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review 2018-07-20 06:40
The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany
Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany - Paul Bangay,Cecilia Hewlett,Narelle McAuliffe

In 1967, while doing some shoring up of the outer walls surrounding the Pallazo Vaj, gorgeous frescoes from the 1400's were found hidden inside the wall (one assumes it was a double wall sort of thing).  This became the later inspiration for Monash University's restoration of the Pallazo's car park, back to the Renaissance garden it originally was.  This book is a chronicle, of sorts, of that "restoration".  Explanation of the quotes later.

 

First, let me say this book is gorgeous.  Beautiful in its construction, photography - all of it.   The writing was ... adequate.  Mostly written like University professors submitting committee reports, but on a subject so rich and interesting that, with the exception of one section, it's still easy reading.  (Not sure who Luke Morgan is, and I'm willing to bet he's a delightful, engaging person when he's at home, but his writing is nothing but pretentious gibberish.  I've read articles about quantum physicals that were less opaque and obscure.)

 

So, this book would make a lovely gift - but maybe not for a gardener.  The thing is, and this is my biggest disappointment, that while the book is beautiful, the garden is most decidedly not.  I realise beauty is entirely subjective, and I realise too that this garden needed to serve as a public space.  

 

But 80% of it is GRAVEL.  Hand to god, 80%. According to the book, there were only 4 types of plants used in the entire space: box (so. much. box), jasmine, magnolia and lemon.  Lovely plants, beautifully scented, but nothing else and EVERYTHING clipped to within an inch of its life.  Even the magnolias are forced into a Christmas tree shape.

 

This is the "restored" garden:

 

I'm pretty sure you could still use that as a car park, just sayin'. 

 

So, thus my rating.  Great book, decent writing, horrific garden.  Sorry Monash Uni, that's not a garden.

Source: www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj59sKQ-azcAhVQ7mEKHSyOBWcQjB16BAgBEAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fartsonline.monash.edu.au%2Fexpectations-in-healthcare-testing%2Fevents%2F
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review 2018-06-28 01:07
The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs
The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs - Peter Wohlleben

NOT what it says on the tin.  Not really.  I read this title and its blurb and expected, not unreasonably, that it would be a collection of practically accurate ways to predict the weather by reading the nature of what's around you.  There's maybe 30% of the book that falls under that category.

 

I did learn a few things: a couple of flowers that act as barometers; which ones you can use to tell time.  But most of the information was general, basic getting-back-to-nature stuff.  Importance of rain.  A general overview of the skies; background on the importance of soil.  Definitely worthy subjects, and written on a practical level; he doesn't expect the reader to chuck it all and live amongst the forest creatures, but just points out what's in most of our gardens.  Sadly, there wasn't much here that I didn't already know, and I didn't learn half of what I'd hoped to.

 

The Weather Detective is an English translation of the original book titled Kranichflug und Blumenuhr, which roughly translates to "Crane Flight and Flower Clock"; probably not a title that's going to infer any immediate meaning to English readers, but probably more accurate in its vagueness than The Weather Detective.  This leads me to another issue I had with the book:  it's either poorly translated, or it's meant for a much younger audience.  Wohlleben is a well-known and well-respected writer, so I'm inclined to believe it's the translation.  I don't question its accuracy, but the tone of the original, I have to believe, has been lost, leaving a text that is overly simplistic and sometimes skates near condescending (something I'm positive was not intended by the author himself).  I feel like I could give this to my 8 year old niece, and with a few exceptions, she'd be able to read it and understand it without any problems.

 

It's not an unworthy book; given a stronger, more intuitive translation and a much more accurate title, the book would be perfect for any urbanite more interested in what's going on outside their doors.  I like Wohlleben's honest, but pragmatic and sympathetic view on human interaction with nature - his views are moderate, reasonable, and rational.  And I truly did gain a few nuggets of information here and there.  It's just not all it could be, and what I suspect it might be, in the original German.

 

Some additional notes for anyone considering reading it:

It's pretty German-centric, of course.  He tries to look further afield, but even that's confined to Europe and the UK.  All the measurements have been converted to US Customary Units/UK Imperial, so Canadians, Aussies, and any other English speaking readers not inclined to be flexible about USC/UK:Metric conversions are going to be irritated.  In the same vein, forget about it if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, unless you really like to flex your brain.  Wind direction and sun orientations will all need to be reversed.  Most of the wildlife mentioned will also be non-applicable, though the science, at least, is sound no matter what part of the globe you live on. 

 

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review 2018-06-17 09:35
Elizabeth and Her German Garden
Elizabeth and Her German Garden (The Penguin English Library) - Elizabeth von Arnim

I loved this - I think I first heard about it from a mention by Themis-Athena, but had to await its publication here before reading it.  It's a slim tome, but packed; at 104 pages, what I originally thought would be a fast read instead took me a couple of days, despite my being absorbed in it.

 

Mostly, it's a celebration of gardens, the outdoors, and nature, as written by one new to all of it.  But buried in the narrative, structured loosely like a diary, are moments of scathing wit, social commentary, and on the part of her husband, not a little misogyny.  Elizabeth and her German Garden was originally published in 1898 and though its language is of the time, Elizabeth is refreshingly modern.  Her thoughts, attitude, and personality are in almost all ways indistinguishable from the average 21st century woman's voice.  I loved her and her scathing, dry wit.

 

My only complaint about the book is it was slightly too short.  After lamenting two years of summer droughts that kept her in suspense of her garden's potential, the book ends at the very start of April and spring; I desperately want to know if she finally got to see her garden in all its glory!  Did the yellow border work out?  Enquiring minds are left hanging!

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review 2018-04-21 10:06
The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search the World's Rarest Species
The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World's Rarest Species - Carlos Magdalena

This book is mostly what it says on the tin, anecdotes about Magdalena's travels seeking out the world's most endangered plants, and his subsequent conservation efforts to stave off their extinction.

 

It starts off a little rocky, as my first impression of Magdalena was more evangelical than messianic, and the mini-biography at the start sometimes ventured into very self-satisfied prose.  The biographical information was helpful, though probably could have been edited a bit.

 

Once chapter 2 begins though, all of that is quickly forgotten.  As someone who is deeply interested in conservation of both plants and animals (except roaches), I was enthralled as I read about efforts to save species plants on Mauritius and Rodrigues Islands, in Bolivia, and Australia (water lilies!).  As the daughter of an orchid grower who very often had to MacGyver solutions for tricky breeding problems, I genuinely enjoyed the parts where he had to think on his feet, or think outside the box to overcome perceived roadblocks to cultivation.

 

There's no denying his enthusiasm and his passion for his work; neither is there any denying the need for it, in a world where 2000 unknown plants can be identified in a given year, only to have many of them go extinct before they can even be named.  I learned a great deal reading this, and hesitated to put it down, always wanting to know where he was going next and what he'd find when he got there.

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review 2018-02-02 03:07
Bella Tuscany
Bella Tuscany - Frances Mayes

Very much more of the same from Under the Tuscan Sun but with more travel and more poetry and more philosophical musings.  

 

I really just wanted to hear about the house and their village, so I found myself skimming whenever the chapters covered their travels.  I usually love the travel bits, but a combination of my mood and her tendency to write about their trips within Italy the way academic historians write about battles made it all feel too tedious.  But I loved hearing about the house, the restoration, re-building the gardens, and harvesting the olives.  That took up about half the book, so I went with a down the middle rating of three stars.

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