Whether community quarantine’s got you started on keeping an indoor jungle, or you’ve always considered yourself a plant parent (or, you know, a gardener), we’ve got recommendations of some eclectic reads that’ll be close to your hearts and green thumbs. They won’t all necessarily be guides to how to keep that fancy fern alive, but these books will definitely bring you closer to botanical heaven.
Okay, so we’re starting off a little cheat-y, as fungi are technically not plants — but they’re basically the definition of strange and off-kilter precisely because of this distinction. And biologist Merlin Sheldrake explores this weird universe of fungi in their first book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. See, there is a universe of fungi — one that has quietly and steadfastly sustained living systems for millennia. It’s a pretty magical survey of hidden worlds, “from yeast to psychedelics, to the fungi that sprawl for miles underground and are the largest organisms on the planet, to those that link plants together in complex networks known as the ‘Wood Wide Web’, to those that infiltrate and manipulate insect bodies with devastating precision.” Sheldrake is the perfect tour guide, ever-vibrant, impassioned, and with a palpable giddiness over the wonders being shared.
From the publisher: “Fungi throw our concepts of individuality and even intelligence into question. They can change our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disaster. By examining fungi on their own terms, Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms — and our relationships with them — are changing our understanding of how life works.”
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Best-selling Iraeli novelist Meir Shalev has turned his considerable talents to the memoir format — a particularly charming one, too, with My Wild Garden: Notes from a Writer’s Eden (translated by Joanna Chen). He’s called it “simply a collection of impressions of a modest wild garden and a gardener who tends it and looks after it, someone who, at a relatively late age, found himself a hobby, and perhaps even a new love.” Something a legion of plant parents can relate to — more so when he wrote about keeping a garden, “With time I have become quite good at it, but I have never reached the highest standards of gardening. Perhaps I began too late and perhaps I am too busy with other things.”
There’s something incredibly disarming about the cheerfulness with which Shalev shares how he’s battled weeds while covered in mud; how he brought a shriveled lemon tree back to life (“it flowered and returned me a favor: an abundance of small lemons, uglier yet more delicious than any lemons I have ever tasted”); how he made a fence out of a riotous bougainvillea shrub. So much contentment, a true ode to living mindfully, surrounded by green things and sunshine.
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Simply put, Floriography: An Illustrated Guide to the Victorian Language of Flowers, by the artist Jessica Roux, is stunning — a beautifully rendered catalog of an assortment of flora for us to gasp over, a guidebook for those of us who want to tinker with the symbolism of flowers. Ever wondered why we send flowers on Valentine’s Day and chrysanthemums along with condolences? Floriography, folks.
First emerging in 1819 and used widely throughout the nineteenth century in England and even America, the Victorian language of flowers broadened a floral mythology so they could declare messages — affection, desire, or sorrow — by pinning a select bloom on their lapels, or clutching a small bouquet as they made their way about town, or straight-up sending a floral arrangement to the target. And so, apparently, the sampaguita — endemic to the Philippines — can be paired with irises to show admiration for a friend’s strength of character, or with a crocus for a loved one with a particular zest for life.
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Stefano Mancuso, one of the world’s leading authorities in the field of plant neurobiology, writes in the preface to The Incredible Journey of Plants: “We know very little about plants, and, quite often, the little we think we know is wrong.” Plants, Mancuso argues, is the embodiment of “life’s unceasing impulse to expand” — and in this book he explores that unstoppable expansion. How have plants convinced animals to transport them around the world? How can some plants grow in inhospitable places? How can plants survive the atomic bomb and the Chernobyl disaster? How can plants bring sterile islands to life? How have plants managed to travel through the ages?
Translated from the Italian by Gregory Conti, and illustrated with the dreamy watercolors of Grisha Fischer, The Incredible Journey of Plants is a friendly and lovely romp through botanical history, with vignettes about evolutionary biology tracing connections between plant life and everything else in nature. At the very least, you might find out how that tomato ended up on your salad.