Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"Paradise Under Glass" - Ruth Kassinger

Paradise Under Glass: The Education of a Indoor Gardener

Ruth Kassinger's book centers around the project of building a conservatory in her home. The author wasn't really a gardener to begin with: in fact she starts the book off by explaining her difficulty in taking care potted plants over the years. 

What really drew her to the idea was an impromptu visit to the United States Botanic Gardens' Conservatory. Why not create a tropical Eden in her own backyard? The book chronicles the building of the structure as well as her experiences in finding plants that fit the requirements of being visually stunning and not too sensitive to the vagaries of her somewhat forgetful gardening skills. 

 Interspersed throughout are chapters on history: the first conservatories, the evolution of their design, plant explorers in tropical regions, the Victorian fern mania and the history of pesticides and biological pest control. I actually found these parts the most interesting in the book. There is also an ongoing narrative about the loss of her sister to cancer and her own battle with the disease. Without wanting to sound cold-hearted I felt this took some of the pleasure of reading the book away. Not only because it is, of course, always painful to read about tragic personal histories, but it is doubly so in a book that presents itself as a memoir of a leisure project. Furthermore, I didn't think it enriched the narrative of building and planting the conservatory - it simply made me sad. 

The actual choosing and placing of greenery in a modern hot-house seems to be a flimsy subject and as such is supplemented by visits of the author to several places in the U.S.: some legendary nurseries of tropical plants, a butterfly farm, a commercial operation in Florida. Interesting, but felt slightly like filler material.

 I wanted very much to love "Paradise Under Glass". After all, I've always had a thing for conservatories myself. I was expecting something akin to Amy Stewart's From the Ground Up, but in the end felt Kassinger's book didn't deliver that feeling of absolute enthusiasm and roll-up-your-sleeves giddiness.

Once upon a time a conservatory was only for the royalty and then the incredibly wealthy, the author informs us. But as we witness the construction of a pricey structure, designed by an architect, put together by skilled workers, complete with swimmimg-pool and filled with hundreds of expensive plants we have to wonder if it really is that different today. Maybe it's my own poor fault but I really couldn't relate to this memoir.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Im reading Jane Eyre :)