Making Nature Irresistible


Rant readers, please welcome Ken Druse, one of the few garden writers whose work I find truly exciting. Druse is the author of 17 books about ornamental gardening, including The Natural Shade Garden, Planthropology, and a supremely useful book just released in paperback, Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation. What these books have in common is a refreshing sense of style that encompasses both their glossily beautiful photographs and Druse’s playful and provocative prose. Even if you are, like me, a die-hard backyard farmer who looks upon her less successful efforts in the ornamental garden with something like disdain, you will find yourself at once intrigued and inspired. Ken’s newest book, the just-published Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations is illustrated byEllen Hoverkamp‘s dramatic scanner photographs of plants grouped by theme–and by a moment in time and space.

Q: Your books are much more idea-driven than many gardening books. Tell me how you decide what to write about.

A: Very often, the people I meet think that I’m an expert, and I suppose that after all this time, I am something of an expert. But I’m really more of a journalist. I tend to choose my subjects because I want to know something or have a problem. For example, my garden in New Jersey needed more plants, but I didn’t know that much about propagation. So I consulted the experts and tried every technique they suggested three different ways until I found the best one for Making More Plants.

Natural Companions came about slightly differently. I’d wanted to work with artist Ellen Hoverkamp for some time. Her fine art work doesn’t illustrate a botanical concept or tell a story, though it’s extremely pretty in way it uses plants for color and shape. But I wanted to use her photographs to tell stories.

I also wanted to make a gardening book that was beautiful and affordable, something people would want to pick up physically in an electronic age. The publisher had realistic expecations for the book, given the market, but it has been popular enough that they had to order a second printing before the official publication date. Now, my publisher is looking at gardening books again, which is good.

Q: Thank you from all the writers here at Garden Rant! What else are you hoping to accomplish with your work?

A: Well, I worry about nature deprivation. I have cousins who taught their kids that nature will kill you, that every spider is potentially lethal. I see fewer and fewer people outside. And despite the green movement, we still have Scotts as the anti-Christ, putting poison on birdseed.

Horticulture has become a profession, mow, blow, and go.  At least when Dad used to mow the lawn in the past, he’d get a little bit of oxygen. When we were kids, the rule was, you had to come in when the street lights came on, though we never came in even then. Now, no one is outside. If you can get a kid outside before they are three to plant a seed or a tree, that could change everything.

With every single book, I’m trying to get people to recognize that plants are alive, to realize how incredible they are, how sensational. I’m trying to promote nature through beauty.


  1. I worry about nature deprivation, too. My children and I belong to a nature club, where the specific purpose is to take walks in the woods. The leader spent about 5 minutes telling all the kids that they would be bitten by a snake before we got home. BIG SIGH. That’s not how it works. I have been walking in the woods since I was a kid and have only even seen snakes a few times. They were always sunning. They were never aggressive, and it only happened when there was silence. Loud kids and moms do not see snakes.

    Besides all that, I only know one person who has ever been bitten, and she pretty much stepped on the snake. But despite these things, most of the kids were TERRIFIED to be out there after that.

  2. Amen to getting kids outside! A book on that? As for beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder, right? Which is often unfortunate (boxwood, all lawn and no trees or flowers, flagpoles). How do you excite someone beyond the level of beauty, deeper? Well, Planthropology did it did for me.

  3. Not every child is a lost cause!

    I’m proud that my 4 year old niece got in trouble in preschool because she touched the roly-poly even when the teacher told her not to!

    I’m doing the best I can–from a distance–to love fogs and turtles and worms and flowers and everything green.

  4. Thanks for such supportive comments. I wrote a book on planting local communities in one’s garden. People loved the lecture, but they didn’t buy the book.

    I have written all my books to promote plants, horticulture, nature, gardening — especially PLanthropology. (I think the title hurt that book.)

    Thanks to all the thoughtful ranters.

  5. This sounds like a great book. I love propagation and genetics. I should have gone into that in university instead of business. I just couldn’t get through the grade 13 biology (the kreb’s cycle did it to me).

    Keep writing Ken!

    My oldest girl started life on the farm, and I would be out in the garden, but she would be up on the porch sweeping constantly. My youngest goes out into the garden with me. Neither were taught that there were scary things out there, just different personalities.

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