A Garden of Marvels Highlights and Giveaway


As promised, here’s a follow-up to Ruth Kassinger’s guest rant.  She wrote the very popular Paradise Under Glass and now A Garden of Marvels, which was published just this week.GardenOfMarvels_HC_c

I don’t review many garden books because I passed the learning-to-garden phase years ago and of the few books I try, I rarely like one well enough to recommend it.   But Ruth doesn’t write how-to books; she’s a storyteller.  (Like our Amy.)  And stories, if they’re this well written, I enjoy.

A Garden of Marvels is subtitled “The Discovery that Flowers have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work” and that’s a tip-off to the good news that this is no Botany for Gardeners, which was about as readable as an outdated textbook.  (Sorry!)

In contrast, A Garden of Marvels is thought-provoking and a delight to read, and the reviewers seem to agree.  Some of my favorite parts of it cover:

– How early scientists gleaned their misunderstandings of how plants work through reason, rather than observation, an approach that was “embraced and interpreted by the medieval Catholic Church and then the late-medieval universities.”  Thus, knowledge of botany progressed not at all from the third century B.C. to the 17th century!

– The “extreme gardeners” who compete to grow the largest pumpkin use gardening tips unknown to us regular gardeners:  “So, many growers cap their emergent female flowers with a plastic cup or a sock – a sort of pumpkin condom – so that some randy flower on some loser vine won’t knock up their pedigreed virgins.”

– I’m considerably more respectful of roots after reading that: “It takes an extensive root system with trillions of bacteria supplying billions of root hairs to gather sufficient nitrogen, as well as water and other minerals, to support even a small plant.”

– The search for a perennial substitute for the easy-to-harvest but resource-intensive annual wheat species that dominates agriculture.

– The “amazing grasses” that may be the biofuel of tomorrow, especially Miscanthus giganteus, which grows to 15 feet tall and produces twice the biomass per acre as switchgrass.

– The chapter on “Cheap Sex” that sent me to this Youtube video of a bee “pseudocopulating” with an orchid.

– The author’s own journey from writing poetry to international reports for federal agencies and finally to freelance writing anything and everything that needed to be written.  But with a growing portfolio, mere pamphlets turned into books, especially science books for young readers, and finally two plant-centric books for adults.  And what she’ll do next is anybody’s guess.

– And why Ruth Kassinger is an indoors-only gardener. “No outdoor gardening with dog’s-breath heat and humidity, murderous mosquitoes, and horrible hundred-legged beasties for me.”  But Ruth, how do you really feel about the outdoors?

Win a  Copy

Just leave a comment here and we’ll choose one at random to receive a copy of A Garden of Marvels.  Contest ends Friday March 7.

Ruth’s Famous Greenhouse Revealed!paradiseunderglass

After reading the book I boldly contacted the author to invite myself to meet her on her home turf so that I could see her “paradise under glass.   Hey, it was January and I  needed a plant fix – at least that was my excuse.  And it turns out that her version of a greenhouse is prettier and more homey than the usual type because it’s a large addition that flows naturally into the living room but can be closed off to retain moisture and the right temperature.  Here’s a quick video, followed by photos.






Ruth sent me home with kumquats and Meyer lemons.  They’re so much tastier than the ones shipped up from Florida in winter.


  1. I picked up “Paradise Under Glass” a few years ago completely on a whim. I quickly became engrossed in Ruth’s story of how it all came about; I even told my doctor about it, and he thought it sounded amazing. This book sounds wonderful (I’m so jealous – I write, but nothing like she can). And if you don’t give me a copy, I’ll bloody well go out and buy it myself!

  2. I never thought I’d ever see the words ‘pumpkin condom’ in an article!

    It sounds like an interesting book though, and since I’m very much always learning as a gardener I’ll read pretty much anything I can get my hands on 🙂

  3. Wow! This looks like a great read. I just suggested it to my public library, hopefully they will get it soon. 🙂

  4. I was intrigued until I read the part about not gardening outdoors.

    What ?

    I cannot comprehend gardening solely indoors. But then, I don’t have a greenhouse, though someday I hope to have one. And I live in an area in which snowfall might happen once in a generation. Might. We harvest our Meyer lemons from the tree just outside the front door. And mandarins, limes, kumquats, and limequats from the trees out back.

    To me, gardening is all about being out-of-doors – sun & wind & rain & uncomfortable temperatures just make me feel so much more alive than climate-controlled interiors do. I even like the multi-legged things that spook me now & then, though the mosquitoes will drive me inside (no West Nile for me, thank you very much).

    But I’ll probably pick up the book anyway, despite being turned off by the idea of not gardening outdoors. The other ideas are more than compelling enough to warrant it. And maybe I’ll start to see Ruth’s side of indoor gardening a litlle better.

    • Well, I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I suppose love of the outdoors and love of plants are not mutually dependent, are they? We certainly have all met people who loved the outdoors without being particularly interested in or knowledgeable about plants. She’s in good company – Nero Wolfe, the famous detective, had the top floor of his building devoted to orchids, and he hated the outdoors.

      The book sounds like fun.

      • I see your point. I know lots of outdoorsy folks who can’t tell an oak from an oleander. But I’m not into skiing, or golfing or hunting as they are. The idea of plants not being paired with the outdoors just feels … foreign … to me. Yes, I have houseplants. And as often as possible, I get them outside (usually for re-potting or hosing down, but still) for a few hours. Maybe it’s that I fancy myself to be a farmer like my parents & grandparents, despite the clear-cut evidence presented by my postage-stamp suburban backyard. It’s not that I can’t get used to the idea of indoors-only gardening. It’ll simply take some adjusting.

      • Here’s to Nero Wolfe! One of the great things, I think, about gardening is that it’s an activity and a joy to all kinds of people at every age and stage of their lives. My mother now lives in a retirement community, which has an orchid house where residents can care for their plants under ideal conditions. All the plants are at a height appropriate for people in wheelchairs. A very cool idea!

  5. Both of these books are going on my read list at the library. BTW Can she give away her wonderful greenhouse? Serious drooling on this one 🙂

  6. Seems right up my alley!
    The pictures made me feel a certain connection to her- as if we were somehow old friends decided by her plant choices. Funny how a greenhouse can do that to a person.

  7. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a book like this were added to the reading lists of botanists? Anything that inspires wonder and a true appreciation for plants would seemingly be a welcome addition to the curriculum.

  8. This book sounds like one for my shelf. The topics sound like ones that truly educate, new insights, I’m sure. Impressive proof that the author knows her subject by those pictures.

  9. As you can see, I do wedding and celebration flowers. My greenhouse is the most essential room in the house. I have been doing IPM for more than a dozen years and it is the most exciting, challenging and important work I have ever attempted. The greenhouse today, March 1 is starting to come out of diapause with these lengthening days. Many of the plants are starting to bud. As I write it is 0 degrees outside. Spring comes late here and Fall usually arrives early. Keep up the good work. With best wishes to all,
    Alda Stich

  10. I always enjoy your posts. Your insights and photos about this book make it a must read. Very fascinating topic! Thank you.

  11. That is one beautiful greenhouse addition. I have envy.

    Lol at her aversion to outdoors. I can relate

  12. I love the sense of fun this book projects (and what a gorgeous cover!). I will read it one way or another-but today I’ll tell about the post on my FB Page. Oh, and I am definitely posting the bee porno.

  13. I love the sound of this book. So what if she prefers to garden indoors, to each his own. Pick me pleeeeeze.

  14. I’m always looking for gardening books that go a step further than “how-to,” and this sounds like just the ticket.

  15. I had three fresh Meyer Lemons off my tree before I sent it to go live in Charleston, SC with my son at college. I cannot imagine having enough to share!

  16. I also don’t pick up many gardening books these days because a lot of them seem exactly the same. This one sounds exciting!

  17. If I had a sun room like that I might not garden outside either (Yeah, right. They’ll pry my garden fork from my cold dead hands.) My sun room would never look as neat and tidy as that I can tell you.

  18. I love this woman, just based on her photo and the sight of her garden/home. Yow, I’ll have to buy her book if I don’t win, but pick me! pick me!

  19. I love her atrium; the lemons are especially nice! As always I am interested in plant books which explore the biology behind the pretty pictures. Would love to have this book.

  20. I too have trouble finding gardening books with new information. I would be delighted to win a copy of this one since you speak so highly of it!!

  21. This is going on my must have list. I’m a bit of a geek about botany, and anyone that can make it entertaining—-well—-I bow down before her.

  22. Indoors-only gardening! After this winter, it may be the way to go! We’re starting March with a couple feet of snow and ice on top of the garden, and morning temps well below zero. Bring on the greenhouse addition, please.

  23. It sounds like a fun book!

    For me gardening is the best excuse to spend all day outdoors whenever I can, but really, botany is an indoor gig.

  24. This is the kind of gardening book I enjoy the most. While I could never be an indoor only gardener I would love to have a “greenhouse” room like that.

  25. I love esoteric stories about plants and gardening. Nature can be more fantastical than anyone can imagine.

  26. This sounds really interesting! I am actually back in school learning Biology and it’s amazing the information you can learn from a non-typical garden book. It provides insights on plants that you tend to forget as gardeners. I would be very interested in reading this book, whether I win or not (of course, fingers crossed I win it!)

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