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Cover Story Queens of the West Plant Life Northwest Living Taste On Fitness Sunday Punch Now & Then

Plant Life
Written With Feeling
Three works that make us contemplate and appreciate
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spacer Above and left - The work of Tacoma-born artist Dale Chihuly is celebrated in "Gardens & Glass," a survey of installations from around the world. Chihuly finds inspiration in the natural world - everything from sea creatures to tropical plants to ice - as well as in created objects such as Northwest Coast Indian baskets and Venetian chandeliers. He began making large glass balls after visiting the last master of blown-glass fishing floats in Japan. When asked, "Why glass?" Chihuly responded: "Suppose a child comes upon some beach glass with sun on it. The little kid will drop everything to get that. Maybe I'm that little kid."
No one appreciates reference books more than I, since as a writer and librarian I reach for one or another of them many times each day. Useful as they may be, it is rarely facts and lists that delight, entertain or give pause for reflection. For writing that makes us think and feel while we read, it pays to seek out fine authors on other subjects, or garden books written for a purpose other than instruction.

"Chihuly Gardens and Glass," by Dale Chihuly with essays by Barbara Rose, Lisa C. Roberts and Mark McDonnell (Portland Press, 2002, $60). This oversize, gorgeous book has essays, but is worth buying just for the photos that celebrate the organic nature of glass art. From his Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Chihuly has become a major player in the world of glass art. It's easy to see why in this book, which captures the intensely beautiful weirdness of Chihuly's work from around the globe. If anyone ever doubted the affinity between hard glass and soft leaves, they will no longer. The primary reason for the book is to celebrate a major Chihuly installation at the two-acre Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. But I enjoyed Chihuly's musings on his art nearly as much as the photos because he talks simply and clearly about hard-to-describe things like form, color and creative energy. The comments are mixed in with images of his work hanging from trees, spread over river rocks, reflecting dawn light, caught in fishing nets, and gathered in his studio. One caution: Don't expect the comments to match up with the pictures. There are no captions or any other details that describe where the photos were taken or what they show. In other words, this is a book designed to inspire rather than instruct.

"Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters" by Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence, edited by Emily Herring Wilson (Beacon Press, 2002, $25). Wisps of sticky notes bristled from nearly every page of this touching book when I finished reading. The letters between these two eloquent women were written in friendship and appreciation, with no thought to publication. They are genuine reflections on weather, pets, friends, illness (far too much, as both women moved from middle age to old age during their correspondence), and, always, their beloved gardens. When the correspondence began, White was retiring from her longtime job as fiction editor of The New Yorker, and had just published the first of her famous "Onward and Upward" gardening pieces for the magazine. Elizabeth Lawrence, a North Carolina garden columnist, wrote to tell White how she'd enjoyed White's review of garden catalogs, and suggested a couple more she might like to know about. White answered eagerly with garden questions of her own. And so began 20 years of shared notes, questions and musings about plants, with White wondering why daffodil stems were particularly short during the late Maine spring of 1959, Lawrence deploring the vagaries of book editors, and White in turn offering encouragement.
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The two met only once, at a New York luncheon that sounds as if it was a disappointment for them both. Nevertheless, for 20 years the two women discussed and described the day-to-day events in their gardens while they supported each other's efforts to write about them. We are lucky enough to have the record of their extraordinary friendship collected in this lovely volume, complete with photos of the spritely Lawrence opening her garden gate, and White, stout and commanding in shirtwaist dress and sensible pumps, surveying her Maine flower borders.

"High Tide in Tucson" (HarperPerennial, 1995, $13) and "Small Wonder" (HarperCollins, 2002, $23.95), both by Barbara Kingsolver. These collections contain the best essays I've read since the works of E.B. White, who happens to be Katharine White's husband. Like Kingsolver's idols Darwin and Thoreau, she combines literary talent with knowledgeable appreciation for the natural world. Before she wrote fiction, Kingsolver was a freelance science writer with a master's degree in zoology. She writes about the last wild places on Earth, of learning to share garden space with javelinas (the Northwest equivalent of these destructive pigs might be slugs with sharp hooves), and how some days all she feels any good at is growing squash. Most of all she encourages each of us to rethink what it means to be human in this time and place. "We carry around these big brains of ours like the crown jewels, but mostly I find that millions of years of evolution have prepared me for one thing only: To follow internal rhythms." She must be a gardener.
Valerie Easton is manager at the Miller Horticultural Library. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is

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