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Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens

by Mary Soderstrom

Do plants have sex? Did the New World, full of plants never seen by the Christian-European eye, escape the Flood? Such provocative questions sprung from the soil of early botanical gardens in Europe and have their modern counterparts in today’s gardens. Mary Soderstrom’s Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens, illustrates how such seemingly unpolitical things as plants and gardens have helped shaped our geopolitical past and our environmentally conscious future. Along the way she discovers such anecdotes as the story of an escaped Bronx Zoo lion found curled up asleep in a conservatory of the New York Botanical garden.

Soderstrom takes readers on a stroll through three historical periods to trace the evolution of botanical gardens and their changing roles in the societies that created them. She uses three distinguished gardens in each section, tracing the garden’s development from its founding moment to the present, while a “Gardens at a Glance” section provides directions to each garden and what to see once you’re there. Soderstrom is content to rely on the beauty of her surroundings and the photographs to create the book’s poetry. The writing is clear and unadorned, perfect for a quick read on the way to visit one of the gardens, though the text does occasionally get bogged down in the more science-oriented passages.