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Discoveries in the Garden

Every square inch of soil is rich with energy and life, and nowhere is this more evident than in the garden. At the tips of our trowels, a sun-driven world of microbes, insects, roots, and stems awaits—and it is a world no one knows better than James Nardi. A charming guide to all things green and growing, Nardi is as at home in prairies, forests, and wetlands as he is in the vegetable patch. And with Discoveries in the Garden, he shows us that these spaces aren’t as different as we might think, that nature flourishes in our backyards, schoolyards, and even indoors. To find it, we’ve only got to get down into the dirt.

Leading us through the garden gate, Nardi reveals the extraordinary daily lives and life cycles of a quick-growing, widely available, and very accommodating group of study subjects: garden plants. Through close observations and simple experiments we all can replicate at home, we learn the hidden stories behind how these plants grow, flower, set seeds, and produce fruits, as well as the vital role dead and decomposing plants play in nourishing the soil. From pollinators to parasites, plant calisthenics to the wisdom of weeds, Nardi’s tale also introduces us to our fellow animal and microbial gardeners, the community of creatures both macro- and microscopic with whom we share our raised beds. Featuring a copse of original, informative illustrations that are as lush as the garden plants themselves, Discoveries in the Garden is an enlightening romp through the natural history, science, beauty, and wonder of these essential green places.

288 pages | 93 halftones, 30 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Biological Sciences: Biology--Systematics, Conservation, Ecology, Microbiology, Natural History


"Nardi urges us to recall that it’s a jungle out there—in the back garden, that is. His companion guide to garden science is a learned romp through plant biology; solar energy and soil nutrients; the movement of vines; and 'fellow gardeners,' from single-celled protozoans to beetles. Here, too, are experiments on the basics, such as photosynthesis, and a wealth of stunning images. These range from a prickly study of weed burrs to a scanning-electron-microscope shot of trichomes, hairs that stud tomato leaves like 'dark lollipops' and give the plant its pungent odor."

Barbara Kiser | Nature

“Nardi’s wonderful new book is a must for anyone who wants to be an informed observer of and participant in the life of their garden. From the architecture of plant tissue to the magic shop of plant chemistry, Nardi shows how plants have evolved strategies to help them thrive and offers simple experiments allowing readers to ask them questions. I will never look at the brilliant colors of fall leaves or sniff the fragrance my tomato plants leave on my hands without thanking him for this book.”

Kristin Ohlson, author of "The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet"

“To say I am a huge fan of Nardi is an understatement. I can’t decide if it is because he is a favorite science writer or a favorite nature illustrator. This is because both his writing style and his detailed drawings show an extreme talent for piquing the reader’s curiosity and then satisfying it. Discoveries in the Garden is a fascinating and well worthwhile read. Nardi’s skill at making complicated science easy is on full display, punctuated with his ‘pictures say a thousand words’ illustrations. Making science easy to understand and beautiful—Nardi has done it again.”

Jeff Lowenfels, coauthor of "Teaming with Microbes" and author of "Teaming with Nutrients" and "Teaming with Fungi"

“I must say . . . I LOVE Discoveries in the Garden! The work is solid, the science is good, and the presentation is perfect for a general audience interested in plant science, for teachers wishing to use simple and effective observational experiments in their classrooms, as an introduction to plant science for home-schooled students, or even as a guide for developing program ideas for public gardens, museums, or ecology centers.”

Scott Stewart, executive director of the Millennium Park Foundation and former director of Lurie Garden

"The concept is excellent: draw gardeners and curious readers into science by exploring and explaining the creatures of the garden....Gardens can be some of the most personal of habitats, offering uniquely teachable places and moments. This volume takes good advantage of this, picturing different-sized soil particles with micro-invertebrates and other soil biota, illustrating four seasons of flowering plants, and explaining the dispersal of weed propagules."

Quarterly Review of Biology

"What a delightful book!"

Biodiversity and Conservation

Table of Contents

Introduction: Conversing with Plants

1 Seeds
2 Buds and Stems, Stem Cells and Meristems: Growing Up, Down, and Out
3 The Underground World: Bulbs, Tubers, and Roots
4 The Journey from Flower to Fruit and Seed
5 Energy from the Sun and Nutrients from the Soil
6 Movements of Vines and Tendrils, Leaves and Flowers
7 Wisdom of the Weeds: Lessons in How Plants Face Adversity
8 Plant Colors
9 Plant Odors and Oils
10 Fellow Gardeners: Other Creatures Who Share Our Gardens

Appendix A. Important Chemicals in the Lives of Plants
Appendix B. List of Plants Mentioned in the Text
Further Reading

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