A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger – a book review

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger was quite the surprise read.  What I found inside was a new way to look at the world of plant physiology, a thorough history of plants and how we came to know what we do about them.  I was so caught up in the story that I couldn’t put the book down.  Ruth wove what could have been a boring read into a timeline filled with facts I had never heard before and answers to some of my “Now, why do we …?”

A Garden of Marvels starts with Kassinger’s misguided gardening techniques and follows her on the quest to find the answer to why it happened – why did the plant die?  While this seems like an easy enough answer it turns into a much more complicated explanation.  The explanations do not end with the immediate answer of: you did A, so B happened.  It also involves the Italians, the English, the Germans, the Catholic Church, several hundred years of politics, and a lamb growing atop a plant stalk.

A Garden of Marvels is not your typical plant book, and I truly didn’t learn this material in school or at any local garden club meeting.

  • How can you trust the pictures you see in the plant physiology book you find on your book shelf or at the library?
  • How do you know what a plant really is?
  • How does it differ from an animal or a person?  What about those which seemingly eat insects? Do they actually differ or are they really the same thing?
  • Do plants spontaneously appear, reproduce according to God’s grace, or by some other means?
  • Do plants make the air in your house bad, so you have to take them out each night?
  • Are they responsible for the spread of a disease?
  • Is it anti-Christian to use a microscope?

These are just a few questions that complicated the explanation Kassinger began looking for at the beginning of this book.  Their answers all led to a better understanding of the plants around her and a new level of plant care for the gardener. (They also led to the survival of the next plant.)

It would have been very easy to make all the information very boring and confusing.  Instead she found the perfect balance of present day circumstances and historical references, moving from one topic to the other but tying them all together as she went.

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants will stay in my library to be referenced as I took can find answers to my gardening “Why?” questions.  I am not talking about in the normal “Look it up in the index” way, but through true understanding of how plants work.  After all, that is how we grow as caretakers of our gardens.

 

I received a copy of this ebook from Edelweiss for review.  (It is also available in print.)  All opinions are my own.

This post contains affiliate links.