22 June 2012

Imprint Friday: Weeds by Richard Mabey

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.''

One man's wildflower garden is another man's weed patch. Have you ever wondered about what makes a weed a weed? Is it as simple as a plant growing where you won't want it? Richard Mabey's Weeds, out in paperback next week, is indeed what the subtitle promises, a "defense of nature's most unloved plants."

Here's the publisher's summary:

Weeds are botanical thugs, but they have always been essential to our lives. They were the first crops and medicines and they inspired Velcro. They adorn weddings and foliate the most derelict urban sites. With the verve and historical breadth of Michael Pollan, acclaimed nature writer Richard Mabey delivers a provocative defense of the plants we love to hate.
In a dozen fascinating essays, Richard Mabey delves into many aspects of weeds, including lore, science, religion, and literature. For example, in Chapter 6, subtitled "Three Writer's Weeds," we learn about the weedy plants that have found fame in plays, poems, and prose. We are also left to wonder whether the Shakespeare garden in Central Park is all that innocent Many of the plants mentioned by the Bard can be considered weeds, and at least some have certainly jumped their beds to meander throughout New York.

Here are some things I learned about weeds:
  • The seeds of some species can remain dormant for 2000 years yet still be viable.
  • Weeds have the ability to completely take over any disturbed ground, erasing signs of decayed towns, battlefields, and abandoned farms.
  • A plant that is simply a pretty flower in one country and be a bully and nuisance in another (think purple loosestrife in the United States).
  • Australia is particularly vulnerable to invasive plants.
But those are some of the negatives. Many of our medicines and food crops started out as weeds as did some of our most beloved cultivated flowers (poppies in particular). Weeds harbor good insects, can be revitalizing to the environment, and contribute to biodiversity. Weeds can also be used to trace human history; the spread of weeds follows immigration, cultivation, trade, and exploration:
I like this sense of weeds as archaeological artefacts, embodying history as if they were arrowheads or old letters, charting our habits and beliefs. Except that in another sense they are nothing whatever like museum specimens, and are wonderfully and mischievously alive. (p. 187)
Weeds are sturdy things that find a way to survive, whether they are in town or in country. As Mabey notes throughout the book, one of the traits of weeds is their ability to cross boundaries, not just from garden to lawn but from continent to continent, taking hold in a new environment, sometimes welcome and sometimes not. Does that description seem familiar? It might. He goes on to say, "It's curious that it took so long for us to realise that the species they most resemble is us." (p. 37)

Weeds is for everyone who has ever admired wildflowers, battled burdock, or been moved by the fields of poppies in Flanders. Put a copy on your night stand and read it slowly, one essay at a time; you'll have a newfound respect for the irrepressible plants.

Here are some other opinions (click on the links for the full review):
  • Kirkus: "[Maybey's] engaging writing style transforms what might otherwise be a stodgy, uninteresting field guide into a literary stroll through an English garden."
  • Brian Dillon for The Telegraph: "As ever with Mabey, there’s a poetry to all this creeping ecology. Even the book’s glossary of plant names is a verbal joy, full of sun spurge, fumitory, lady’s mantle and spotted medick."
  • Bella Bathurst for The Guardian: "This time around, Mabey has given us something that is as much a celebration of the vexed coupling between mankind and plantlife as it is a fine marriage between subject and author."
For more about Richard Mabey, listen to and the NPR interview and story (where you'll also find an excerpt from Weeds) or read the interview by Helen Eva Babbs.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

Weeds at Powell's
Weeds at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, June 26, 2012 (paperback edition)
ISBN-13: 9780062065469


bermudaonion 6/22/12, 7:30 AM  

What a fascinating subject for a book! I always wonder about the weeds that grow where nothing else will. I immediately thought of kudzu as I read about plants being bullies in some countries but not in others.

Sheila (Bookjourney) 6/22/12, 10:06 AM  

Oh... this reminds me I have to weed my garden... none of which are pretty...LOL

Julie P. 6/22/12, 5:24 PM  

Not sure this one is for me but I think it's a fascinating topic.

natalie of book line and sinker 6/22/12, 10:05 PM  

so very interesting! i'm not a big fan of weeds--they wreak havoc on my landscaping beds and yard. when we were kids, my dad would pay my sister and me to dig up all the dandelions in our yard (3 acres!) and give us a nickel for each one but we had to get the root, too, or no money!

Anonymous,  6/23/12, 1:10 AM  

2000 years?!? They really are thugs!

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 6/24/12, 3:44 PM  

I think I'd like this book. A few of my plants and wildflowers are what others think of as weeds. I let my landscaping run a little loose. If something sprouts and it doesn't look like a true weed, I usually let it live a while to see what it is. I had a nice surprise this year when several clumps of snapdragons poped up ... apparently seeds from my neighbors plants that got in my wildflower garden.

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