Clear explanations, challenges to orthodoxy. Sometimes you just know you're going to enjoy a book. If you haven't come across Linda Chalker-Scott before, then How Plants Work, The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do is a great way to meet her.
Linda's credentials tell you a lot. She has a PhD in Horticulture and is an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture at Washington State University (WSU). There, she co-chairs the Garden Team, an interdisciplinary group that produces science-based WSU Extension publications for amateur gardeners. She writes educational materials for the nursery and landscape industry, certified arboriculturalists, pesticide technicians and restoration ecologists. She is published widely in scientific and popular magazines and - which is how I came across her - hosts the entertaining and informative blog, The Garden Professors, where there are some very enjoyable podcasts. Phew!
How Plants Work is her fourth book and explains just that. Unless you're particularly retentive, or are just brushing up knowledge gained at A Level and beyond, you'll probably not want to devour it in large chunks. As someone who dropped all sciences for A Level, this is a book I need to take at a steady pace, if I'm to absorb as much as I'd like to.
However, this is not because it's difficult to read. Linda has a lucid style that clearly explains the various plant processes covered. It's just that there's so much to take in.
Chapters progress from "Under the Microscope", which is a selective introduction to plant anatomy and biochemistry, through chapters such as "The Underground Railroad" (all about roots) and "Why Leaves Can Turn Red Anytime, Anyplace" to "Garden Care, Not Control" which covers ways of working with your plants, not against them.
Described like this it sounds rather dry. It's not. Linda uses plenty of scenarios and problems encountered in her own garden to introduce and explain how plants behave and the problems they, and we, encounter.
It's well illustrated with photos and, browsing through, your eye will be caught by the plentiful stand-alone pages, which either focus on a particular phenomenon (such as the heat-producing spadix of skunk cabbage) or bust a myth with scientific precision. The latter are, of course, the most fascinating. Do you reduce watering to prepare for winter dormancy, or put down sheet mulches of cardboard or newspaper? Read this, and stop.
As people begin to think about present-giving, this is definitely one to drop a hint on. If no one's picking it up, just go the whole hog and treat yourself.
How Plants Work was provided by Timber Press for review purposes.