From the Library

Cutting Back in Kyoto

Posted in From the Library on June 20th, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

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.


Photo of Cutting BackCutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck is part memoir, part travelogue, and part garden design narrative. In 1999, Buck, then the owner of a pruning business in California, traveled to Japan in pursuit of an internship. Having worked with Japanese and Japanese-taught mentors previously, Buck was determined to gain additional training from Japanese craftspeople working in Japan’s famed gardens. Through the help of contacts in Kyoto, Buck obtained an internship at Uetoh Zoen, one of the oldest and most respected landscape companies in Kyoto.

For the most part, it was interesting to read about Buck’s experience working on a pruning-only garden crew, as well as to learn about her attempts to understand and navigate Japanese culture as an American woman. Buck wrote that her “Bossman” was constantly challenging her with progressively more difficult tasks, and for that reason she never fully settled in to her internship or hit her stride. By the end of the book, Buck seemed to have learned about Japanese work ethic, culture, and gardening practices in spite of forgetting all the Japanese language she had learned (as she claimed).
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What Have Plants Ever Done for Us?

Posted in From the Library on June 20th, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

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.


Photo of a book coverWhat Have Plants Ever Done for Us? is a wonderful book about botany, history, and human society. Authored by Stephen Harris, Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria and a University Research Lecturer, Plants was published in 2015. Those who read a lot of popular science books about botany will be aware that there are quite a few books published in the vein of Plants, sort of “natural history prose” about how certain plant species or plant groups have been used by humans throughout the ages.

Poorly-researched books are a dime a dozen, which makes Plants all the more wonderful. Harris is a detail-oriented researcher who writes well, both clearly and with a very dry (sometimes hard to catch) sense of humor. Not only does Harris review and condense several more recent “a history of” publications about different plants (for example, The Pineapple: The King of Fruits or Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization), he incorporates recent scholarly scientific research articles as well as notable historic works written between the 15th and 20th centuries. Harris deftly weaves his narrative with elements of history, botanical nomenclature, taxonomy, plant morphology, genetic research, and economics. In addition to very good scientific writing, there is a great deal here about the trade and colonization practices of European powers in particular, as well as elements of conservation theory.

Any lover of plants will enjoy What Have Plants Ever Done for Us?. Readers can sample a chapter or two at a time, or read the text from cover to cover. Teachers in many different disciplines—humanities and sciences both—might also find Plants to be very valuable as a teaching aid, either by assigning chapters to students as readings or using chapter topics to structure lesson plans.  Having finished Plants, I am now eager to read more by Harris! In particular, Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum: A Brief History, Harris’s new book from University of Chicago Press.

Anna Botsford Comstock: Trailblazer in Nature Education

Posted in From the Library on June 16th, 2017 by Samantha D’Acunto – Be the first to comment

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


Anna ComstockOn September 1, 1854 in Cattaraugua County, New York, a girl by the name of Anna Botsford was born. It wouldn’t be until many years later that her name would be recognized and respected. Anna was fascinated with nature ever since she was a child, and her interest in the subject followed her as she entered the newly established Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

As she studied and attended lectures, Anna found herself particularly enthralled with a young entomology professor named John Henry Comstock. Encouraging Anna to cultivate her already strong understanding and interest in nature, John recruited her to assist him with his research. Anna was a skilled illustrator. Her ink and pen illustrations of insects were detailed and accurate, making them some of the most authoritative images for insect identification at the time. As the two worked closely and intimately on various projects, a spark of romance developed; by 1878 the two were married. Anna continued her studies at Cornell University and by 1885 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree.
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Spotlights from the Shelf: Veggie Appreciation

Posted in From the Library on June 12th, 2017 by Samantha D’Acunto – Be the first to comment

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


Photo of Pattan's PumpkinVegetables are at the center of the longest battle ever fought between parent and child. Fighting the good fight for the veggie kingdom, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library aims to equip parents everywhere with titles that highlight veggie appreciation. The titles featured below are new to our children’s circulating collection and offer positive tales of why eating your veggies is important. So next time you say “Eat your vegetables!” it might just work!

Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India by Chitra Soundar / Illustrated by Frane Lessac (2016)

Pattan and his wife Kanni live near the river caring for their garden and their animals. The goats, bulls, and elephants help Pattan tend to his chores, and in return, he shares his harvest. After his walk through the land, Pattan finds a plant that is need of help, so he replants it in his garden to care for it. Not too long after being replanted, the plant grows into a pumpkin. The pumpkin quickly grows larger than the goat, then larger than the bull, then larger than the elephant, and soon enough it’s bigger than a mountain! When a rainstorm causes terrible flooding, Pattan must quickly devise a plan that will carry his family, animals, and grain to safety. Based on a traditional South Indian tale, Pattan’s Pumpkin is exciting and rewarding to read! Its vibrantly colored illustrations and friendly narrative transport the reader into the story.
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Collaborative Campaign brings together Researchers from Columbia University and the Humanities Institute

Posted in From the Library on June 7th, 2017 by Vanessa Sellers – Be the first to comment
Photo of symposium participants

Participants of the workshop “Biodiversity and its Histories” gather in the Humanities Institute, Mertz Library, NYBG.

Over the course of the last three months, The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute and the Center for Science & Society at Columbia University have opened the front in a collaborative campaign for renewed dialogue about conservation, climate change, and the numerous other challenges that face the protection of biodiversity and the environment in the 21st Century.
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Sowing Beauty in the Meadow

Posted in From the Library on June 5th, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

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.


Photo of Sowing BeautySowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed is a new book from James Hitchmough and Timber Press. Hitchmough is an established author of popular garden writing as well as a respected academic. Sowing Beauty offers readers a hybrid of academic and popular writing related to meadow garden creation featuring plants from around the world.

In addition to an introduction and appendices, the book itself is separated into sections titled “Looking to nature for inspiration and design wisdom,” “Designing naturalistic herbaceous plant communities,” “Seed mix design, implementation, and initial establishment,” “Establishment and management,” and “Case studies of sown prairies, meadows, and steppe.”

Sowing Beauty is an attractive and interesting book, but a hard one to classify. The book centers around Hitchmough’s unique style and somewhat radical practice of sowing meadows from seed. Sowing Beauty is home gardener-friendly in terms of content, detailing the process of meadow-sowing from start to finish. Readers learn to create seed mixes, sow their seeds, and maintain their meadows over time.
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On Medical Cannabis & Modern Histories

Posted in From the Library on June 1st, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

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.


Photo of Smoke SignalsMedical marijuana is a hot topic in many parts of the United States. In New York, the use of medical marijuana has been approved for the treatment of symptoms of various diseases and conditions. Those wishing to learn more about medical marijuana should consider attending NYBG’s Adult Education Medical Cannabis class which will likely be offered in the fall of this year.

While it is not legal to grow marijuana in New York, the books below offer insight into marijuana culture and history, as well as information about how marijuana is cultivated legally by those in states that permit such practices.

Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific by Martin A. Lee chronicles the history of marijuana in America. Lee is not the first author to write a history of Cannabis sativa, but the social history focus of this book is especially interesting for readers who want to know the legal aspects of marijuana criminalization, regulation, and legislation in the United States. In addition, the author also explores contemporary medical research around using marijuana to treat conditions including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and chronic pain. Lee, a journalist, is skilled at drawing the reader in and also does the more motivated researcher the service of providing an extensive bibliography for further reading.
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Threshold: Biodiversity, Climate, and Humanity at a Crossroads

Posted in From the Library on May 31st, 2017 by Vanessa Sellers – Be the first to comment
Photo of Threshold

(L to R) Speakers John Nagle, Ursula Heise, and Shahid Naeem

On March 9, the Humanities Institute’s Fourth Annual Symposium was held at the Garden, offering a vital discussion among three renowned experts, and the larger public, on biodiversity and nature conservation in the era of climate change. Convened by the Humanities Institute and the Center for Science and Society, as well as History Initiative at Columbia University, this symposium served as a critical introduction to key issues about modern society and its relationship with the environment.

Challenging issues such as the possibility of future life on Earth, participants were invited to ask themselves the following questions: What does biodiversity mean in the broader context of 21st-century environmental politics and ethics and in the specific case of the 2016 Paris Agreement? Is there a common, sustainable future possible in this new period of American isolationism, when Washington threatens to pull out of global environmental treaties, such as the 2016 Paris Agreement? What are the most urgent eco-political and ethical laws that need enforcing to ascertain the availability of the world’s natural resources to tomorrow’s generation? Challenging questions that need expert knowledge and guidance.
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Spotlights from the Shelf: Classics Old & New

Posted in From the Library on May 23rd, 2017 by Samantha D’Acunto – 1 Comment

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


Photo of book coverThe circulating children’s collection at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library has titles that support the creative imaginations of our young readers! The fantastical illustrations and lyrical narratives offered in many of our books invite readers to experience a world beyond the surface all while digging deep to learn about the environment around them. The titles featured below are new to our shelves and are perfect examples of fun and educational reads. We hope to see you in the library soon!

You Wouldn’t Want to Live Without Dirt! By Ian Graham / Illustrated by Mark Bergin (2016)

In another installment of the You Wouldn’t Want to series, You Wouldn’t Want to Live Without Dirt provides insight on dirt with the familiar elements the other titles in this series offer. Weather you use dirt or soil, this book encourages all readers to view it from every angle. The interactive You Can Do It boxes sprinkled throughout the book encourage readers to explore the components of soil by conducting hands-on experiments. The book answers essential questions like “What is dirt?” and challenges the reader to consider the future of soil. The narrative offers information and new vocabulary throughout. You will not be able to turn a page without learning something new about dirt. Like its sister titles, You Wouldn’t Want To Live Without Dirt is a wonderful read for children being introduced to the topic or those who are starting an elementary grade science project.
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Garden-to-Bar Reading

Posted in From the Library on May 15th, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

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.


Cover of the Drunken BotanistThis week we dive into a few books detailing the rich history of botanical spirits, and the ways in which we’ve called on the garden to supply us with our favorite tipples.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart is a treat from start to finish. Drunken Botanist follows Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs, two excellent books about organisms that can be dangerous to humans. (Read my review of Wicked Plants here.) Stewart is a talented writer, a careful historian, an excellent amateur botanist, and a skilled bartender. Drunken Botanist follows the format of her earlier books, with Stewart selecting different plants and offering readers narratives about their nativity and the history of their usage by humans—specifically how and when they were used to make alcoholic drinks. Sake, scotch, rum, tequila, bourbon, and their plant parents are just a few of the drinks that are featured. Stewart writes, “It would be impossible to describe every plant that has ever flavored an alcoholic beverage. I am certain at this very moment, a craft distiller in Brooklyn is plucking a weed from a crack in the sidewalk and wondering if it would make a good flavoring for a new line of bitters.” Before plucking sidewalk weeds, craft distiller and home bartenders alike would do well to look to Drunken Botanist for inspiration, “stirring” stories, and an infectious excitement about plants that is one of Stewart’s enduring trademarks.
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