Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs a book about unusual edible plants and the people that grow them by Emma Cooper

If I was ever going to review a book it would have to have a name like this…

What is it that turns normal everyday people into mad plant fanciers? You know the kind…they know every botanical name for everything that they grow and their eyes glow like zealots whenever anyone asks them about their passion. Up until 2009 I was completely oblivious to the world of plant passion. I could have cared less about cuttings and propagation and grafting and was like most people, completely unaware of the underground movement of horticulture that surrounds and engulfs us in minutiae and grandiose heights that are outside our sphere of thought.


Student horticulturalists at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

2 junior horticulturist’s mad with passion about all things “plant” at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in 2009

In 2009 Steve and I decided to study horticulture for a year and a half, predominately in order to take a bit of a break and try to work out what we were going to do with ourselves when we moved to Tasmania. Within 3 weeks of commencing the course we were hooked like salmon on brightly coloured flies and within 6 months we had attended our first international plant show in Melbourne AND started collecting strange and unusual plants in earnest. We now “get it” we are pawns of our botanical overlords. There is no hope for us now but you might just be able to save yourselves if you choose not to read the following review…


Passionate plant lover at the Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

A very VERY sick narf7 who with her equally sick husband Steve had just driven a couple of kids to Hobart who needed a lift and who despite feeling like death warmed up couldn’t resist stopping at the Botanical Gardens…

Too late, I warned you! You now belong to the plants πŸ™‚


Emma Cooper author horticulturalist and ethnobotanist UK

Emma Cooper eccentric fellow student of horticulture, ethnobotanist, author extraordinaire and fellow plant slave.

When Emma decided to write a book I immediately jumped at the chance to review it. I hadn’t even read the book but I just knew it would be something to tuck into the gap between my ears where the wild things are. Emma has a stellar but completely quirky and highly addictive blog called most benignly “Emma the Gardener” but it is anything but benign. This girl is plant possessed andΒ she glows with the ephemeral light of one who has set out on a personal horticultural adventure and discovered that there be dragons… Emma talks about Sir Joseph Banks and surely he is as close to a six degrees of separation character as is possible in the horticultural world. We all have our own Joseph Banks stories. I hugged an enormous conifer given to the then Governor of Tasmania as a tiny seed by his friend Mr Joseph Banks when I had the privilege of working on the property that is now privately owned and often wondered how many of the mature trees that surrounded me were gifted as tiny seeds by the venerable Mr Banks.

Large conifer in Longford Tasmania rumoured to have been gifted to the property owner by Joseph Banks

Student horticulturist standing next to a conifer the seed of which is rumoured to have been gifted to the property owner by Joseph banks


Tree hugging horticultural hippy

Student horticulturist overtaken by love of this magnificent tree and showing it her appreciation

Gardening books tend to fall into two camps, large coffee table volumes of unattainable images or dry pithy tomes that the average person on the street would need degrees in both horticulture and science to even start to fathom out. For the purposes of this review we are going to have to reclassify Emma’s book because it fits neither genre and needs a class of its own.


Stapelia hirsuta

Stapelia hirsuta a most beautiful but incredible “aromatic” (stinky) plant that proves our slavetude to our plant overlords because it rules our glasshouse

From the outset we are led through an interesting history of the whys and wherefores of plant collecting as well as a growing awareness of the environmental impact/toll that intensive agriculture has taken on the planet. Emma’s book has a decided lean towards the care and preservation of plants using natural methods which makes this book all the more impressive and important in my opinion. She shares the stories of plant collectors all over the world. Some well-known, others simple gardeners, who have many and varied reasons for importing and growing unusual edibles from being homesick for flavours in a new country and a desire to live more self-sufficiently through to growing them simply because they can. These stories take the form of interviews and the reader feels like they are participating in the conversation.

Yacon - Smallanthus sonchifolius

Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) that we imported from the Australian mainland and decided to grow in our vegetable garden just because we could (isn’t that how this all starts?!)

Each story comes complete with a list of recommended books, gardens, hints and tips for sourcing unusual edibles making it both interesting and useful for those new to plant collecting. My personal favourite amongst the collectors is Owen Smith, who may have an oversubscribed surname but whose sense of humour and obvious eccentric passion for perennial edibles echoes my own and whose blog “Radix” is both educational and entertaining at the same time. After the series of interviews Emma produces an extensive list of edibles with an interesting explanation about how to cultivate and use each one. I love how Emma weaves each tale with a juicy selection of blogs, websites, books and links that take the reader much further than a single book could go. You just know that a book is going to be well-thumbed (or scrolled) when you are eagerly writing down the names of plants and collectors to find out more about after you have finished reading. Emma’s book has me very excited about adding some of the more unusual plants mentioned to the long list of Serendipitous edibles that I want to plant here.


Garden pea grown for Northern Tasmanian conditions

Pea purchased from the little Exeter nursery and bred for our local conditions. Note how healthy it is and I can vouch for how delicious it was

And so we have scratched below that surface dirt and found purest green. It’s like knowing that secret handshake and being allowed into the inner sanctum of plant passion to start to talk the talk with a fellow plant lover and collector. An example of this passion is a small local nursery that acts as the money-making 9 to 5 for the true passion of the owner which is to develop and grow unusual edibles that will grow best in our climate and conditions. Once you delve into the realms of unusual edibles there may be no turning back and the warmth and generosity of plant collectors is part of what makes this pastime so addictive.


Wordle image of the words contained within the book Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs

Wordle image created from the words in Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs

I would just like to thank Emma for allowing me to review her wonderful book. She gave me a draft copy for this review but I would have paid to have the chance to read it anyway. It is brim full of interesting and useful information. The only negative that I can see is that it deals predominately with Northern collectors and suppliers and as such, the extensive list of seed savers, seed banks and plant specialists mentioned may not be accessible to us Southern gardeners who have been bitten by the unusual edible bug. In saying that, many of the plants listed in the book were familiar to me and as soon as I click β€œpublish” I am off to do some research to find sources for those that aren’t.


Wordle image created for this blog post consisting of the words that form the post

Wordle of this post

The e-book will be available from Smashwords where anyone interested in purchasing a copy can read a preview prior to purchase for the princely sum of $2.99 USD. Less than a mediocre cup of coffee folks!



37 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joanna
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 10:51:43

    What a lovely review! I am definitely going to have to get a copy of Emma’s book as it sounds like an essential read. I adore the photos of you tree hugging and looking so happy with all those wonderful plants – gardeners and growers are some of the nicest people aren’t they?


    • narf77
      Apr 10, 2014 @ 11:15:19

      They most certainly are and you are very kind to comment Joanna πŸ™‚ I reckon at $2.99 even penniless student hippies can afford a copy and it has so much amazing information in it! Emma is the bomb πŸ™‚


  2. Hannah (BitterSweet)
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 11:36:13

    Never in my life have a seen a more perfect pod of peas. Goodness, and to think that I’ve loved their bright, green flavor and crisp texture for so many years, all without trying a prime specimen like this beauty… I can’t even imagine how delicious it must have been. I may have access to vegan oddities and convenience food, but prime produce like that is something that can’t be bought just anywhere!


    • narf77
      Apr 10, 2014 @ 16:41:55

      I think that is my one good photo in a lifetime to be honest Hannah πŸ˜‰ Those peas were delicious though. Cheers for your lovely comment, you just made me feel really sunny on a day when it has been grey and I have been shackled to the PC studying all day πŸ™‚


  3. Robbie
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 12:39:33

    This was a great review + I think her book would be a great book for those of us that like to grow edibles:-) I will check it out! That is a big tree you were trying to hug-my goodness!!! ” An example of this passion is a small local nursery that acts,,, true passion of the owner which is to develop and grow unusual edibles that will grow best in our climate and conditions.” I have been on a quest the past decade to find those that work best in our growing conditions + create a healthy place on our city lot…those peas look amazing!!!


    • narf77
      Apr 10, 2014 @ 16:44:17

      I was most impressed with the parts about edible perennial tubers to be honest Robbie. I got very excited about them and you would be able to access most of them where you are unlike me who isn’t only on the other side of the world but am in the state equivalent of the gulag archipelago ;). The book made me very excited and it was written for real people, not horticulturalists so it made sense and was entertaining. That radix blog is funny by the way. The author writes very witty and entertaining posts as well as educating about the fascinating subject of oca and other perennial tubers πŸ™‚


      • Robbie
        Apr 10, 2014 @ 21:35:14

        πŸ™‚ Really sounds like a good book, so grateful peole like your friend take the time to write on this subject:-) I will be checking it out. I am exploring interesting new foods. I got some seed from another blogger , Lrong in Japan ( + Ezad in Egypt) this year to try in my garden. It is Egyptian spinach/super green. They saved the seed + sent me some:-) I just want to be careful that perennial vegetables are not invasive to my area. There are some that become invasive to our natural habitats, for example, purslane which I love to eat , but is invasive. There are other choices, so I just have to weed through them + it sounds like her book would be a good choice. I also have very little space, so a food has to not only be benficial to us , but help nature:-)

      • narf77
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 03:32:49

        The good thing about most of the tubers is that they produce sunflower like flowers that the bees adore. I have heard of that spinach here. The Lebanese community adore it and you can buy it on the mainland but not sure if you can get it here. Might have to look into it. I don’t know what Lrong is. Never heard of it so must look it up. I LOVE finding a new edible πŸ™‚

      • Robbie
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 03:56:05

        πŸ™‚ Lrong is his name he is from Japan:-)oops, my fault did not make myself clear in my comment-tee hee

      • narf77
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 04:15:55

        That’s ok, I just thought I had discovered an unusual Japanese vegetable! πŸ˜‰

      • narf77
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 03:33:42

        Oops…just realised that Lrong is a fellow blogger and not a vegetable! πŸ˜‰

      • Robbie
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 03:57:38

        lol..I am heading out to clear all my muck in my garden..wrote my “muck”post and will post it later since I have to take pictures:-)

      • narf77
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 04:18:13

        I have 198 posts to read in my RSS Feed Reader. I have had to ignore them as I have been busy doing book reviews and studying etc. and now I am trying to wade through all of them today while Steve is off doing the fortnightly shopping in the city (50km away) and fixing our daughters front door knob that they were rather violent with (the door sticks a bit) and actually managed to pull off! He is going to take Bezial with him so that he can visit with his “sister” Qi who we left with our daughters in the city when we moved out to here. Can’t wait to read your post as it will be waiting here for me in my RSS Feed Read and I will hunt it out amongst the lesser posts to read first πŸ™‚

      • Robbie
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 05:23:48

        we use to have 5 dogs since my middle daughter volunteered at the shelter for a few years + I went along with her to help out.BAD IDEA…we ended up with rescue dogs. We had 5 one time and they were a great bunch, but issues started when the two older ones got a bit older and they needed to work out their pack order…we worked around it ,but finally a friend took Sasha ( she was a mix goldern retriever), and that was good since I could not give all the time to the dogs + my kids started going off to college etc…back and forth-lol, but dogs stayed! Oh, and she volunteered with the cat shelter ,too, so I have 3 of those + I never was a cat person, but I am now-love my cats:-) Well, the last two pit bulls were rescued from people that wanted to fight them=geez=what idiots! Well, now there is just Punk 14, Schatze 11, and Chance ( only boy) 8yrs old.
        I love reading your posts about dogs…pit bulls are so comical!

      • narf77
        Apr 11, 2014 @ 09:36:47

        They (pit bulls) are the comedians of the dog world indeed πŸ˜‰

  4. Robbie
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 12:40:29

    also I agree that books title is inviting + cover photo is amazing!


  5. Linne
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 14:44:29

    Yes, a great review! I can’t believe you’ve only been into plants for five years; I am seriously impressed, my friend! I had a quick detour to Emma’s site and when I saw her post about growing your own thong, I just had to laugh; it was so unexpected! “Do your own thang; grow your own thong” Sounds like a T-shirt, doesn’t it? (I know that wasn’t her title; it just popped into my inconvenient brain) I have to say that based on your review, I will be buying this book before our summer is over. It sounds like just the sort of thing I enjoy. When I first read about Gene Stratton-Porter (I read her books first, then a biography), I had that same feeling. So thanks for the recommendation; I might not have heard of this gem otherwise.

    Love the photos of you back in your youth (now that you’ve passed 50 I have to consider you middle-aged (well, at the very beginning of it according to my scale); that huge conifer reminded me of the ancient cedars and other giants of the West Coast of BC. I would have hugged it, too . . I share your interest in growing whatever I like, hoping it will flourish; I disregard the rules and all that; so, of course, I did have some epic failures. Still, it’s worth the try, every time.

    Your peas . . . pure perfection, I say. If you ever make pea soup from dried split peas, try adding a bunch of fresh peas toward the end; just long enough to cook them through. Incredible, I say!

    Thanks again, Narfie7; I’m looking forward to reading that book for sure. ~ Linne


    • narf77
      Apr 10, 2014 @ 17:05:02

      I laughed when I saw that as well :). You have to love a website that combines science with humour. Did you check out that Radix site? He is hilarious! Not only does he elicit deep and most soulful “YUK’S!” but he shares everything that he learns about perennial tubers and that makes me vibrate with excitement! Steve and I were plant numpties prior to 2009 and then the plants took over our brains and there was no looking back…we were gone! The book is SO worth $2.99 American. I can’t believe that is all it costs! It is cram packed full of information and humour and you feel like you are included in the storyline because the format (at least in the first part of the book) is interviews of all sorts of people. I was SOOOO sick in that picture where I had red hair and looked like death warmed up. Steve and I had the swine flu and the only reason we drove the kids down to Hobart was that they would have missed out on a best mates wedding otherwise. We should have gone straight home but the Botanical Gardens called and we ended up dragging our poor sorry sick derriΓ¨res home late and not being able to move out of our armchairs for the next 3 days. That conifer is a big Atlas cedar. We collected some seed from it and grew some babies but no idea where they went. We gave a lot of our plants away. Have you tried growing the root portion of veggies like spring onions, leeks, celery etc? There is a lot of info around at the moment about people doing just that in glass jars on their windowsills and you get more veggies/bang for your buck! I love the idea of using fresh peas in pea soup. It’s pure soul food but a bit stodgy and the addition of fresh peas would add lightness and colour and that fresh spring flavour to it…YUM! πŸ™‚


      • Linne
        Apr 14, 2014 @ 16:41:12

        Thanks for the intro to Radix, too. I am now following both his sites. He’s the first writer I’ve seen to use the lovely sentence fragment “up with which I will not put” . I’ve loved that for a long time. I understand it’s from Churchill and the full quote is “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” Awesome, eh?

        I can’t believe you guys only began with plants in ’09! Impressive!!! I am buying the book as soon as it’s out. I forgot it would be another month. Oh, well, the joys of middle age, eh?

        That cedar is so gorgeous; if I ever get down there, you will have to take me over and we shall have a group hug . . . I’ve grown things from roots before, but we have no windowsills worthy of the name (I HATE ‘modern’ housing), but will be doing that again one day, I hope. We have a smallish, too-high-up window in the kitchen just above Mum’s table where she eats; same sort of window, but a bit wider in each of the bedrooms and sliding glass doors in the lounge (in front of which sits a large table with drop-leaves that was meant to hold a table loom and now holds our collective houseplants so they get some daylight); that’s it. I miss living in a house; in particular, an older (like pre-WWII; even better, pre-WWI) house, those suit me just fine, thank you! I’d even settle for an old shack if it had a sufficiency of windows AND sills . . .

        And as for peas in pea soup . . . yum is right. Do you remember when I wrote about that recipe for ‘Risi e Bisi’? It had fresh peas added to the pea soup component. It’s fine without them, but adding them increases the deliciousness . . .

        Ok, gotta go get some sleep or my project will never be finished and I shall have persons in NZ no longer gruntled with me . . . ~ Linne

      • narf77
        Apr 14, 2014 @ 16:58:33

        You had better head to bed or Pauline (the slave master) will be on your case πŸ˜‰

  6. thecontentedcrafter
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 17:55:16

    You have writ a great review Narfie7 – and, if I gather correctly, in the style of the book too! Interspersing snippets of info with various related incidents from your life past and present! Good job!!

    The book sounds eminently suitable for reading for any number of reasons. What a clever lady- almost the perfect format for any factual book – something for everyone by the sounds.

    The title catches attention immediately, that’s for sure…. though whether I’d want to read something so oddly titled I’m not sure…But the photo of the author then draws me in – in a re-assuring manner. She looks so nice and normal, but I know shes not by the title of the book – but she looks like fun, she’s got a sense of humour I can see………..so, oh heck! I might just dive in and have a peek…..

    I’ve noticed that all previous commenters to me have commented on the peas – which is good as I was going to as well – they are all the same size and fill the pod perfectly – I was wondering how many millions you had to open to find that one perfect pod of peas …..? That’s a photo for your book πŸ™‚

    Further points: I would have hugged that tree too! I love that the two of you found a joint passion – and such a passion! I like your ‘wordle’ very much, even though I have never heard of a wordle before!

    Thank you for your generous help today. My granola failed for unknown reasons – possibly not cooked long enough…. But the date paste – well even I couldn’t muck that up today. Happy to report I have a 250g container full of date paste. Now to find ways to use it πŸ™‚

    Right, back to your RSS feed Narfie, there’s a new post waiting at ‘T’ for you …….


    • narf77
      Apr 11, 2014 @ 03:30:00

      We found Wordle last year when we were researching word clouds for our course. You can choose a large swath of text (I used the entire e-book to make the Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs version), copy it, click “Create your own” and then if you want to keep it you can save it after it is created. Once you have created a Wordle there is the choice to “Randomise” it underneath which is where the fun starts. Click randomise and all of a sudden it starts choosing all sorts of styles, fonts and colours and you can create some really interesting art with text and the best part is you can write a really personal piece of text and Wordle that sucker up and gift it to someone whereby it’s good enough to frame and put on the wall :). The more you use a word in your text, the larger the word appears in the Wordle so if you want the word “Chicken” (no idea why, but for the sake of this explanation that word popped into my head…) to be the biggest word in the Wordle, just type it in a lot and BAM you have chook :). Here’s the site if you want to make text art…


      The granola possibly didn’t clump well because most of the granola recipes are made with syrup that holds them together. Mine formed a large sort of cake that I broke up and cooked further in clumps. The end result firmed up and was excellent as chunky cereal. Another post at “T”? I now have 198 RSS Feed Posts that I am going to have to do my best to knock out today while Steve is in the city with Bezial doing the shopping. I am off to walk Earl with Meika for a bit and then back to get stuck in to plotting how I am going to put ideas into negative space and when Steve gets back we can work our combined magic and can put my ideas into practice. We had fun with it doing Steve’s and today we will crank up Photoshop and compile mine. At least we are over the research things for a day or so and the next thing we are learning involves Illustrator so that is going to be fun! πŸ™‚ Hopefully it doesn’t take me too long to get around to “T”


      • Linne
        Apr 14, 2014 @ 14:03:06

        Just butting in to say thanks for the Wordle site; it doesn’t work on Mum’s computer as ActiveX files are banned. I’ll get my sister to have a look next time she’s over. Also thanks for the Smashwords site; more to read . . . πŸ™‚

        I’ll be buying that book once it’s available. Thanks for that, too. ~ Linne

      • narf77
        Apr 14, 2014 @ 14:06:10

        Hi Linnie (waving from sunny Sidmouth) πŸ™‚ you are welcome about the book and wordle. Not sure how you would get to see the wordles… Steve says he could tell you how to fix it if you want him to and you could use it for wordles and then disable it again. Let us know and he can send you an email telling you how πŸ™‚

      • Linne
        Apr 14, 2014 @ 16:28:12

        Thanks, Narfie! I would love to do it; my sister is the official ‘techie’, though, and will be a bit ticked off if I start messing around with Mum’s machine. Best to observe protocol with families, eh? no matter how nice . . . πŸ™‚ Thanks very, very much to Steve,. though. I really appreciate the offer. If I ever get my machine set up, I’ll let you know. One is currently hiding under Mum’s wee desk in the lounge and another is parked across the room ’cause it’s too tall to fit under the desk. I think the third is in the second bedroom (no bed, just our stuff) πŸ™‚ However, my techie sister gave me a hard drive reader a while back and I still haven’t used it. It was just prior to the flood in my old suite. Once I have it set up, I will remove the hard drives and use them in the reader. That will free up a lot of space . . .
        Thanks again, very much. ~ Linne

      • narf77
        Apr 14, 2014 @ 16:57:00

        Any time Linnie πŸ™‚

    • Emma
      Apr 11, 2014 @ 05:22:06

      “she looks so nice and normal” πŸ˜€ LOL


  7. Chica Andaluza
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 23:59:04

    Great review miss narf7, sounds like an amazing book. We have a Botanical Garden here in Malaga – it’s not huge but very interesting and we try to make a point of visiting it a couple of times a year to see it at different stages. We missed going a few weeks ago when their massive Wisteria was in flower…another time!


    • narf77
      Apr 11, 2014 @ 03:43:10

      We missed going down last year but we might head off and check out the Japanese garden in full autumn colour this year at our Bot gardens in Hobart. We do have to drive 4 hours to get there but sometimes it doesn’t matter, you just need a fix πŸ™‚ Cheers for that gorgeous image. What a magnificent specimen! We have a huge old one growing over a small radio station that operates from a large park in Launceston. It’s apparently the oldest Wisteria in the Southern Hemisphere and I love its huge wizened gnarly old stems. Plants are amazing things πŸ™‚


  8. Emma
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 05:24:02

    Thanks so much for hosting a stop on my virtual book tour, Narf, your review is amazing and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the lovely comments πŸ˜€


    • narf77
      Apr 11, 2014 @ 09:35:37

      You are more than welcome Emma, I really loved reading your excellent book and it is worth so much more than a mediocre cup of coffee! πŸ™‚ As you can see, my dear constant readers are a lovely (albeit wacky and eccentric πŸ˜‰ ) crew of (reprobates) sterling members of society and they all love the sound of your book. Some have even said that they want to buy it so hopefully you get at least a few sales from my post. Again, thankyou SO much for the chance to read what is a most excellent and exciting book.


  9. Trackback: I’m raising a blackmailer. Oops | Nothing By The Book
  10. Trackback: Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs – Emma Cooper Interview » Carl Legge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: