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.
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…
Too late, I warned you! You now belong to the plants 🙂
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 and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 “publish” I am off to do some research to find sources for those that aren’t.
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!