Review by Choice Review
Styling with plants sounds so modern and, well, stylish. Styling with architecturally complex and nearly zero maintenance cacti and succulents sounds like a minimalist's dream: the ideal greenery to complement a simple living space with white walls and shockingly colored overstuffed chairs. This new twist on the traditional plant guide arises from Leon's artistic sensibility rather than her wide-ranging botanical knowledge, although both are in evidence in the typeface, page layout, plant selections, and tone of the text. Leon, who owns a succulent nursery and is a plant photographer, accompanies her text with 145 color photographs; all of these are artfully composed, and the majority are organized taxonomically. This allows readers to flip through the book to find the growth forms and patterns of spines, fuzz, or invaginations best suited to their living spaces and design needs. Unfortunately, only a few examples of home decor styles are provided. This leaves readers hungry for more. Anyone with a not-so-green thumb will savor advice such as this: "These plants will survive neglect. Overwatering is the most common cause of plant failure, so be careful with that water!" Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. --George C. Stevens, formerly, University of New Mexico
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review
MAY BE THE VIBE was in the air, during the anniversary of a long-ago summer of love, when I planted several irresistibly eccentric beauties. A nodding hippie of a plant, Datisca cannabina is a woody perennial with vaguely cannabislike foliage; it sports pendulous, shaggy, fragrant wands of flowers that set chains of love-bead seeds. It occurred to me that if I were gardening one toke over the state line, in Massachusetts instead of Rhode Island, I could have been digging the real thing. And just in time to help the bud tenders among us comes a weirdly fascinating volume, the LEAFLY GUIDE TO CANNABIS: A Handbook for the Modern Consumer (Twelve, $27). It was just a matter of time before a new generation caught up with the renegades of my generation, many of whom started getting high on gardening by tucking their herb among innocuous houseplants, hiding it in sunny corners of backyards or growing it under basement lights. Leafly, based in Seattle, calls itself "the world's largest cannabis information resource." Millions visit its website and mobile apps every month. The guide promises "clarity and understanding" of a plant that has been around since the end of the Pleistocene epoch. There's nothing laid back about Big Ag pot, a new kind of cultivated landscape that may soon stretch from sea to shining sea. In a paean to free-market capitalism, Leafly explains that legalization in some states has brought about a "vast expansion" in plant material - growers can now choose among hundreds of varieties, including White Widow and Durban Poison - as well as higher quality and lower prices, because of market efficiencies and competition. Indica strains are sedative, sativas are invigorating, and hybrids fall somewhere in between. What ends up in your stash jar are the flowers of a female plant. The authors describe how cannabinoids "work their medicinal magic" (magic being a good marketing approach) and how THC affects us. The pot being smoked at Woodstock probably featured THC concentrations of around 3 percent; with today's genetic modifications, "potent varieties clock in at nearly 30 percent." Kief, terpenes, decarboxylation and vaping concentrates: There's more evocative fetishistic language attached to these buds than most others in a farmer's world. You'll find cooking hints and beauty tips, even recommended munchie pairings. The health effects of smoking are lightly covered: There's no clear link to lung cancer, but definite "physical airway damage" and compromised cardiovascular function. I don't see how health nuts groove on lungsful of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The book could have included at least a paragraph about the effects of marijuana on the developing brains of adolescents. But that's a bummer. For those interested, I recommend Kevin P. Hill's "Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth About the World's Most Popular Weed." I find my bliss in Japanese gardens, and books about this refined and evolving form of art keep coming and coming. Sophie Walker's the Japanese garden (Phaidon, $69.95) is an ambitious survey, set in a framework that's both historical and thematic ("Death, Tea and the Garden," for instance, which sounds like something Thomas Mann would have enjoyed). Its elegant photographs are accompanied by impressively eccentric essays. In one of my favorites, the architect John Pawson writes about the ability to "feel an intimate connection with boundless landscape - as though it is passing through you and you through it" - in the smallest of the Kyoto gardens that entranced him. He captures, exquisitely, the balance and rhythm of moving through these rigorously controlled spaces. The sculptor Anish Kapoor weighs in with thoughts about gardens that don't just reveal meaning but instead "come into" meaning. And the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy gets really far out with the power of fractals in those ferns and rocks so carefully set in the Japanese garden - all of this tied to the Pixar classic "Up." I wish this book could be three times as long and as large. If that Strawberry Cough strain in the "Leafly Guide" has loosened your tongue, it would be very cool to recite a litany of the quirky collective nouns we've bequeathed the animal kingdom. Study up with a charm of goldfinches: And Other Wild Gatherings (Ten Speed, $14.99), by Matt Sewell. Beguiling watercolors depict land, air and water creatures, including an obstinacy of buffalo, an unkindness of ravens and a smack of jellyfish. Sewell's descriptions are marvelous - explaining when gaggles of geese become skeins of geese, or why swirling hawks suggest boiling water in a kettle. I can just hear him shouting to his wife and daughters that "we have a bellowing of bullfinches on the bird feeder, quick!" This is a book of delightful oddities, and don't we all need more of those in our lives? To that end: In the '60s and '70s, J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 classic, "The Hobbit," was part of every self-respecting freak's portable library. The father-and-son team of Walter S. Judd, a biologist, and Graham A. Judd, an artist, enjoyed the "Lord of the Rings" cycle together, "immersed in Middle-earth ... transported to a wondrous land." But in flora OF MIDDLE-EARTH: Plants of J. R. R. Tolkien's Legendárium (Oxford, $34.95), the Judds make the case that these tales offer more than an escape from reality. Instead, they're meant to have an influence on "how we interact with other individuals and with the world in which we live - including the landscapes of our natural environment." What follows is an exhaustive accounting of the trees, shrubs, herbs and other plants in Tolkien's Middle-earth - the plants of our world and those, like the White Trees of Göndör, of the elven world. Tolkien was a writer who confessed to being "much in love with plants and above all trees"; the Judds note that plants appear on nearly every page of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." I found myself transported by their discussion of "plant communities, as altered by hobbits, humans, elves or angelic beings." Those Hobbits were "good agriculturalists," growing hemp for its fiber, maintaining lawns and gardens and also struggling with weeds. Take heed, ye great corporate polluters of today, lest you lead us to the gates of the defiled land of Mordon I'm with the young Ent called Quickbeam, who considers trees to be "beautiful friends with cool and soft voices." This volume, with its handsome and haunting woodcuts, is best appreciated in small doses. It's heady stuff, quite concentrated. But it made me blow the dust off my copy of "The Silmarillion" and add it to my stash of winter reading. Get your head into the clouds with aerial geology: a High-Altitude Tour of North America's Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks (Timber, $29.95). What better way to introduce geology to any reluctant science student than a book full of breathtaking "who knew?" moments. Luckily, the writer and mountaineer (and, appropriately enough, resident of Big Sky Mont.) Mary Caperton Morton knows. Take in the natural splendors of the view from an airplane window: This generously photographed volume even offers flight patterns that will reveal our earthly treasures. The world's largest piedmont glacier, Alaska's Malaspina - which is, of course, shrinking as our world dangerously warms - is still so heavy "that the bottom has sunk nearly 1,000 feet below sea level." The Teton Range in Wyoming is "North America's youngest mountain range, made of some of the continent's oldest rocks." Three-hundred- million-year-old seafloor fossils were brought to the surface by uplift and erosion in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. And the New River Gorge in West Virginia is one of the few northflowing waterways in North America. The 200-million-year-old sandstone at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona is a sacred Native American site. A steep trail down to the canyon floor takes you to the White House Ruin, witness to a brutal episode in America's 19th-century history. Come down to earth and head for the GREAT HIKING TRAILS OF THE WORLD (Rizzoii, $50), featuring 75,000 miles of trekking on six continents. Brought to us by Karen Berger, with an assist from the estimable American Hiking Society, this volume offers several lifetimes of bucket lists. Those who want to stick close to home might visit the Appalachian Trail, with its "tired mountains, worn down by time"; what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for with "a unique diversity of landscapes, some of which are found nowhere else." For those wanting a mind-meld with Bilbo Baggins, or at least a challenging hike, try Te Araroa in New Zealand, one of the most "geothermically active places on earth." In years past, Robert Llewellyn has blown our minds with the indelibly detailed photographs in "Seeing Trees," "Seeing Flowers" and "Seeing Seeds." In the LIVING FOREST: A Visual Journey Into the Heart of the Woods (Timber, $40), he has teamed up with Joan Maloof, the founder and director of the Old-Growth Forest Network, to peer into the mystery and magic of our woodlands. Too often, we take for granted what their preface calls the "thin and lovely membrane" that is our biosphere. Llewellyn and Maloof turn our gazes up into the forest canopy, where we find elegant herons and snazzy bluebirds in flight. We peer into the eyes of eagles, which can see for miles, and wonder, along with the authors, whether trees are sensitive to starlight. As Llewellyn and Maloof remind us, trees are "the lungs of the land," and as such they've been woefully underappreciated; they're the best mechanism we know of to suck up the pollution that's warming the entire planet. Llewellyn also reminds us of the sheer beauty of our surroundings as he catches the fetal curl of a leaf in midfall. Among the most alluring of his images are the golden portraits of larval salamanders. But there's not enough here about insects: 1 hope that will be a future project, one that's sorely needed. We aren't doing nearly enough to protect our fellow creatures, whether rooted or roaming. And we fail to do so at our own peril. THE TREES OF NORTH AMERICA (Abbeville, $49.95) features, for the first time in one volume, the botanical engravings of Andre and François-Andre Michaux, along with other treasures held in the renowned collection of the New York Botanical Garden's Mertz Library. Its director, Susan Fraser, describes the arrival, in 1785, of the fatherson team in New Jersey, and then in Charleston, where they propagated trees for export to France. Alas, Marie-Antoinette neglected her saplings (among other things) and declined to give further funding, so the team, in an inspired bit of marketing, prepared engravings from drawings by Pierre-Joseph Redouté and others. "The North American Sylva" was later revised by the English naturalist Thomas Nuttall. This volume's handsome plates feature forthright, detailed drawings; you can almost feel the sheen on the acorns of the cork oak or the shaggy surface of the Bristlecone fir. And who, who, who is out there in the forests with us when we linger past dusk? The owls, of course. For years, I've been trying to set eyes on the owls in the trees around my house, to no avail. Great horned duets wake me out of a sound sleep. Sometimes 1 can't resist tipping my head back and joining in the calls. But the owls remain elusive. So thank you, David Tipling, for the sumptuous, endearing and terrifying photographs of these uncanny creatures in the ENIGMA OF THE OWL: An Illustrated Natural History (Yale University, $40). And Mike Unwin's authoritative descriptions of the owl way of life are fascinating. When not hunting (snakes, frogs and voles hang from their beaks), they preen adorably, peer from nest holes in the trunks of trees or plunge through snow in pursuit of prey. They have such wonderful round faces, with disks around their eyes that work like satellite dishes to capture and direct an astonishing range of sound to their ears. And those eyes! The golden orbs under the furrowed brow of the great horned owl are mesmerizing. If 1 could, Fd fly away with a parliament of owls. For the time being, 1 remain earthbound, but that has its pleasures too. Apples, for starters. Every autumn, 1 haunt local orchards, eager to pick bushels of my own. And every year brings more varieties, so I'm going to keep a copy Of APPLES (Countryman, $18.95), by Roger Yepsen, in my glove compartment as a reference. His beautiful watercolors are enough to trigger anyone's munchies. In these pages, we learn that the Macoun "just doesn't sing if picked before ... late September or October" and that Pink Lady won't turn to mush in a pie. Yepsen warns that bigger apples mature more quickly, so if you opt for them at the supermarket their firmness and texture are likely to be "on the way out." And he says not to worry about the "corky" brown texture on the skin of certain varieties since "russets tend to be spicier and have more character than the average apple." You never know what will give someone a hankering to garden. One young man of my acquaintance, who doesn't much like to get dirt under his fingernails, has become enamored of succulents. And it seems that they're the chic plants of the design world right now. The primly tasteful PRICK (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99), by Gynelle Leon, offers useful advice on choosing, styling and caring for cactuses and succulents - with the emphasis on styling. Each plant in this primer is shown nested in a simple pot, often banded with a clean white stripe. Though the pricks of their spines will harass, as that is their nature, somehow the pretty presentation makes the whole enterprise seem neatly manageable rather than messy, providing a comforting illusion of control to the neophyte. But just wait till that prickly pear outgrows its elegant crib. Speaking of elegant, does the Bay Area now hold the greatest concentration of creatively refined gardens in the country? ft would seem so, judging by the captivating photographs of Marion Brenner in PRIVATE GARDENS OF THE BAY AREA (Monaceiii, $60). The hard-working team of Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner has previously published books about New Jersey and Hudson Valley gardens; this volume is especially satisfying in its breadth and variety. Admire the looser, larger interpretation of Japanese aesthetics in a courtyard garden overlooking San Francisco or the dreamy light filtering through the ancient trees in the St. Eden Garden near Oakville, with its soft gray mounds of olive, lavender and teucrium - a bit of Provence. The pool on the Berggruen property goes right into my "dream file." An artful moss collection, improbably displayed in boxes and on logs, graces a porch in Glen Park, while steel and concrete planters snake up a cliff on Telegraph Hill to reach a staggering view. Californians draw inspiration from around the globe - but then they do their own thing, to dazzling effect. Just in case this turns out to be your winter of discontent, fire up the glue gun, unfurl the crepe paper and turn on to the fine ART OF PAPER FLOWERS (Watson-Guptill, $25). 1 kid you not: Tiffanie Ttirner's creations are exquisite. Her D.f.Y. instructions for handmade marigolds, roses, dianthus and daffodils are meticulous. How soothing an activity this turns out to be will probably mirror where your cravings fall on the indica-sativa scale; I personally wouldn't try this at home. But I will forever admire the angelic creatures among us who are able to pull poppies out of paper. They're almost as miraculous as those beauties we so hopefully coax out of the soil, generation after generation, through many more summers of love. DOMINIQUE BROWNING, the founder and director of Moms Clean Air Force, works at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 3, 2017]