Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Esther Jackson

Book Review: Montana’s Pioneer Botanists

Posted in From the Library on August 17 2017, 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.


Montana's Pioneer Botanists, edited by Rachel Potter and Peter LesicaMontana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and Prairies is a new book from editors Rachel Potter and Peter Lesica, with an introduction by Jack Nisbet.

Montana’s Pioneer Botanists, a collection of biographies of regional botanists working in Montana, is the type of book that I really enjoy. Collections like this are essential for documenting and remembering important regional workers while sharing their legacy with the world. As is the case with other books of this ilk, some of the figures profiled in Montana’s Pioneer Botanists are known to a wider audience (Meriwether Lewis, for example), while others are beloved local heroes. In his introduction, Nisbet writes, “The subjects here hold a keen awareness of those who came before them, lending a strong sense of continuity to the entire project.” This continuity travels beyond Montana documenting ties between Montana botanists and the wider world, including the New York Botanical Garden. For example, botanist Robert Statham Williams (1859-1945) collected plants in Montana for years before joining the New York Botanical Garden in 1899. John Leiberg (1853-1913), another botanist profiled in this work, was a correspondent of Elizabeth Britton throughout his career.

In an excellent earlier review of this work, Dr. Patricia Holmgren, Director Emerita of New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, wrote: “Hear ye, hear ye! Librarians, botanists, herbarium curators, historians, book aficionados! You are going to love Montana’s Pioneer Botanists, a gold mine of information about botanical exploration in Montana, beginning with indigenous people and ending with Klaus Lackschewitz (1911-1995).” Indeed, this book, although very specific in its focus, does have wide appeal for anyone who is interested in botany, history, or biography. Dr. Holmgren’s review also includes mention of some of the interesting anecdotes within this text, one involving NYBG’s own Elizabeth Britton. My singular disappointment with this book, not a criticism of the editors but of the history of science more generally, is that only two women are profiled within the thirty-one essays in this work. As the editors included biographies only for scientists who are deceased, this is cited as the reason for the imbalance.

Thanks are due to Potter and Lesica for completing this work. It’s an excellent addition to the library’s collections at NYBG, and will hopefully serve as inspiration for others to accomplish future projects of this nature.

Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction

Posted in From the Library on August 7 2017, 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 Citizen ScientistCitizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction is a book from popular science writer Mary Ellen Hannibal on the topic of citizen science.

Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur (or nonprofessional) scientists. Citizen science projects can include all manner of tasks and objectives, and many popular projects involve non-scientists making reports about organisms they have observed, such as bloom times, or phenology, of various plants. Still other projects involve virtual volunteering, such as transcribing specimen label data of herbarium sheets (or other specimens) that have been digitized and made available online.

In her book, Hannibal writes about her experiences working as a citizen scientist on various projects, mostly involving the observation of animals under the direction of trained professional scientists. It is clear that Hannibal enjoys the English language, and this memoir of sorts is littered with references to literary works, historical figures, and poetry-like observations of the natural world. It’s not really a science book at all, although Hannibal does write in praise of the natural world.

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Apartment Gardening & Salad Days

Posted in From the Library on July 29 2017, 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.


Apartment GardeningI recently discovered Amy Pennington and almost immediately fell in love with her simple, straightforward books written for city-dwellers trying to eat thriftily, sustainably, and seasonally. I reviewed both Urban Pantry and Fresh Pantry earlier this year and now have the pleasure of reviewing Apartment Gardening and Salad Days, both from Sasquatch Books, an independent press located in Seattle, WA.

Apartment Gardening is geared toward readers who really want to grow garden plants at home but have no yard and little space. While Pennington has written her guide for those who have a deck or porch (sadly, not the case for many!), she’s quick to emphasize that if you have good sun *somewhere* in your urban dwelling, you can try your hand at growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, or even flowers. Not all vegetables can be successfully grown in containers, but there are a lot of vegetables that will do quite well with good sunlight, soil, and water. Roughly 80 pages of this economically sized book detail garden setup and care, with the rest of the book (181 pages total) focused on recipes, craft projects, and other simple garden tricks and tips for apartment dwellers and vegetable lovers. Apartment Gardening is a great book for new gardeners living in the urban jungle or for experienced gardeners who find themselves with limited garden space and the desire (or need!) to grow a “garden.”

salad daysSalad Days: Boost Your Health and Happiness with 75 Simple, Satisfying Recipes for Greens, Grains, Proteins, and More is another nice book released earlier this year. Pennington shares simple but delicious recipes for the home cook. “Can a salad make you happy?” These salads created by Pennington are designed to do just that. Although you can’t grow all of the ingredients in your apartment garden, the ingredients are mostly straight-forward. Sure, salmon and avocado have their day, but a beet salad recipe contains only 10 ingredients, and that includes a dressing recipe.

Overall, I just plain like Pennington’s love of growing and eating vegetables, her commitment to flavor diversity, and her sense of economy. I look forward to re-reading these four books and seeing what she thinks up next.

Ancient Brews & Growing a Revolution

Posted in From the Library on July 27 2017, 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.


Growing a Revolution: Bringing our Soil Back to Life, by David R. MontgomeryGrowing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David R. Montgomery challenges the “norm” in industrial farming soil care. With research, interviews, and an engaging style of writing, Montgomery invites readers and farmers alike to consider the ways in which soil fertility can be improved with better soil care.

Growing a Revolution follows fast on the heels of Montgomery’s 2016 book, The hidden half of nature : the microbial roots of life and health. Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington, has made a career out of soil. Revolution is the work of an author who is comfortable with his chosen subject and skilled at writing for a popular audience. The question that Montgomery poses to readers is simple, yet daunting in its scope. “What if there was a relatively simple, cost-effective way to help feed the world, reduce pollution, pull carbon from the atmosphere, protect biodiversity, and make farmers money to boot?” The answer, as readers might guess, is to cultivate good soil health.

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Gardens of the High Line

Posted in From the Library on July 19 2017, 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 Gardens of the High LineThe High Line, “a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side,” is a popular NYC attraction for locals and tourists alike. Before reading Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke, I had the benefit of reading a wonderful review of the book written by Patricia Jonas for the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Newsletter. In her review, after a summary of the many books published on the High Line garden over the past six years, Jonas writes, “Could there possibly be any more vital books about the High Line yet to be published? Well, yes. Gardens of the High Line is the icing on all of this publishing and the only book to focus exclusively on the famous park’s planting design and the plants.” 

Gardens of the High Line is exquisite, and a treat for regular High Line visitors and those who can only admire the space from afar. In the book’s introduction, Friends of the Highline co-founder Robert Hammond writes, “when I first stepped up on the High Line in 1999, I truly fell in love. What I fell in love with was the tension. It was there in the juxtaposition between the hard and the soft, the wild grasses and billboards, the industrial relics and natural landscape, the views of both wildflowers and the Empire State Building. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. And it’s that tension that gives the High Line its power.” This tension is captured in the photographs of Gardens of the High Line, although Lorraine Ferguson’s graphic design of the volume makes even the most “ugly” portraits of the space seem beautiful.

Less focused on the history of the space and more concerned with the gardens themselves, Gardens of the Highline is a plant lover’s dream. Each of the High Line’s 13 gardens are profiled and described with extensive photographs, including wonderful aerial photographs. These aerial shots, in particular, offer a new glimpse into this popular site’s overarching design ethos.

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever find the High Line as contemplative and empty as it appears in many of the Gardens of the High Lines photographs, but the book reminds readers why this dynamic space is so special and so worth returning to again and again throughout the seasons and years.

The Trees of North America

Posted in From the Library on July 5 2017, 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.


The Trees of North AmericaThe Trees of North America: Michaux and Redouté’s American Masterpiece is a new book from The New York Botanical Garden and Abbeville Press. This beautiful volume includes 277 color plates from The North American Sylva, the first volumes of which were published in 1817 by François André Michaux (1770–1855), followed by subsequent volumes in the 1840s by Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859).

François André Michaux was a French botanist and explorer. François André with his father, Andre? Michaux (1746–1802), wrote some of the most important and widely-read books about North American flora. Susan Fraser (Vice President and Director of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library) and author Marta McDowell have written detailed introductory essays in The Trees of North America which include bibliographic information about the series and biographical information about the two Michaux explorers and Thomas Nuttall, the author who eventually completed the project.

It’s impossible to look at these plates without thinking about the early days of botany as we know it in North America. For those who love native trees, The Trees of North America is both beautiful and transportive. Certain plates, such as that of Castanea dentata, the American chestnut, are lovely and bittersweet. With accompanying illustrations by David Allen Sibley (who also wrote the afterword), The Trees of North America is an enjoyable read for all history of science and native plant enthusiasts.

 

Cutting Back in Kyoto

Posted in From the Library on June 20 2017, 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 Cutting BackCutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck is part memoir, part travelogue, and part garden design narrative. In 1999, Buck, then the owner of a pruning business in California, traveled to Japan in pursuit of an internship. Having worked with Japanese and Japanese-taught mentors previously, Buck was determined to gain additional training from Japanese craftspeople working in Japan’s famed gardens. Through the help of contacts in Kyoto, Buck obtained an internship at Uetoh Zoen, one of the oldest and most respected landscape companies in Kyoto.

For the most part, it was interesting to read about Buck’s experience working on a pruning-only garden crew, as well as to learn about her attempts to understand and navigate Japanese culture as an American woman. Buck wrote that her “Bossman” was constantly challenging her with progressively more difficult tasks, and for that reason she never fully settled in to her internship or hit her stride. By the end of the book, Buck seemed to have learned about Japanese work ethic, culture, and gardening practices in spite of forgetting all the Japanese language she had learned (as she claimed).

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What Have Plants Ever Done for Us?

Posted in From the Library on June 20 2017, 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 a book coverWhat Have Plants Ever Done for Us? is a wonderful book about botany, history, and human society. Authored by Stephen Harris, Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria and a University Research Lecturer, Plants was published in 2015. Those who read a lot of popular science books about botany will be aware that there are quite a few books published in the vein of Plants, sort of “natural history prose” about how certain plant species or plant groups have been used by humans throughout the ages.

Poorly-researched books are a dime a dozen, which makes Plants all the more wonderful. Harris is a detail-oriented researcher who writes well, both clearly and with a very dry (sometimes hard to catch) sense of humor. Not only does Harris review and condense several more recent “a history of” publications about different plants (for example, The Pineapple: The King of Fruits or Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization), he incorporates recent scholarly scientific research articles as well as notable historic works written between the 15th and 20th centuries. Harris deftly weaves his narrative with elements of history, botanical nomenclature, taxonomy, plant morphology, genetic research, and economics. In addition to very good scientific writing, there is a great deal here about the trade and colonization practices of European powers in particular, as well as elements of conservation theory.

Any lover of plants will enjoy What Have Plants Ever Done for Us?. Readers can sample a chapter or two at a time, or read the text from cover to cover. Teachers in many different disciplines—humanities and sciences both—might also find Plants to be very valuable as a teaching aid, either by assigning chapters to students as readings or using chapter topics to structure lesson plans.  Having finished Plants, I am now eager to read more by Harris! In particular, Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum: A Brief History, Harris’s new book from University of Chicago Press.

On Medical Cannabis & Modern Histories

Posted in From the Library on June 1 2017, 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 Smoke SignalsMedical marijuana is a hot topic in many parts of the United States. In New York, the use of medical marijuana has been approved for the treatment of symptoms of various diseases and conditions. Those wishing to learn more about medical marijuana should consider attending NYBG’s Adult Education Medical Cannabis class which will likely be offered in the fall of this year.

While it is not legal to grow marijuana in New York, the books below offer insight into marijuana culture and history, as well as information about how marijuana is cultivated legally by those in states that permit such practices.

Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific by Martin A. Lee chronicles the history of marijuana in America. Lee is not the first author to write a history of Cannabis sativa, but the social history focus of this book is especially interesting for readers who want to know the legal aspects of marijuana criminalization, regulation, and legislation in the United States. In addition, the author also explores contemporary medical research around using marijuana to treat conditions including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and chronic pain. Lee, a journalist, is skilled at drawing the reader in and also does the more motivated researcher the service of providing an extensive bibliography for further reading.

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Garden-to-Bar Reading

Posted in From the Library on May 15 2017, 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 the Drunken BotanistThis week we dive into a few books detailing the rich history of botanical spirits, and the ways in which we’ve called on the garden to supply us with our favorite tipples.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart is a treat from start to finish. Drunken Botanist follows Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs, two excellent books about organisms that can be dangerous to humans. (Read my review of Wicked Plants here.) Stewart is a talented writer, a careful historian, an excellent amateur botanist, and a skilled bartender. Drunken Botanist follows the format of her earlier books, with Stewart selecting different plants and offering readers narratives about their nativity and the history of their usage by humans—specifically how and when they were used to make alcoholic drinks. Sake, scotch, rum, tequila, bourbon, and their plant parents are just a few of the drinks that are featured. Stewart writes, “It would be impossible to describe every plant that has ever flavored an alcoholic beverage. I am certain at this very moment, a craft distiller in Brooklyn is plucking a weed from a crack in the sidewalk and wondering if it would make a good flavoring for a new line of bitters.” Before plucking sidewalk weeds, craft distiller and home bartenders alike would do well to look to Drunken Botanist for inspiration, “stirring” stories, and an infectious excitement about plants that is one of Stewart’s enduring trademarks.

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