This Green World, Revisited

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Judy, you called This Green World one of your favorite books, so I had to go see for myself. When I discovered the only book my library had by him was The Lost Books of the Bible and The Forgotten Books of Eden, I confess I got a little leery. But I had my library go out-of-system and get me the book. I was not disappointed. The book inspires wonder by describing the structure and function of plants in the clearest, calmest, most observant prose, with just a dash of humor. The following passage is typical:

One warm sunny day in midsummer, I focussed my camera on two square inches of a yarrow flower cluster. . . . Insects of many kinds, most of them very small, landed in that sector at the rate of about one every five seconds. [Can you imagine him peering through the camera with a stopwatch?] This makes twelve per minute, or at the rate of 5,760 visitors in an eight hour day. They were busy, preoccupied, even avaricious. They scurried around, dipping in here and there with lightning strokes, quivering with excitement. Ants also were numerous, perhaps one every minute, and they can walk fast and work fast, like nothing else in the world. After a few minutes of watching this activity, feeling almost breathless myself, I saw a wasp zoom into focus. He looked like a colossus in contrast with the minute insects. The wasp did not scurry around but simply planted himself in the middle of the feast, poked his proboscis swiftly in and out, jerked his thorax violently up and down, and when an ant stepped on his toes, he kicked like a mule. All this activity in two square inches of flowers in a vast and busy world!

I wish he were alive today to revise his book to incorporate the lastest botanical research. (The book was published in 1943.) As it is, I found the way he kept referring to elms as if they were the commonest of trees rather poignant. And I learned that the plural for proboscis is proboscids! Seriously, I am surprised I do not find him on the lists of classic garden books. Possibly it is because he isn’t talking about horticulture as much as botany, but every gardener ought to be infused with such wonder in the life of the plants they cultivate. If you can’t find this book in your library and you’re determined to have it, try BookFinder. After having read him, I’m not at all sure The Lost Books of the Bible is by the same author.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

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