A friend at work — a graduate student studying honey bee ecology — is a new father. Molly and Doug welcomed Eleanor Hope just as Doug was finishing up final exams and getting ready to start winter break. To celebrate the baby’s arrival, I picked up a copy of a favorite bedtime story compilation from the time when my children were young.
While the title, The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury, ages me, I rest assured in the knowledge that stories about Babar, Stellaluna and Winnie-the-Pooh stand the test of time and will fill the new family’s bedtimes with happy images and fantastic characters.
Seeing this book again made me reflect on the countless hours spent with my children reading at bedtime, first picture books (they could pick three stories each, every night), then graduating to the Harry Potter series and other young adult fiction.
Even when they were past the stage of bedtime stories, one of the children would occasionally ask me to read aloud from a school-assigned book to help finish a tedious story (of the three, only my daughter is a voracious reader like her parents). I soaked up every minute I could spend reading together.
Five years ago, I wrote a column here on books for the gardener. At the time I was lamenting how little my schedule seemed to allow for reading, what with a busy job and three children in middle and high school. Today, with my daughter a college junior and both boys driving, I have much more time to call my own. I actually get to read books from start to finish and sometimes even indulge in marathon events, when I immerse myself for the love of it from first page to last.
Now that my husband and I are freed up from taking the boys to sports practice or the mall (we’re secretly rejoicing in the approach of our empty nest years), we’ve added a library night to our weekday schedule. Imagine how our sons, a high school sophomore and senior, roll their eyes at this idea.
We eagerly (albeit jokingly) invite the boys to join us every time, although so far we haven’t had any takers.
This weekly gift of focused time to read was prompted by my recollection of something called SSR from my high school days in the 1980s. For 20 minutes a day, we had dedicated time for “Silent, Sustained Reading.” My guess is that the many conflicting demands on the school day have caused this idea to fall away. Still, I relished that SSR time and wanted to re-create the idea in my life now. Library night has become our SSR time, purposefully spent with one book in hand (no screen reading) and a quiet place with few distractions. Be here, in this book, now.
In case you’re interested in adding SSR to your routine or just need a gift idea for a plant lover, here are a few suggestions for some plant-related reading. Some of these selections are best suited to pick up and put down again rather than read from cover to cover. The only danger in this is the physical one from a growing stack on the desk or bedside table.
The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America, by Hannah Nordhaus (2010).
This engaging story follows migratory beekeeper John Miller as he trucks his honey bee hives across the U.S. Miller’s 10,000 hives travel to California for almond pollination, to Washington for apple pollination, to Florida for orange pollination and then to North Dakota to feed on wildflowers.
Journalist Hannah Nordhaus travels alongside the bees, weaving together a story of bee biology and beekeeping history coupled with concern over the perils and fate of modern beekeeping.
Attracting Native Pollinators by the Xerces Society (2011).
This invaluable guide features details on plants, pollinators and conservation activities to attract and preserve native pollinators, including butterflies and bees. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is a nonprofit organization that works to conserve native pollinators. The group is named to honor the xerces butterfly, a species that lived in the sand dunes of San Francisco and the first species recognized to become extinct due to human activity.
Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History, by Bill Laws (2010).
The plant lover and the history buff will enjoy this book for its examination of the intricate relationship between human cultures and the plant world. The chapter on cotton, for example, traces cotton’s journey across the globe, from wild plants in both Peru and Pakistan to cultivated crops in China, Europe and into the New World as a driver of the slave trade. It turns out cotton is tied to the Luddites in England as well as the phrase “clogging up the works,” (dropping wooden clogs to damage machinery).
Readers might expect coffee, tea, papyrus and cacao to make the list of fifty plants, but how about cinchona (a historically vital source of quinine to fight malaria) and ferns? My counterpart Jim Chatfield will enjoy the chapter on the importance of his favorite plant, the crab apple. Each chapter includes drawings, images and asides.
Two “must-haves” for the reference shelf:
Weeds of the Northeast, by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso (1997).
This is by far my favorite weed book, and I have over a dozen on the topic. For each of close to 300 weeds, the authors have compiled color photographs of seeds, seedlings and mature plants. Detailed botanical information — how long seeds survive in the soil, how plants spread, or look-alike weeds — accompanies each plant.
Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw (2004).
Dr. Cranshaw has compiled information on over 1,400 insect pests of horticultural plants, complete with color photographs of various insect stages and plant damage. Not sure which insect is causing damage on your plant? Look up the plant in the appendix to find a listing of possible culprits.
Denise Ellsworth directs the honeybee and native pollinator education program for the Ohio State University. If you have questions about caring for your garden, contact her at 330-263-3700 or click on the Ask Denise link on her blog at www.osugarden.com.