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A Garden of Marvels
Cover of A Garden of Marvels
A Garden of Marvels
How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants
Borrow Borrow Borrow

In the tradition of The Botany of Desire and Wicked Plants, a witty and engaging history of the first botanists interwoven with stories of today's extraordinary plants found in the garden and the lab.

In Paradise Under Glass, Ruth Kassinger recounted with grace and humor her journey from brown thumb to green, sharing lessons she learned from building a home conservatory in the wake of a devastating personal crisis.

In A Garden of Marvels, she extends the story. Frustrated by plants that fail to thrive, she sets out to understand the basics of botany in order to become a better gardener. She retraces the progress of the first botanists who banished myths and misunderstandings and discovered that flowers have sex, leaves eat air, roots choose their food, and hormones make morning glories climb fence posts. She also visits modern gardens, farms, and labs to discover the science behind extraordinary plants like one-ton pumpkins, a truly black petunia, a biofuel grass that grows twelve feet tall, and the world's only photosynthesizing animal. Transferring her insights to her own garden, she nurtures a "cocktail" tree that bears five kinds of fruit, cures a Buddha's Hand plant with beneficial fungi, and gets a tree to text her when it's thirsty.

Intertwining personal anecdote, accessible science, and untold history, the ever-engaging author takes us on an eye-opening journey into her garden—and yours.

In the tradition of The Botany of Desire and Wicked Plants, a witty and engaging history of the first botanists interwoven with stories of today's extraordinary plants found in the garden and the lab.

In Paradise Under Glass, Ruth Kassinger recounted with grace and humor her journey from brown thumb to green, sharing lessons she learned from building a home conservatory in the wake of a devastating personal crisis.

In A Garden of Marvels, she extends the story. Frustrated by plants that fail to thrive, she sets out to understand the basics of botany in order to become a better gardener. She retraces the progress of the first botanists who banished myths and misunderstandings and discovered that flowers have sex, leaves eat air, roots choose their food, and hormones make morning glories climb fence posts. She also visits modern gardens, farms, and labs to discover the science behind extraordinary plants like one-ton pumpkins, a truly black petunia, a biofuel grass that grows twelve feet tall, and the world's only photosynthesizing animal. Transferring her insights to her own garden, she nurtures a "cocktail" tree that bears five kinds of fruit, cures a Buddha's Hand plant with beneficial fungi, and gets a tree to text her when it's thirsty.

Intertwining personal anecdote, accessible science, and untold history, the ever-engaging author takes us on an eye-opening journey into her garden—and yours.

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About the Author-
  • Ruth Kassinger is the author of Paradise Under Glass, as well as a number of award-winning science and history books for young adults. She has written for the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Health magazine, Science Weekly, and other publications.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 18, 2013
    Kassinger (Paradise Under Glass) plays a chatty and knowledgeable tour guide on a pleasant ramble through the world of plants, taking time not only to stop and smell the flowers, but to investigate their histories. Inspired by her desire to understand the plants in her greenhouse and her neighborhood, she bounces between the evolutionary history of plants, from the first time a eukaryote engulfed a cyanobacterium to create a chloroplast to the emergence of C4 metabolism in tropical grasses; the gossipy social history of the people who studied, debated, argued, and discovered the principles of modern botany; and personal interviews with modern researchers and growers who specialize in quirky plants and breeding programs. In this last element, Kassinger is at her most delightful, exploring giant pumpkins, polyploid black petunias, photosynthesizing slugs, multigraft cocktail citrus trees, nickel-mining flowers, and giant grasses able to produce enough biomass to run a high-efficiency tomato greenhouse with vines 60 feet tall. Kassinger weaves a huge amount of information into what still feels like a personal memoir, and by the end of this effortless afternoon stroll with her, readers will be startled to realize how much they have learned. Drawings.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2014

    Reluctant science student (she wanted to be a poet) and confessed plant murderer (her victim: a kumquat), Kassinger has traveled an unlikely road authoring numerous popular scientific articles and books (Paradise Under Glass). Here, she aims to "saunter" through the history of botany. An amiable and enthusiastic guide, she avoids a strict chronological treatment of the evolving science of botany, instead moving easily back and forth between historical and modern times. Kassinger punctuates her account with practical plant conundrums: Why, for example, did a neighbor's old hickory tree die? How do those megapumpkins get to be so big? How do breeders engineer black petunias? Kassinger shows the progress of botany as resembling other branches of knowledge--i.e., built on the shoulders of giants--and she brings to life pioneering figures such as Robert Hooke, Marcello Malpighi, Nehemiah Grew, Joseph Priestly, and Charles Darwin. She also meets living plant researchers who are continuing the tradition. VERDICT Kassinger's witty approach to a complex subject will win readers, but her really neat idea is to fit a personal quest for greater botanical knowledge within the larger historical development of the science. Students unsure about their fitness for scientific careers will be reassured by this book; gardeners will be intrigued.--Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from January 15, 2014
    From award-winning history and science writer Kassinger (Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden, 2010, etc.), an informal, entertaining account of how early researchers discovered how plants work and what scientists are still learning about plants today. The author combines her lively botanical history with personal anecdotes about her own plant adventures and misadventures, and she also chronicles her visits to universities and nurseries, where accommodating, knowledgeable people shared their expertise with her. It is clear that Kassinger has done considerable research as well, for her account is rich with portraits of men from the 17th century struggling to understand the anatomy and physiology of plants. She writes of the techniques they used, the observations they made, what they misunderstood and what they got right. Other chapters reveal what is known now about the functions of leaves, stems, roots and flowers. She even explores the world of competitive giant pumpkin growing. Along with some tips on how to grow a one-ton pumpkin, Kassinger takes readers to an annual fall festival in Maine, where pumpkin lovers turn them into competitive racing boats. The author also introduces readers to green slugs that can photosynthesize; a "cocktail" citrus tree that bears limes, lemons and oranges; and a fern that can remove arsenic from polluted soil. Kassinger briefly considers the promise of the perennial grass miscanthus as a biofuel and the possible benefits of genetic engineering of food plants. A bonus of the book are the simple line drawings by Eva-Maria Ruhl, which illustrate Kassinger's lucid prose, making some botanical details even clearer. Especially charming is her drawing of a borametz, a plant that even educated Europeans in the early 17th century believed grew a tiny, living baby sheep on its stalk. A delightful book, fun to read and share--green thumb not required.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    December 15, 2013
    Whether debunking the myth of the vegetable lamb borametz plant or cooing over the rippling lettuce-like appearance of the green sea slug, Kassinger proves that it truly is a jungle out there. A self-taught, infectiously enthusiastic home gardener, Kassinger nevertheless realized that a more formal understanding of botany would be necessary if she were to prevent turning her horticultural hits into misses. But who said such a pursuit had to be boring? There were all manner of great stories hidden in the cabbage patch, from the daredevil biographies of botanists of yore to the mysterious manifestations of plant sex. An intrepid journalist and indefatigable plants woman, Kassinger ferrets out the most entertaining and educational aspects of plant science with a researcher's fervor and a collector's zeal. From instructions on how to grow a giant pumpkin and then convert it into a regatta-worthy sailing vessel (along with discovering why someone would even want to), Kassinger has a knack for uncovering horticulture's quirky side.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • Entertainment Weekly "A sumptuously written history of greenhouse horticulture."
  • International Herald Tribune on Paradise Under Glass "Ms. Kassinger's writing is chatty and intimate, but she has clearly done her library research."
  • Publishers Weekly "The book [PARADISE UNDER GLASS] vividly chronicles her [Kassinger's] initiation into the world of indoor gardening as well as the fascinating and unlikely histories of greenhouses and the flamboyant gardens they have housed...Kassinger's lush writing and exotic stories will delight the armchair gardener and historian."
  • Boston Globe "[M]y favorite gardening book of the year...But be warned... you might feel a need to start acquiring houseplants, or even a greenhouse."
  • New York Times Book Review on PARADISE UNDER GLASS "Ms. Kassinger's writing is chatty and intimate, but she has clearly done her library research."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "[A] pleasant ramble through the world of plants . . . Kassinger weaves a huge amount of information into what still feels like a personal memoir, and by the end of this effortless afternoon stroll with her, readers will be startled to realize how much they have learned."
  • Booklist on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "A self-taught, infectiously enthusiastic home gardener... intrepid journalist and indefatigable plants woman, Kassinger ferrets out the most entertaining and educational aspects of plant science with a researcher's fervor and a collector's zeal... Kassinger has a knack for uncovering horticulture's quirky side."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "A delightful book, fun to read and share..."
  • Columbus Dispatch on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "Kassinger has a knack for explaining without oversimplifying, so that xylem and phloem finally make sense, and the discovery of photosynthesis becomes an exciting event."
  • Discover magazine on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "Garden is a lively alternative to traditional botany books..."
  • Cold Climate Gardening on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "...if you told me I was going to find a book on the history of plant physiology fascinating, I would have snorted. But there you have it: truth is stranger than fiction."
  • Shelf Awareness on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "That [Kassinger] makes botany so approachable is a feat; that she makes it downright enthralling is almost as miraculous as an adorable photosynthesizing sea slug."
  • Meaghan Walsh Gerard of A Cineaste's Collection on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "This is a delightful compendium of botanical discoveries."
  • My Garden Group on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "...gardeners, if you're looking for a good read, I recommend the book. Yay science!"
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer on A GARDEN OF MARVELS "This is an entertaining, sophisticated primer on botany itself..."
  • The American Gardener magazine "This delightful book is jammed with revelations on plant physiology, biology, and an array of botanical yarns that read like a Gothic page-turner... [a] fast-paced,highly readable book."
  • Bookslut on A GARDEN OF MARVELS A Garden of Marvels is a delight."
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    William Morrow
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How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants
Ruth Kassinger
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