cover image Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden

Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden

Ruth Kassinger, . . Morrow, $24.99 (347pp) ISBN 978-0-06-154774-4

After a bout with cancer, the loss of a beloved sister to a brain tumor, and the onset of an empty nest, science and health writer Kassinger, inspired by Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Palm House, decided that a conservatory (or more prosaically, sunroom) “would be the perfect antidote to the losses and changes of middle age.” The book vividly chronicles her initiation into the world of indoor gardening as well as the fascinating and unlikely histories of greenhouses and the flamboyant gardens they have housed, from 15th-century windowless arancieras built to winter orange trees to the Industrial Age, glass-and-iron 18-acre Crystal Palace. The characters Kassinger encounters, literarily and in the flesh, are as quirky as their plants. Michel Adanson, the “first botanist to go on a collecting venture in equatorial Africa,” declared the country “ 'delicious' in all ways,” despite facing “lions, tigers, wild boars, huge 'serpents,' ” masses of mosquitoes, and “red ants that blistered him all over.” Breadfruit trees collected by David Nelson, a “quiet and unassuming” botanist, may have been responsible for Captain Bligh's Bounty mutiny. Tom Winn and Ken Frieling, whose Glasshouse Works is housed in a remote Ohio former hotel, now old-age home, reject growing marketable plants like poinsettias in favor of having fun. Kassinger's lush writing and exotic stories will delight the armchair gardener and historian. (May)