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Book Review: Plants with Style by Kelly D. Norris

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.

Plants with Style: A Plantsman's Choices for a Vibrant, 21st-Century Garden by Kelly D. Norris. Timber Press, 2015.

Plants with Style: A Plantsman’s Choices for a Vibrant, 21st-Century Garden by Kelly D. Norris. Timber Press, 2015.

Identified by the New York Times as one of “Botany’s New Boys” in 2014, Kelly Norris is the author of a new book, Plants with Style. In the introduction, Norris writes, “The modern eclectic garden isn’t easily defined. It’s earnest, enthusiastic, and unbounded.” Like the garden he describes, Norris excitedly presents the reader with a book that is similarly earnest and enthusiastic. The tone of the opening pages and the love that Norris so clearly has for his chosen profession is infectious. The introduction reads more like a manifesto, with lots of quotable winks, such as “Cultivate your inner plant geek—it’s sexy.”

Like Norris’s beloved and eclectic gardens, Plants with Style takes the reader on a romp throughout plant profiles that the author has curated, artfully-photographed and penned essays for. (As a caution to readers, the typeface used is rather small, and the photographs offer limited botanical detail.) The text is broken down into several sections, “Environment,” “Structure,” “Emblems,” “Vignettes,” and “Essential Kitsch.” The categories are intriguing, a departure from the more systematic approach taken by other books of garden plants. The “Vignettes” section presented the most novel content, and in general Plants with Style would have benefited from more vista photographs and planting combination suggestions throughout the book as a whole.

There aren’t huge departures or surprises from Norris, and many of the plants profiled will be recognized as tried and tested favorites. This is very much a coffee table book, and as such it winds up coming up short in terms of practical gardening advice and innovative plant selections. However, seeing the selected plants through Norris’s eyes, and through his words, is a treat for the logophile* in us all.

*Lover of words


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