Inside The New York Botanical Garden

From the Library

Roberto Burle Marx—A Total Work of Art

Posted in Humanities Institute on July 11 2019, by Vanessa Sellers

Photo of the exhibition speakers
Speakers Raymond Jungles, Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, Edward Sullivan, and Isabela Ono gather outside Ross Hall shortly before the start of the symposium

On Friday, June 7, 2019, the symposium Roberto Burle Marx—A Total Work of Art opened the Garden-wide exhibit Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx. Marking the Seventh Annual Humanities Symposium, the event celebrated Burle Marx’s life and work as an innovative artist, landscape architect, and conservationist, all in one.

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Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties

Posted in From the Library on June 27 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of TeaTea: History, Terroirs, Varieties (ed. 3, 2018) by authors Kevin Gascoyne, François Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, and Hugo Américi, takes readers into the present-day world of the culture and economy of tea.

The authors, co-owners of the Camellia Sinensis Tea House in Montreal, Quebec, give a general look at the topic of tea in four sections: “From Garden to Cup,” which includes information about the cultivation and harvesting of tea; “From One Terroir to Another,” which tours the world’s major tea-growing regions—China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Kenya, and Malawi; “From Cup to Plate,” which details the preparation of tea; and “Tea and Health,” which includes information about the chemical components of tea, including caffeine levels and antioxidant properties.

There is a brief section related to the history of tea, which is interesting but lacking in citations, and therefore not research-grade. A directory of 42 select teas and 15 recipes using tea, as well as recommendations about infusion accessories and teapots, offer practical guidance to readers who want to explore different aspects of tea consumption. Marketed as a reference work, the book is most useful as a contemporary snapshot of the current landscape of tea distribution, production, and culture around the world.

Readers looking for a more detailed historic treatment of tea may wish to read George van Driem’s impressive (and large) The Tale of Tea: A Comprehensive History of Tea from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day (2019). This work is available for use in the Mertz Library.

QueenSpotting in the Beehive

Posted in From the Library on June 20 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Cover of QueenspottingQueenSpotting: Meet the Remarkable Queen Bee and Discover the Drama at the Heart of the Hive (2019) is a new book by Hilary Kearney, creator of Girl Next Door Honey, an educational beekeeping business based in San Diego, California. QueenSpotting is written in a very accessible manner, mostly in first and second person, and is extremely engaging.

In the “How to Use This Book” introduction, Kearney notes that readers do not have to be beekeepers to read or enjoy the book. The text is broken into three main sections, each comprised of technical beekeeping information, the author’s personal stories about beekeeping adventures, and “spot the queen” photographs, of which there are 48. Although I am not a beekeeper, I can appreciate that the book’s detailed exploration of one particular aspect of beekeeping—the queen—would be informative and useful for those who do keep bees. That said, my feeling is that the book best works as an educational resource for those who are not already beekeepers, and that more advanced readers might wish to supplement with additional resources for beekeeping tasks. One such task would be “requeening,” referring to when a beekeeper removes an older queen, replacing her with a new queen, preventing the colony from doing so naturally for the purpose of increased honey production.

For readers who would like to learn more about beekeeping, readers who would like to read some entertaining and charming stories about beekeeping adventures, and for those who love visual “eye-spy” games, QueenSpotting is sure to please. Both adults and more advanced younger readers will find Kearney’s enthusiastic and clear manner of writing to be entertaining, infectious, and well worth reading.

Herbalism in the Garden

Posted in From the Library on June 14 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Cover of Grow Your Own Herbal RemediesFour titles from Workman Publishing bring herbalism to the home and help readers develop and save botanical recipes and techniques.

Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies: How to Create a Customized Herb Garden to Support Your Health & Well-Being (2019) is the second book from Maria Noël Grove, author of Body into Balance. Grove is a Registered Herbalist and a Professional Member of the American Herbalists Guild.

Those who have read my past reviews will not be surprised to hear that I suggest readers do heavy independent research before ingesting any of the plants that Grove features. Thankfully, Grove also encourages readers to take this step. The book is broken into three sections: Skills for Making Medicine, Remedy Gardens, and Healing Garden Herbs. I found the first section to be extremely interesting, as Grove details many ways in which plants can be prepared and preserved for the home. Beyond having an application for herbalism, these methods would be interesting to home cooks and food preservers. The second section details which plants should be used to treat which ailments, according to Grove, and the final section includes herb profiles.

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Temperate Garden Plant Families

Posted in From the Library on June 6 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of Temperate Garden Plant FamiliesTemperate Garden Plant Families: The Essential Guide to Identification and Classification (2019) sets out to provide gardeners, horticulturists, and plant enthusiasts working with plants of temperate climates information about key families including identification and classification. The book is authored by Peter Goldblatt, an Iridaceae expert recently-retired from the Missouri Botanical Garden, and John C. Manning, a senior specialist scientist at the South African Biodiversity Institute who also works with Iridaceae. The two have collaborated on no fewer than 15 works.

The book’s introduction covers the basics of family classification, plant nomenclature, and plant morphology for readers. 92 of the familes in Temperate Garden Plant Families are arranged alphabetically, with 35 families described with related families. Not all plant families are included—just those for which there is horticultural interest in temperate regions. In many cases, historic families are recognized because they are morphologically distinctive clades (for example, Agapanthaceae and Alliaceae), a useful approach given the arbitrariness of rank and its hierarchical nature, so that these groups can still be diagnosed, whether called families or subfamilies or tribes.

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Victoria Johnson’s Research Takes Her to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

Posted in Humanities Institute on May 31 2019, by Plant Talk

Photo of Victoria Johnson
Victoria Johnson

Victoria Johnson, Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, studied at The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute during the summer of 2016 as a Mellon Visiting Scholar, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Dr. Johnson conducted research for her biography of David Hosack (1769-1835), an American doctor best known today as the attending physician at the July 1804 duel between his friends Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. In 1801, Hosack founded the Elgin Botanic Garden, a pioneering medical research garden where he amassed thousands of native and non-native species and trained a generation of doctors and botanists. His former land is now the site of Rockefeller Center.

In her research at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library and Archives, Dr. Johnson drew on primary sources connected with Hosack’s life and work, including plant catalogues from the Elgin Botanic Garden and botanical treatises Hosack had brought back from his studies in Britain as a young doctor. She also studied archival sources connected with Hosack’s botany students as well as dried plant specimens collected for the Elgin Botanic Garden by Hosack and his students (held today by the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium).

Dr. Johnson’s work was published in 2018 as American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright/W. W. Norton, 2018). The book was named a Notable Book of 2018 by the New York Times and was one of five finalists for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction. For more information, see americaneden.org.

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Discovering the Perfect Plant for Your Garden

Posted in From the Library on May 16 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of Proven WinnersThe Proven Winners Garden Book: Simple Plans, Picture-Perfect Plants, and Expert Advice for Creating a Gorgeous Garden (2019) is a new resource from Ruth Rogers Clausen and Thomas Christopher meant to encourage new gardeners with basic information about landscape and container gardening. Both Clausen and Christopher are experienced garden writers, and the resulting text is simple and clear. Proven Winners plants are recommended for a variety of settings and designs. At 192 pages with 309 color photographs and 50 drawings, it is very beginner-friendly.

Shrubs: Discover the Perfect Plant for Every Place in Your Garden (2018) by Andy McIndoe teaches readers about shrubs in the garden, and makes recommendations for appropriate plants in different growing conditions. McIndoe is managing director of Hillier Nurseries and Garden Centres in Hampshire, England, although Shrubs is written for North American audiences. The book includes information about choosing the right shrub, planting, and care, shrubs for challenging growing conditions, shrubs for restricted planting spaces, and shrubs with desirable characteristics. The format is useful. The plant recommendations can be suspect. For example, McIndoe recommends no fewer than five varieties of non-native Berberis. In four out of five instances, he notes that the genus is invasive in parts of North America. The plant profiles themselves lack what are arguably essential details. Full size and zones are noted, but not nativity, which makes the book far less useful for readers who are hoping to work with native plants. All in all, Shrubs covers a lot of ground. However, it is not useful as a single resource for those interested in the topic, especially for those who wish to garden with native plants.

Decorating with Plants

Posted in From the Library on May 9 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of Decorating with PlantsDecorating with Plants: What to Choose, Ways to Style, and How to Make Them Thrive (2019) is a book very much in keeping with the NYBG #plantlove theme of 2019. Author Baylor Chapman is the founder of Lila B., a plant and flower design business, and has previously written the popular The Plant Recipe Book: 100 Living Arrangements for Any Home in Any Season. Decorating with Plants provides readers with both a go-to plant list and a room-by-room guide to incorporating plants into the home.

From a horticultural perspective, there isn’t much new information for readers, and some of the plant care details are highly simplified, which may not provide enough nuanced information for houseplant owners who use Decorating with Plants as their only resource. That said, the houseplants featured are in keeping with current houseplant trends, making this book a nice resource for those looking to update or expand their houseplant palette. The design elements and recommendations are especially interesting and inspiring, and would help any reader visualize the perfect spot for a plant or two.

Ultimately, Decorating with Plants is a nice new edition to the genre of houseplant books, and will inspire readers to try different plants in new places around the home.

The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt at NYBG

Posted in Humanities Institute on May 6 2019, by Samantha D’Acunto

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


Photo of the event speakers
Speakers Lillian Melcher and Andrea Wulf with NYBG CEO and President, Carrie Rebora Barratt.

On Friday, April 19, 2019, the Humanities Institute and NYBG’s Adult Education department welcomed a large crowd to the celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt with bestselling author Andrea Wulf. Her last book, The Invention of Nature, won many literary awards and was on The New York Times‘ Top Ten Books list. Her new graphic novel, The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, highlights the five-year expedition Alexander von Humboldt undertook in South America. Wulf collaborated with illustrator Lillian Melcher to capture the words and images of Humboldt’s personal diary and sketches which detailed his experience of the journey.

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Nature Play at Home

Posted in From the Library on May 2 2019, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Cover of Nature Play at HomeNature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children with the Natural World (2019) by Nancy Striniste centers on the development of nature-friendly spaces for children to explore and learn about the outdoors. Striniste has a background as a landscape designer and an early childhood educator, and is the founder and principle designer at EarlySpace. In Nature Play, she synthesizes for readers her over 30 years of experience in creating spaces for children.

Nature Play is a delight from the first page. Striniste is an excellent writer who uses clear prose and a strong structure to guide readers in both the creation of nature-friendly spaces for children and in understanding the “why” behind certain features. Enclosures and shelter offer a feeling of safety; pathways can set a pace for how a garden should be experienced, or facilitate navigation of different spaces. The book includes instructions for 12 step-by-step nature play projects, complete with illustrations. It also provides a helpful synthesis of the current state of nature play theory. A detailed and thorough bibliography elevates the work to be a helpful reference resource for teachers and garden educators alike. As a bonus, most of the plants featured are native to North America, with non-native species indicated clearly.

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