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Anatomy of a Rose
The Secret Lives of Flowers

Sharman Apt Russell
Random House

DEFINITELY the best gardening read to hit our desks in recent months, Anatomy of a Rose is an unexpected delight. Part modern science, part old-fashioned nostalgia, it aims to "unveil the secret life of flowers, from their diverse fragrances to their nasty deceptions".

Author Sharman Apt Russell is an intelligent writer, combining her innate love of gardening with a fascination for how plants work in a scientific sense. For her, studying even basic plants is a sensual experience - and one that can be experienced in extraordinary detail. Looking at a group of plain daisies, she writes: "I lie down in the green grass, cuddling up to a patch of daisies, their centres the colour of egg yolk, their petals a soft, milky white. Nearby, a red skyrocket (Ipomopsis aggregata) flaunts its long, trumpet-like, fused petals that end in a five-pointed, star-shaped opening. I only have a few minutes. Ants will begin to crawl up my ankle. Spiky leaves will tickle my skin. I will feel a growing uneasiness so close to the ground, less than a foot high. I will feel, soon, the desire to stand and reclaim my bipedal perspective." This examination of a white daisy leads into a discussion about colour's role in flower pollination.

There are no photographs - Russell crafts pictures from words instead. Take the unusual aesthetics of a passionflower: "The passionflower in my neighbour's yard looks constructed, designed by an engineer who has heard about flowers but never actually seen one, designed by a woman in love with helicopters."

Anatomy of a Rose is cleverly wrought, mixing complex research with lavish descriptions of the nuances of gardening. Entertaining and informative, you'll be surprised how much you can learn from this book - and how enjoyable the lesson is.

Weekend Gardener, Issue 106, September 19-October 2, 2002, Page 30

Reproduced with permission from the former Weekend Gardener magazine. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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