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.
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.