Garden Book: Lives of the Trees by Diana Wells

Diana Wells is probably my favorite garden author around.100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names is the first book by her I read and one I read cover-to-cover just about every year. She has a way of weaving botanical, historical, mythological and literary references about plants into tight chapters that make you feel like you’ve learned everything you could possibly want to know about a plant. When I first read 100 Flowers it had a tremendous influence on me as a garden blogger and I used it as a guide when preparing posts about plants. I wanted my posts to be more than just a dry retelling of what particular plants were doing in the garden. So I started peppering my posts with interesting tidbits of information I gleamed about them on the Internet and in books. 
Her latest book, Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon Tour of History and Lore (published January 19, 2010), does for trees what she did for flowers in 100 Flowers. It is a biography of 100 trees from the common oak to the rarer baobab. In the introduction to Lives of Trees she explains that it isn’t for “botanists or dendrologists or taxonomists, or even for those want to identify individual trees. It is a book for nonexperts (like me).” Perhaps, instead of saying it was for nonexperts she should have said tree lovers and those who want to love trees. 
Reading this book I’ve gained a new admiration for many trees and came to love others even more. Learning about how the Linnaeus surname came to be makes me appreciate the linden tree and Carl Linnaeus that much more. The baobab tree has been a favorite of mine since reading The Little Prince. In the chapter on this tree I learned that Michel Andanson, who renounced the priesthood to become a botanist, refused to refer to the tree by the botanical name (Andansonia digitata) after Linnaeus named it after him because of his respect for African culture. Botanical history is marred by many -isms so it is refreshing to learn about a botanist that understood that plants and trees had names even before they came around to “discover” them and decided to honor that fact. These are the kind of things you pick up from books by Diana Wells that I appreciate the most.
To me learning about the history of plants and the people behind their story is half the fun of gardening. Sometimes, plants that I don’t really care for get added to the garden just because I like their history. These are the kinds of interesting tidbits of information that Diana Wells excels at discovering, compiling and then presenting to “nonexperts” in a way that enriches their gardening experience. Lives of Trees is 350 pages of captivating and curious information about trees, their lore, botanical history and uses we humans have found for them. This book makes me wish I had space to plant an arboretum and grow a number of the trees profiled in the book. Pick up a copy of Lives of Trees and get better acquainted with your favorite tree or discover a new favorite. If you have an interest in trees in Chicago you can become a Treekeeper through Openlands, classes begin February 27, 2010.
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Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon Tour of History and Lore is    published by Algonquin Books and retails for $19.95, hardback. I received my review copy for free, but would buy it because you could spend $20.00 on this that are far less interesting and useful than this book. Other books by Diana Wells you may like are 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names and 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names.


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  • Thanks for the intro to Diana Wells, and this book. I haven't read anything of hers before, but see I need to change that.

    With as many wonderful trees as there are, it pains me that we're stuck with the common, invasive, messy silver maples. They're mature, 40-something years old. I don't foresee voluntarily taking them down and doing without their wonderful shade in the summer. Part of me wishes they'd kick it so we'd be forced to replace them.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    I was just about to tell you that GardenFaerie was also a fan of Diana Wells and 100 Flowers when I saw the notification that she commented below. I oftentimes encourage people to buy "100 Flowers" (out of print now) if they find it because it is really good.

    We only have 1 tree in our yard and his days have been numbered but I keep defending it because I remember when it was just a sapling given out my McDonald's for Earth Day (or one of those events) when I was a kid.

  • That How Flowers Got Their names is one of my favorite books, too, yet I didn't recognize the author's name in your post at first. DOH! I also love trees but admit they look frightfully similar to me, despite some classes I've taken. Will definitely have to check out this book (literally, from the library).

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Ha, a lot of them do look alike. I remember you Emailing me about 100 Flowers when I left a comment on Garden Girl's blog once recommending the book. This one is about twice the physical size of 100 Flowers but also uses illustrations instead of photos. Normally I'm not a fan of that but they did a good job with them.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie: I'm intrigued with the 100 Flowers book. I have not heard of this one, but I think it would be interesting to find out the history behind my garden plants. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • In reply to judytenudo:

    No problem. Thanks for signing up for an account so you could comment.

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