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Two views of value of gardening

Two new books bring attention to the value of gardening.

Botanical Garden
Photo by Clemens Bilan/Getty Images

Ruth Kassinger's "Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants" (William Morrow, $25.99) is a guide from a self-taught gardener about how to get the most from a home garden.

Kassinger's research is wide-ranging and thorough, from delving into early botanical histories to visiting the cutting edge Land Institute in Salinas, KS. to find out how scientists are creating perennial versions of annual food plants.

She has a particular fondness for lemon trees, saying she would be a Meyer Lemon tree if she had to choose to be a tree. Those lemons are sweeter and the tree is almost impossible to kill, she says. She once bought a grafted citrus tree which had lemon, orange, lime and tangelo fruit all on the one plant.

She has a strong interest in cultivation, once working with a botanist who had cultivated a rare black petunia, the Black Velvet.

She studied how the vegetable slug photosynthesizes, how the brake fern removes arsenic from the soil, and used a moisture reader which tweeted her when a plant needed water.

For those who do not know the 17th century gardeners thought vegetable lamb plant actually produced baby lambs, Kassinger's book is a must read. She takes her readers through this and so many more obscure botanical facts, but in a conversational way that makes even those with black thumbs think they might have a chance in the garden.

Carol Wall's "Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart" (Penguin, $25.95) is a memoir about Wall's relationship with Giles Owita, a Kenyan gardener who helped her restore her failing garden.

Wall recounts her overcoming of breast cancer but her ever-present fears of recurrence and the care taking of her elderly parents with whom she has never had a good relationship. She has no intention of gardening until she notices the wonderful results Owita renders in her neighbor's.

As Owita teaches Wall what she needs to do to make her garden live again, the two have long talks which help Wall understand what she must do to live a life without fear and regrets. The lessons prove necessary for both as she faces a double mastectomy and his HIV reaches terminal stages.

The book is a finely-told tale of race relationships, of the assumptions people make about each other based simply on appearances, of dealing with aging, illness and death, and not least -- of how to make a garden arise from ruins.