A Few of My Favorite Things

Every now and then, I feel compelled to reveal a bit more about myself and my preferences so you can get to know me a little better. When it comes to horticulture, I have a bunch of favorites. Today, I choose to share a few catalogs and books to whet your green-thumb appetite, and maybe get a few creative entrepreneurial juices flowing, to boot.

The first two are for those "resolute, have to explore this more, must try that one, committed to growing in our local earth, never say no to a new opportunity" farmers/gardeners and friends. Today, Bill H. called to thank me for a small piece of information he read in a recent column while in Florida. It made my day and helped me want to share more about myself.

I like to cook. I like to create and invent new pairings of foods and tastes. I, now and then, find a cookbook that I find so tantalizing that I read it cover to cover. I revel in it. I have a similar fondness for very unusual plant/seed catalogues. And, here are two that I cannot help myself from sharing.They are two I read cover to cover.

OREGON EXOTICS NURSERY: Subzero to Subtropical. World-wide Collection of Exotic Fruits <> Nuts <> Vegetables <> New Crops for the North. There you have it: that which I carry with me to all kinds of places until read through and through. It even accompanied me to jury duty a couple of years ago in Kingston. It's a harmless obsession, after all. And the pleasure is sublime. If you need a little seducing, let me entertain you with a short list of topics, a small fraction of what awaits you. How about "Forgotten Crops of the Andes", "A Little History of the Ancient Ones", "Food and Medicine in the Garden - Ten New Species of Dioscorea", "Chinese Botanicals", Pan-Medicinals", "Himalayan Ethnobotanical Adventures in Nepal". There is so much here. Figs, mushrooms, jujubes .... Visit and wallow, if that's your forte. It transports me to another world. Jerome R. Black is the curator. Taste it!

Next up, and in a similar, yet different vein, is J. L. Hudson, Seedsman, with his ETHNOBOTANICAL CATALOG OF SEEDS. This, too, is heady stuff. Mr. Hudson's brief and incisive essays about " The Value of Human Diversity", "Ethnobotany", "About Diversity Sampling", "About Hybrids" are challenging and revelatory. But, wait until you read his "Natives Vs. Exotics". This is the stuff that controversy is made for. It'll make your head spin and either long for more, or long for an audience with the author.

Fedco's Seed catalog as well as its tree catalog are both enticing for their unusual offerings and illustrations, not unlike R.H. Shumway's Catalog, another treat for the eyes. For a large assortment of unusual to rare plants with gorgeous photographs, don't miss out on Plant Delights Nursery's Catalog, with lots of plants you've never seen or heard of before. Some of the more familiar standbys include Johnny's Selected Seeds, Richters, The Cook's Garden, Shepherd's Garden Seeds, Pine Tree Garden Seeds, Raintree Nursery, Territorial Seed Company, Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, and maybe even Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery. There are very many more, and I didn't even mention the giants in the field (you know who they are). If you have an itch to explore, the above list may give you a push. It's great winter reading.

If herbs are your thing, you ought to at least have a look at "The Random House Book of Herbs" by Roger Phillips and Nicky Foy. Another favorite is "The Magic and Medicine of Plants". It's a Reader's Digest Book. For someone with walls of books, it is exciting to select only a very few to recommend.

Another Reader's Digest Book that I find nearly indispensable as an overall reference publication is "North American Wildlife". This book was first introduced to be by Richard E., formerly with the Soil and Water Conservation District, some twelve years ago. Published in 1982, the information it holds is timeless and essential for any exploration of nature.

Setting aside my seriousness for a bit, I must recommend two highly entertaining books.The first was well known as a best seller and featured by six major book clubs: "The Secret Life of Plants" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. Its subtitle tells a lot." A fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man".

A second book for those of you who believe the imagination of man holds many truths that escape notice until looked for, I must recommend a scholarly work of great hilarity. It is about a vast and complex imaginary plant kingdom. "Parallel Botany", written and illustrated brilliantly by Leo Lionni, will have you in stitches while you're stretching your mind to wrap it around his formidable inventions.

A book of scholarship that makes the world of botany fascinating and accessible to the general reader is "Wily Violets & Underground Orchids: Revelations of a Botanist" by Peter Bernhardt.

When I decide to recommend a handful of my favorites, I had no idea how difficult it would be to omit so many others. Maybe I will, at some future time, write a second list of a few of my favorite things. Until then, I must include one last book, a gift from my sister, Judy, to my son, Daniel, in 1987. The occasion was his fifth birthday. I think I was expected to read it to him. "Honeysuckle Sipping: The Plant Lore of Childhood", by Jeanne R. Chesanow. It's a collection of anecdotes and writings from American and European authors. It includes stories, games, toys to make, tastes, puzzles, inventions, hideouts. In all, it's a return to the joys and imaginings of school days' innocence. It embraces each season with a nostalgia for pastimes involving the simple joys of living. It may be especially useful in this day of computers to introduce young ones to the pleasures that nature offers all around us.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on June 16, 2004

© 2004 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.