Rant readers, please welcome Ken Druse, the author of 17 books about ornamental gardening, including The Natural Shade Garden, Planthropology, and a supremely useful book just released in paperback, Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation. What these books have in common is a refreshing sense of style that encompasses both their glossily beautiful photographs and Druse’s playful and provocative prose. Even if, like me, you’re a die-hard backyard farmer who looks upon her less successful efforts in the ornamental garden with something like disdain, you will find yourself at once intrigued and inspired.
Ken’s newest book, the just-published Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations is illustrated by Ellen Hoverkamp‘s dramatic scanner photographs of plants grouped by theme–and by a moment in time and space.
Q: Your books are much more idea-driven than many gardening books. Tell me how you decide what to write about.
A: Very often, the people I meet think that I’m an expert, and I suppose that after all this time, I am something of an expert. But I’m really more of a journalist. I tend to choose my subjects because I want to know something or have a problem. For example, my garden in New Jersey needed more plants, but I didn’t know that much about propagation. So I consulted the experts and tried every technique they suggested three different ways until I found the best one for Making More Plants.
Natural Companions came about slightly differently. I’d wanted to work with artist Ellen Hoverkamp for some time. Her fine art work doesn’t illustrate a botanical concept or tell a story, though it’s extremely pretty in way it uses plants for color and shape. But I wanted to use her photographs to tell stories.
I also wanted to make a gardening book that was beautiful and affordable, something people would want to pick up physically in an electronic age. The publisher had realistic expectations for the book, given the market, but it has been popular enough that they had to order a second printing before the official publication date. Now, my publisher is looking at gardening books again, which is good.
Q: Thank you from all the writers here at GardenRant! What else are you hoping to accomplish with your work?
A: Well, I worry about nature deprivation. I have cousins who taught their kids that nature will kill you, that every spider is potentially lethal. I see fewer and fewer people outside. And despite the green movement, we still have Scotts as the anti-Christ, putting poison on birdseed.
Horticulture has become a profession, mow, blow, and go. At least when Dad used to mow the lawn in the past, he’d get a little bit of oxygen. When we were kids, the rule was, you had to come in when the street lights came on, though we never came in even then. Now, no one is outside. If you can get a kid outside before they are three to plant a seed or a tree, that could change everything.
With every single book, I’m trying to get people to recognize that plants are alive, to realize how incredible they are, how sensational. I’m trying to promote nature through beauty.