Books to inspire your spring planting

From seeds grow flowers, and from books grow ideas

April showers famously bring May flowers—and given we’re now into the month of April, it’s high time to begin planting for your summer garden. Whether an aspiring landscape architect, an herbal remedy aficionado, or an urban backyard gardener, you’re sure to find something in the pages below to inspire your plantings. Explore these and more books below, and go here to discover even more of our books on the environment and landscape architecture.

Overgrown: Practices between Landscape Architecture and Gardening by Julian Raxworthy

As a discipline, landscape architecture has distanced itself from gardening, and landscape architects take pains to distinguish themselves from gardeners or landscapers. Landscape architects tend to imagine gardens from the office, representing plants with drawings or other simulations, whereas gardeners work in the dirt, in real time, planting, pruning, and maintaining their environment. In Overgrown, Julian Raxworthy calls for the integration of landscape architecture and gardening. Each has something to offer the other: Landscape architecture can design beautiful spaces, and gardening can enhance and deepen the beauty of the world over time. Growth, says Raxworthy, is the medium of garden development; landscape architects should leave the office and go into the garden in order to know growth in an organic, non-simulated way; and backyard gardeners can also look to learn a bit from the architects.

“This provocative, important, and original book is required reading for landscape architects and for all who care about plants and design.” —Anne Whiston Spirn, author of The Language of Landscape

Atlas of Perfumed Botany by Jean-Claude Ellena

For perfume makers, each smell carries with it a multitude of associations and impressions that must be carefully analyzed and understood before the sum of all its parts emerges. All perfumers have their own idiosyncratic methods, drawn from their individual olfactory experiences, for classifying fragrances. In Atlas of Perfumed Botany, Jean-Claude Ellena—virtuoso perfumer and the “nose” of the luxury brand Hermès for more than a decade —leads readers on a poetic, geographic, and botanical journey of perfume discovery. Ellena offers a varied and fascinating cartography of fragrances, tracing historical connections and cultural exchanges. Full-page entries on plants ranging from bergamot to lavender are accompanied by detailed and vivid full-color botanical illustrations, providing inspiration for botanists both real and imagined.

Atlas of Poetic Botany by Francis Hallé

This Atlas invites the reader to tour the farthest reaches of the rainforest in search of exotic—poetic—plant life. Guided in these botanical encounters by Francis Hallé, who has spent forty years in pursuit of the strange and beautiful plant specimens of the rainforest environment, the reader discovers a plant with just one solitary, monumental leaf; an invasive hyacinth; a tree that walks; a parasitic laurel; and a dancing vine. Further explorations reveal the Rafflesia arnoldii, the biggest flower in the world, with a crown of stamens and pistils the color of rotten meat that exude the stench of garbage in the summer sun; underground trees with leaves that form a carpet on the ground above them; and the biggest tree in Africa, which can reach seventy meters (more than 200 feet) in height, with a four-meter (about 13 feet) diameter. Hallé’s drawings, many in color, provide a witty accompaniment. Lovers of plants—from gardeners to botanists to admirers—can all find something to learn within its pages.

“It’s a vegetal parade that reminds us, yet again, how some chunks of Earth’s biosphere still smack of terra incognita.” —Nature

Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution by George Gessert

Humans have bred plants and animals with an eye to aesthetics for centuries: flowers are selected for colorful blossoms or luxuriant foliage; racehorses are prized for the elegance of their frames. Hybridized plants were first exhibited as fine art in 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed Edward Steichen’s hybrid delphiniums. Since then, bio art has become a genre; artists work with a variety of living things, including plants, animals, bacteria, slime molds, and fungi. Many commentators have addressed the social and political concerns raised by making art out of living material. In Green Light, however, George Gessert examines the role that aesthetic perception has played in bio art and other interventions in evolution. Gessert looks at a variety of life forms that humans have helped shape, focusing on plants and the environment—the most widely domesticated form of life and the one that has been crucial to his own work as an artist. We learn about pleasure gardens of the Aztecs, cultivated for intoxicating fragrance; the aesthetic standards promoted by national plant societies; a daffodil that looks like a rose; and praise for weeds and wildflowers.

“[A] more than fascinating collection of notes about genetics and evolution in the context of art, and vice versa, and the aesthetic interventions of Homo sapiens.” —Leonardo Reviews

The Metamorphosis of Plants by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Metamorphosis of Plants, published in 1790, was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s first major attempt to describe what he called in a letter to a friend “the truth about the how of the organism.” Inspired by the diversity of flora he found on a journey to Italy, Goethe—the German literary figure who wrote such classics as the tragic play Faust—sought a unity of form in diverse structures. He came to see in the leaf the germ of a plant’s metamorphosis—“the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms”—from the root and stem leaves to the calyx and corolla, to pistil and stamens. With this short book—123 numbered paragraphs, in the manner of the great botanist Linnaeus—Goethe aimed to tell the story of botanical forms in process, to present, in effect, a motion picture of the metamorphosis of plants. This MIT Press edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants illustrates Goethe’s text (in an English translation by Douglas Miller) with a series of stunning and starkly beautiful color photographs as well as numerous line drawings.

“Goethe would be delighted with this edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants.” —Henri Bortoft, author of The Wholeness of Nature and Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness

Botanicum Medicinale: A Modern Herbal of Medicinal Plants by Catherine Whitlock

Remedies derived from plants are the world’s oldest medicines. Used extensively in China, India, and many African countries, herbal medicine has become increasingly popular in the West along with other holistic and alternative therapies. Botanicum Medicinale offers a modern guide to 100 medicinal plants found in our modern environment, featuring beautiful, full-color botanical illustrations and informative, engaging text. Whitlock reveals the practicality of these plants—some considered weeds, some prized as crowning blooms in bridal bouquets—and explains to the modern gardener and plant enthusiast how they might be used to treat a range of conditions, from insomnia to indigestion.

“A veritable garden of information about plants and their medicinal properties… Botanicum Medicinale brings the garden inside—in all its soothing, healing glory.” —The Washington Post

Natura Urbana: Ecological Constellations in Urban Space by Matthew Gandy

Postindustrial transitions and changing cultures of nature have produced an unprecedented degree of fascination with urban biodiversity. The “other nature” that flourishes in marginal urban spaces, at one remove from the controlled contours of metropolitan nature, is not the poor relation of rural flora and fauna. Indeed, these islands of biodiversity underline the porosity of the distinction between urban and rural. In Natura Urbana, Matthew Gandy explores urban nature as a multilayered material and symbolic entity, through the lens of urban ecology and the parallel study of diverse cultures of nature at a global scale. For readers who might be surrounded by the concrete trappings of modern urban life, Natura Urbana offers a welcome salve.

“Gandy’s majestic exploration of the posthuman, postcolonial ‘ecological pluriverse’ of cultural, material, and biophysical traces from across the globe opens a treasure trove of new ways to understand the fluidity of urban ecologies and natures.” —Julian Agyeman, Tufts University

Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery: The Illustrated Edition by Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe

Progressive scientists and conservation professionals are pursuing a radical new approach to restoring ecosystems: rewilding. By recovering the ripple effect generated by the interactions among plant and animal species and natural disturbances, rewilding seeks to repair ecosystems by removing them from human engineering and reassembling guilds of megafauna from a mix of surviving wild and feral species and de-domesticated breeds, including elk, bison, and feral horses. Written by two leaders in the field, this book offers an abundantly illustrated guide to the science of rewilding. It shows in fascinating detail the ways in which ecologists are reassembling ecosystems that allow natural interactions rather than human interventions to steer their environmental trajectories.

Explore more of the MIT Press’s books on the environment