After a curious home-gardening failure, Kassinger embarked on a botanical education, which she shares in A Garden of Marvels: A Garden Of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, And Other Secrets Of Plants.
Does interacting with plants encourage you to wax philosophical?
When you’re dealing with plants, you’re dealing with the fundamentals of life. None of us would exist without plants. We depend on plants and their photosynthetic ability to support us. Even if we’re eating animals, those animals ate plants. All the air that we breathe is made either by algae or plants. So I think it’s very easy to get into fundamental questions about life when you’re involved with plants.
How do you make your connections with botanists and plant scientists?
I start researching a subject and I just call people out of the blue and explain what I’m doing. Almost everyone is happy to talk to somebody who is interested in their subject. Many people in the plant sciences have been moving into working at the molecular level, so botanists have become kind of overlooked.
Do you think that people who garden or work with plants are different from other people?
Gardeners are really nice! They’re really helpful to one another. They’re sharing ideas, they’re sharing pieces of plants, they’re sharing advice. I couldn’t have come across a community of nicer, more open people than those who deal with agriculture, botany, and gardening.
Are there times you’d rather hang out with plants than with people?
No! I love plants; they’re a great addition to my life. But let’s face it, they don’t talk or interact. It’s kind of soothing to deal with plants. But I have to say I like even more the people who are involved in the plant world.
How does your blog, A Garden of Marvels, relate to the book?
My blog sits at the intersection of gardening and science. Gardening is fun. Understanding how the plants work, because they are such an important part of our lives as living beings, gives an additional level of appreciation and enjoyment. I posted about a tire company in Germany that’s discovered when you cut a dandelion, the white liquid leaking out contains latex—the same latex that’s in rubber trees. Some people are allergic to the latex that comes from those trees, and they are not allergic to the latex that comes out of dandelions. Things like that just make my mind expand and give me greater appreciation.
As Barbara Walters once asked Katharine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?”
I’d definitely be a citrus tree, no question about it! A Meyer Lemon tree. They fruit and flower all year round, so there are always flowers or beautiful fruit on the tree. You really have to try hard to kill one of these! And the fruit is good, not nearly as sour as regular lemons. They’re really good to cook with, and you can make lemonade out of them.