Big, beautiful garden books

Garden book reviews

Books make great presents for gardeners this time of year. But I find that I'm also tempted to buy some for myself because I have much more time for reading in winter than during the growing season. Here are a couple of coffee-table-type garden books I can recommend.

John Muir as a botanist? That's not how most of us think of the naturalist and conservationist who founded the Sierra Club. But a friend of Muir's noted that "he liked best to be thought a botanist."

Bonnie J. Gisel explores this neglected side of Muir in "Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy." (Heyday Books, $45) She takes us from his early childhood appreciation for garden flowers in Scotland through his family's time in Wisconsin and then on into the wider world -- from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, thoughout California, of course, and up to Alaska.

As Muir traveled, he collected specimens of plants, many of which have been painstakingly scanned and photographed by Stephen J. Joseph for this book -- a fascinating story in itself.

It's a book that's much too beautiful and interesting to sit on a coffee table for long. Instead it's destined to be read and reread and shared.

Leafing through Ken Druse's "Planthropology" (Clarkson Potter, $50) is like listening to a knowledgeable gardener's musings about his favorite plants -- all those little things he's learned down through the years and most of which you've never heard before.

 I dare you to read this book in the same room with another person and not stop every few mintues to say, "Did you know....?" It can't be done.

For instance, did you know:
 that one of every 10 flowering plant species is in the orchid family?
 that some trees are wind pollinated?
 that the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) was constructed from about 2,000 southern live oak trees?
 that the alternating spirals of seeds in a sunflower always follow a specific ratio, 1 to 1.618?
 that the daisy family is the largest family of plants?

Druse also invites the reader into his New Jersey garden, now, sadly, becoming less rural than when he first moved there. He writes lovingly of his favorites and notes his losses while also dispensing advice. Every gardener would love to own a copy of this book.

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