The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos and Plants by Georgina Reid, with Daniel Shipp (photographer)
Timber Press, Portland, 2019; $40.00US
There are a few things you need to know about this book. It is not a book about gardening. You will not learn how to sow seeds for the 23rd time. You will not learn how to plant a rose for the 37th time. You will not learn how to properly prune a shrub for the 53rd time. Nor is this a book about plants. You will not be shelving your 181st list of plants for the garden. You will not be sussing zones or sorting conflicting information on the same plant.
We’ve seen other “planthunter” books. This is not them. There are no machete-wielding bushwhackers here.
Finally, this is not a book about manicured gardens maintained by paid staffers to within an inch of their lives. There is no page after glossy page of not-a-leaf-out-of-place grandeur. We can’t resist such books. We all have shelves groaning with these books.
This book celebrates people who grow things. You will meet two dozen gardeners from 3 foreign countries: Australia, New Zealand, and California. There are few names you will recognize. But they are people like us. They get dirty. And each of them is extraordinary. It is a visit to the potting sheds of people who garden, and think about the act of gardening. Moreover it is a walk with them through their gardens, which are often less than pristine--but frankly, a whole lot more like ours than what is seen in other books. These gardens are lived in.
After a steady diet of New England gardens and the euro-centricity that we can’t seem to escape (there IS a whole, wide world of gardens out there...), it was revelatory to see the similarities and differences in gardens from the other side of the planet.
There are no captions on the plentiful photographs, but they are hardly necessary. There isn’t a lot of fluff in the text either. As fans of the author’s online publication “The Planthunter” are aware, she is a seeker, an asker of questions, and an over-the-garden- fence kind of communicator.
This is a book for the thinking gardener. It is itself thoughtful, and beautifully designed. It is calculated to get you thinking about your garden and your gardening. It is a love letter to gardeners, a paean to grubbers in the dirt.
Carlo Balistrieri is a botanical garden professional and garden photographer. He is a former curator of the Rock Garden at The New York Botanical Garden, and is passionate about plants, both large and (especially) small. For a daily dose of his imagery visit carlobalistrieriphotography on Instagram.