Book Review: Garden Flora, by Noel Kingsbury
This is not a book about how to garden. Instead, it tells the stories of 133 genera of plants, from both before and after they got mixed up with people and their gardens. It contains a diverting mixture of science, legend, and horticultural history.
Here’s a sample of things I learned:
- A species of Bellflower, Campanula rapunculus, was once widely grown in Europe as a vegetable. In one of Grimm’s fairy tales, a man stole some C. rapunculus from the garden of a woman who turned out to be a witch. To avoid punishment, he promised the witch his next child – a girl named Rapunzel, after the plant.
- Several species of Cistus exude an aromatic gum used to make incense. The gum was harvested by cutting off the beards of goats who fed on the plant.
- In the 19th Century, Dahlia breeding served as a front for Czech nationalist resistance to the Hapsburg monarchy in Vienna.
- Magnolias go back 98 million years, to the days of the dinosaurs. Predating bees, the first Magnolias were pollinated by beetles.
If this kind of thing is interesting to you (as it is to me), you will enjoy this book. It is a book you can read straight through, or pick up when the fancy strikes you.
In addition to the text, the illustrations in Garden Flora are also quite luscious. They include paintings and botanical illustrations of different eras and cultures, modern and historical photography, and illustrations from old catalogs.
Overall, this is an engaging and absorbing book for people who love plants.