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Great Summer Reads for Gardeners

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Great summer reads are a must!
It doesn’t matter if you’re the kind of reader who can lounge away the summer at the beach or tour historical gardens near and far, or you’re only able to grab few minutes each day to lose yourself in the folds of a fantastic paperback – I’ve got you covered with educational history, future-now fantasies, and (of course) a few fun novels. So, before you pick up just any old book as you hop on a plane to paradise or collapse into your lawn chair after a long day weeding and watering, consider these horty-good books.

Annie DuPont gardens at Montpelier

The main path through the Annie DuPont formal gardens at Montpelier

Historical Fiction Favorite:
I love losing myself in a period piece, especially one about botanical exploration. My current favorite in this category is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. This tale of adventure maps the journey of two generations of plant explorers, giving us both a hero and a heroine to follow, envy, despise and admire. Gilbert’s storytelling is “can’t put it down” compelling. If you’re only able to read one novel this summer, make this your summer read of choice!
Future-now Fantasy:
You’re probably familiar with Amy Stewart’s many horticultural titles. She’s written about dangerous and deadly plants, earthworms, the international flower trade, cocktail botanicals and much more. But, did you know she’s written a fantastic novel only available for e-readers entitled The Last Bookstore in America? Yes, the irony of e-reader meets “last bookstore” won’t be lost on you. Too, her plot weaves in tobacco industrialists, conspiracy theory and a bit of reefer madness to make for one helluva good (and inexpensive) read.

Truth as Compelling as Fiction:
Several years ago I was gifted tickets to a lecture by author Andrea Wulf. She was touring her book Founding Gardeners, which I’d heard reviewed on the radio. Despite having just arrived from a journey half way around the world, Wulf managed to share some wonderful excerpts from this title and its predecessor¬†The Brother Gardeners. Both books are the culmination of meticulous research into the history of worldwide plant trade, expansionism, gardening, plant nomenclature, politics, slavery and so much more from around the 1600s through the early years of the United States.

Following her lecture, I purchased both titles, and I began reading each intermittently, until recently. Once I dove into The Brother Gardeners, I found I couldn’t put it down. You can’t make this stuff up! Now that I’ve completed it, I’m working my way through Founding Gardeners. So far, I’m still in the early pages discussing George Washington as horticulturist.

Having recently visited James Madison’s Montpelier and having been to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello many times, I can’t wait to read each of their chapters soon. (These books are so good, I may select one or the other for our next book club title ’cause I get to pick next!)

Speaking of Book Club Titles…

I’m fortunate to be a member of a very fun book club, and we’ve read some very great books together (as well as a few I could have done without.) Following are a few we’ve read (and a couple we haven’t) you may want to add to your reading list:

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin: This title looks at pioneers in the west who are each (for the most part) involved in creating and maintaining an orchard in central, eastern Washington state. While the orchard is important, the book is a compelling exploration of people and the relationships that help form who they become.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown: This pirate adventure may not seem very garden-related at first, but food is a critical theme to this fun romp. And food wouldn’t be possible without plants and plant exploration!

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: Telling the story of a scrabbling, displaced and disjointed farming couple barely scratching out a living in the cold, wild west after leaving behind a relatively predictable eastern US farm life, Ivey weaves in a bit of fairy tale and a bit of mystic lore to create a love story deeply rooted in nature.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: In yet another of her amazing books, Kingsolver introduces us to a dirt-poor family trying to find balance between keeping food on the table and helping a struggling natural world possibly rebalance. But, it is more than that. Kingsolver deftly considers the delicate balance of nature, love, relationships and more in this tearfully beautiful tale of life in modern, rural America.

So what are your favorite reads? I’m always looking for reading list suggestions, so please chime in! Want a list of great garden books that are more about learning to garden than these? Let us know.

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