Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gifts for Gardeners 2009: A gem of a book

Here's an assignment for you: write up the history of humans and plants in 250 pages. Oh, and start in prehistoric times. Remember to leave lots of room for full-page botanical plates.

Catherine Herbert Howell has done it, creatively mixing large themes, exciting details and copious illustrations for her successful sweep through the ages in Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth and Beauty.

Each of the six chapters includes a timeline showing botanical discoveries and innovations, and the unexpected impact on societies. Sandwiched within the text are spotlights on significant plants.

For example, her chapter on the Enlightenment covers human-plant interaction from 1770 to 1840, peppered with quotes from major players. The timeline displays 50 events including the establishment of Kew Gardens for botanical study in England, and the crop failure that led to the French Revolution. Two-page features on the tomato, rose, grape, cotton and apple appear, not necessarily related to the primary text.

Published by National Geographic, the quality is everything you would expect. The illustrations are from the superior collection of the Missouri Botanical Garden and the appearance of the book is so sumptuous as to give the impression of an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. All this for a list price of $35.00.

From its lovely endpapers to its detailed list of illustrations, Flora Mirabilis is a treasure, perfect for savoring at a winter fireside. Your fireside companions will have to get used to spontaneous outbursts of, Isn't this interesting! I recommend it to anyone with curiosity about plants, history or economics.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from National Geographic.

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VW said...

That does sound like a delicious book. I'll probably just check it out from the library instead of ordering it, though. Maybe when I've filled up my garden with all the plants it can hold, then I'll spend my plant budget on books. But my young garden is devouring every spare penny on plants! Thank goodness for libraries.

Daffodil Planter said...

VW, With your serious hort. background you'd really enjoy this book! Time to make a list for your librarian?

Anna/Flowergardengirl said...

You make it sound so good. Beautiful cover. And just my sort of thing too.

Janet said...

Sounds like a wonderful book to have on the ol' coffeetable!

Daffodil Planter said...

Anna, I love that cover too! The National Geographic link shows some of the illustrations.

Janet, It's as pretty as any coffee table book but also smaller (about 9" x 7") so not such a great weight.

Kat said...

I keep seeing this book on more and more lists and you sure are tempting me. Just so happens I have a coupon for Borders. But I shouldn't... But I might. :)

Melanie said...

This sounds like an interesting read for now when the garden is under snow. I wonder if my library has it ?

Steve said...

What an ambitious storyline......."Plants through history". I'll be combing the shelves locally for this one.

Daffodil Planter said...

Kat, Lucky you with a book coupon!

Melanie, We'd never have time to read this during the growing season. Winter is a great time for history.

Steve, Yes, ambitious, and of course it's not an encyclopedia but a quality overview.

Country Mouse said...

I'm a sucker for books like this - I'll definitely check it out at our local book store - thanks for bringing it to our attention.