ken druse’s new science: ‘planthropology’

WHEN I SAW KEN DRUSE at a lecture I gave recently, I reminded him that it was verging on 20 years since we’d met. The occasion then had been the release of his first book, “The Natural Garden,” and I had cold-called Ken for an interview for my column in Newsday newspaper. Now there’s a new book, named after what Ken calls “a long, invented word” that he coined for the purpose, but one that really suits what’s inside its gorgeous cover. It’s called “Planthropology.”  I was immediately curious…you?

“Planthropology” turns out to be what it sounds like: “A kind of anthropology for plants,” says Ken. “Stories about plants we love, who they are, where they are, how they got there.”  As with all Ken’s books, it’s rich with his own photos (450 of them this time).

I know a lot of those stories myself, or so I thought, but reading “Planthropology” I came across more that I didn’t know than familiar ones. Like the reason you won’t see the flower on a fig tree but will still get fruit (because the flowers are hidden inside, forming what we think of as the edible part). Or like the fact that bees are attracted to the color blue, and that birds see color much as we humans do. Who knew? (Well, apparently Ken did.)

Perhaps my favorite chapter: the one called “Amazing Grace” on the magical patterns in the way plants are constructed. It taught me various new things, too, including the word phyllotaxis, the study of leaf arrangement. Ken, with his photographer’s eye, depth of plant knowledge, and inexhaustible curiosity about the natural world, decodes the mathematical system of how things are built botanically, and it is fascinating, helped in no small measure by lots of close-up photos that bring the point home that this is not chaos but an intricate system of architecture.

With Ken, there is also always humor, the kind of wonderfully terrible horti-puns that only he can pull off: a section called “Not Tonight, Deer,” for instance, about (you got it) deer-proofing the garden, with some great alternative fencing tactics.

“Planthropology” is a book loaded with great plants, and their back story. And the book itself has a back story:

“It started out as a book I wanted to write on fragrance,” Ken says. “My publisher wanted me to write ‘Ken Druse: My Favorite Plants.’  In a way, ‘Planthropology’ is my take on that idea, and especially that it is not possible (or necessary) to pick favorites.”

It’s a book, like all of Ken’s previous ones, that I’ll go back to again and again, both for reference and pure visual inspiration.  You can learn more about “Planthropology” from Ken directly, and even listen to him each week on radio. His show is aptly named “Real Dirt,” which is what I’ve come to count on from Ken Druse at every encounter these last two decades.

  1. Susan says:

    The cover alone would make me want to ad this to my wish list. I love Ken’s books, I have a few of them in my collection, his shade garden books are a must for any shade gardener. I will add this book next year.

  2. I ran out to get this book the day it hit the bookstore and I’m sure I can’t be alone in wishing I had been the one to write it. — I think every gardener would love to dig into the subject of their favorite plants. Cheers to Ken for making Planthropology (perfect title – wish I thought of that too) so beautiful, readable and covet-able.

  3. Kathy says:

    Great book, and I bought it at a great place, the New York Botanical Garden. Ken Druse’s shade gardening books should be required reading.

  4. All of Ken’s books are terrific for many reasons — his photos being one. But I also like the fact that he has had the same publisher and so they all have a symmetry that is enjoyable for the longtime reader of Ken’s work. And they look great lined up on the shelf!

  5. Ken Druse says:

    You cannot imagine how gratifying it is to hear people tell me how they “get” my work. Margaret knows so much about gardening; I am thrilled that I could share even more information. I love that she found the section of the book on geometry in plants and remarkable mathematical coincidences as fascinating, as I do. Thanks for the comments from others, too.
    Sorry about the puns – one never knows which attempts at light-heartedness will be welcome, or over the top — it’s a matter of trowel and error (ow)! I’ll try to tone down the punning in the future (you can see, it might not be easy).

  6. margaret says:

    Welcome, Linda. I have all my Ken books in one section on the shelf, too, and they do look very classy as a set. I bet he planned it that way. Thanks for visiting.

    And Ken–welcome! Please never stop the puns…it wouldn’t be you without them. I realize I forgot to give everyone a link to the episode of ‘Real Dirt’ that you and Vicki invited me to appear on last month. Oops! Here it is.

  7. Vicki says:

    Wow. The Natural Garden. That takes me back. I was a Store Manager for The Nature Company in the late 80s and we sold so many of those books. I loved the photos and the way it brought a bit of Spring to a Buffalo winter.

  8. Anna says:

    Thank you for solving my “what do I get a favorite gardener for Hanukkah” this year. I bought it at Joseph Fox’s bookstore in Philadelphia and am happy to report that the clerk knew it and loved it too!

  9. Bobster says:

    Is there anything better than a great new garden book this time of year when there’s so little to do outside? And a new book from Ken is a welcome treat!

    I promise to treat ‘Planthrapology’ better than previous KD books particularly a much loved, but very sad looking, dog eared, post-it noted copy of ‘Making More Plants’.

    Can’t wait to pick “Planthrapology’ up and start reading!
    Thanks for the heads up Margaret!

  10. Judy says:

    I had the pleasure of attending a presentation Ken made at the Northwest Flower & Garden show years ago, in the 90s I think. I too have several of his books and look forward to seeing the new one. But alas it is snowing here in the Northwest, the wet stuff that keeps us off the roads and stuck inside our houses. Thank goodness for paperwhites, cylamen and amaryllis indoors.

  11. Pranamama says:

    A breath of the magical energy found only in the garden, `Planthropology` is everything you promised and more! Ken, Thank you for manifesting this wonderful tome…it invokes the same high praise I have used to describe `A Way to Garden`…”It feeds the soul.” Thanks Margaret!

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