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Growing Green - Good garden reads

When I am not able to garden, I enjoy reading gardening magazines, catalogs and how-to books. In all this reading, I never considered looking into the history of gardening. Now, I know a little bit about Lewis and Clark, their voyage of discovery, and their collection and cataloging of native species (check the Latin names of many of our plants, if the species is lewisii, then it's one of Meriweather Lewis' many discoveries). However, I never really thought about the nature and development of gardening in the United States. If you are interested in the flowers and gardening, what follows is a list of books that I have recently discovered that begin to tell the tale of gardening in history.

• The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, Knopf Publishing; 2009: This book details the life of John Bertram (1733), an American farmer who regularly sent seeds to merchant Peter Collinson in London, England. This friendship led to a transformation of the English garden and landscape. In addition, this book highlights the work of Philip Miller, the author of The Gardeners' Dictionary; Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who developed the botanical nomenclature system; and explorers Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who collected flora on Captain Cook's great voyage of discovery.

• The Founding Gardeners, another great book by Andrea Wulf, Knopf Publishing, 2011: Details the gardening lives of four of our "founding fathers:" James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and George Washington. This tome examines the creation of our nation through the lens of gardens, landscape and agriculture.

• Flora Mirabilis by Catherine Howell, National Geographic, 2009, is a pictorial essay about botanical exploration and trade throughout the ages. It is written in collaboration between the National Geographic Society and the Missouri Botanical Garden, and contains tidbits about flowers, historical gardens, medicinal herbs and valuable plants from around the globe.

• Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History by Bill Laws, Firefly Books, 2011. This book is a guide to the plants that have had the greatest impact on human civilization including: rice, tea, cotton, rubber, wheat, sugarcane, tobacco, wine grapes and corn.

• Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and other Atrocities by Amy Stewart, Algonquin Books, 2009: This last book has been described as "bloodcurdling botany" and highlights exploding bushes, strangling vines, poison dagger trees and other "monstrous" plants. If you love a good mystery/thriller, this book is for you!

Until next time, happy reading and happy gardening!


August 23, 1785 (to John Jay): "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands."

- Thomas Jefferson