is considered by many to be the most influential garden designer of the past 25 years. Widely known and revered in Europe, Oudolf possesses a masterful understanding of plant ecology and performance.
Over time, his style has changed – best evidenced in 2010 with plantings at New York’s High Line. This book gives you an encyclopedic set of charts and planting plans from his projects to help you understand how he has assembled landscapes, color, texture, what works together – as well as small details such as the appearance of a plant’s seedhead, life expectancy, and invasiveness.
London Telegraph reviewer Tom Stuart-Smith, notes of the High Line project, “Here, the planting is intermingled, less obviously painterly, and much more like a miraculous slice of nature than an artful arrangement of plants.” Smith notes how this new book “charts the progression of Oudolf’s work between these two extremes of style and rightly places him as the pivotal planting designer of the last quarter century.” Stuart-Smith’s review
Stickwork, Patrick Dougherty (Princeton University Press). Doherty is to sapling trees and branches what Blanc is to living walls – a master of weaving natural material into artistic works for universities, museums and private clients. My first encounter with his installations was on the Brown University campus in Providence, RI, where we saw three tall “nests” that we could walk into. Architecture Daily article with photos.
His recent monograph-memoir features over 200 photographs of installations and commissions – on several continents – plus notes on his methods. You may buy a hardcover/softcover signed by him directly from his web site. A new venture is Bending Sticks: The Sculpture of Patrick Dougherty, a documentary film by Penelope Maunsell and Kenny Dalsheimer’s film. For a list of the artist’s recent/current projects
The Green Florilegium (Prestel) $150. Mysteries abound with the Green Florilegium, an exceptional volume of 178 original botanical illustrations by the German painter Hans Simon Holtzbecker. It is not signed or dated (although generally agreed to be mid-17th century) and its commissioner is unknown, although believed to have originated from the library at Gottorp Castle in Schleswig, on the border of Germany and Denmark. Little is known about Holtzbecker, although he lived in Hamburg and clearly was knowledgable about plants and flowers. One thing for sure – the original illustrations, painted on parchment using gouache, are breathtaking. The original volume, all 178 illustrations, was painstakingly restored by art conservators. The entire work has been reproduced as a facsimile edition with an introductory essay and information on each flower. Commentary by Kevin Sharkey and slide show of images.
Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations, Ken Druse with Ellen Hoverkamp (Stewart Tabori & Chang). Just as there are food and wine pairings, so too with plants, flowers and trees. Author of 14 books, Ken Druse knows how to assemble plant and flower pairings that are recipes for best scale, color, drama and more. The book is peppered with garden history, botanical knowledge and advice from a pro. Companion to this are Ellen Hoverkamp’s exquisite photographs, actually made from live plants and flowers on a flatbed scanner. Garden Design features an annotated slide show by Druse/Hoverkamp with text and photos of six pairings. Article in Organic Gardening by editor Ethne Clark.
What’s a garden without worms ? Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved: On the remarkable achievements of earthworms (she’s also author of the best-selling Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs) (Algonquin, $13 or less). Stewart is moved by the sightless, spineless, deaf earthworm (not native to the US!) for its ability to add tilth to the soil with its castings (i.e., poop) and stirring up the soil. She checks out the whole scene, from Darwin’s investigations to her own rummaging in the garden. This 2004 best-seller was reissued in 2012, and is now available in multiple languages (plus audio edition. Clearly, people are interested in worms! Read an excerpt
We’ll be back in Summer 2014 with more books on plants, gardens, parks, pollinators and all things green!