Diggin' It: Relax with a good book

Several months ago, I was corresponding via email with famed plantsman Allan Armitage about — obviously — plants.

In the course of our conversation, he offered me a copy of his latest book, “Of Naked Ladies and Forget-Me-Nots: The Stories Behind the Common Names of Some of Our Favorite Plants,” to read and review. I gladly accepted and promptly received the book in my mailbox.

That conversation was several months ago. I’m sure he assumes I have completely forgotten about our agreement. But au contraire, I was saving it for this column on summer garden reading.

The August garden still benefits from our presence and attention. Chores such as watering, weeding and deadheading are ongoing tasks, but the big makeover projects are better suited for the cooler days of late September and October.

So, when the midday heat sets in, why not park yourself in a shady spot, listen to the birds and read a garden book?

“Of Naked Ladies and Forget-Me-Nots” is a catchy title. Most of us are familiar with the spring-blooming Forget-Me-Not but what are Naked Lady plants? This fun book will provide the answer as Armitage delves into the history and traditions of common plant names.

Of course, we need our botanical Latin because it leaves no room for guessing a plant’s identity, but the whimsical common names can be easier to remember because of their catchy and descriptive nature.

And a lot of them are downright silly.

Armitage postulates, “I am too old to be shocked by much anymore, but as I roam around plants and gardens, it seems to me that there must have been a club of good ol’ boys smoking something that resulted in some rather bawdy names.”

Such could be said for the aforementioned Naked La-dies, a moniker that describes the leafless stems on fall blooming Lycoris, which you will see beautifully illustrated on the book’s cover.

“Of Naked Ladies and Forget-Me-Nots” is a charming and educational read with short chapters and full-color photos. After a discussion of the plant’s lore, you’ll find a brief growing guide for that plant.

In the back you’ll find a helpful index that cross-references common and botanical Latin names — a superb summer read. The book is available on Amazon.

Speaking of Amazon, a search for children’s garden books will uncover a surprising plethora of possibilities.

My kids are adults now and there are no grandchildren, so I’ve been out of the loop for a while. But when I was asked if I wanted to review “A Big Garden” by Gilles Clement and Vincent Grace, I gladly obliged.

Originally published in France, “A Big Garden” is a pleasantly-oversized children’s picture book that takes the reader through the four seasons. Interestingly, it starts with creating an edible garden in the month of May. I found this a bit odd until I remembered that the book is written for children, not adults who start the gardening season long before.

A testament to gardening and the natural world, the drawings are uniquely charming and will have children (and adults) hunting for specifics, along the lines of “Where’s Waldo.” With so much to discover and enjoy, this book is a fantastic way to cuddle up and bond with the next generation.

Happy reading.

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