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Paradise under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden
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Paradise under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden

by Ruth Kassinger
 

Like many baby boomers in middle age, Ruth Kassinger was at an emotional crossroads. Confronted with the death of a beloved sister, her children's departure for college, and her own recent battle with breast cancer, she was searching for a way forward. One cold, gray evening, flooded with thoughts of change and loss, she wandered into the U.S. Botanic Garden's

Overview

Like many baby boomers in middle age, Ruth Kassinger was at an emotional crossroads. Confronted with the death of a beloved sister, her children's departure for college, and her own recent battle with breast cancer, she was searching for a way forward. One cold, gray evening, flooded with thoughts of change and loss, she wandered into the U.S. Botanic Garden's conservatory—and a dream was born. Dazzled by the vast and dense tangle of greenery, she began a quest to create a verdant sanctuary of her own at her home in suburban Washington, D.C.

Yet all she knew of indoor gardening was a lone, neglected houseplant at the top of her basement stairs. Paradise Under Glass chronicles her journey from brown thumb to green—a project that takes her across the country. Along the way she meets commercial growers with acres under glass in Florida, a clivia hybridizer whose Delaware home is filled with thousands of specimens, a beneficial bug grower in California, entrepreneurs in Ohio who have a veritable Noah's Ark of rare tropicals, and many others who share their enthusiasms and knowledge.

Kassinger takes us step-by-step from the construction of her conservatory through her efforts to identify the easiest to grow, most beautiful houseplants. She combats pests, raises Monarch butterflies, and harvests kumquats and coffee beans. Her Garden of Eden is complete with a pint-sized pool and a "living wall" she invents.

Kassinger's journey to create her own tropical refuge is also a lively narrative tour of the glasshouses of the past, including Renaissance orangeries, the whimsical follies of Georgian England, the legendary Crystal Palace, and secluded Victorian ferneries.

Throughout, she shares the knowledge and insights that creating and sustaining her garden has bestowed, lessons of loss and letting go, nurturing and rebirth, challenge and change, love and serenity. Paradise Under Glass is the remarkable story of the fruition of a dream that is sure to inspire the gardener in us all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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)
International Herald Tribune
“Ms. Kassinger’s writing is chatty and intimate, but she has clearly done her library research.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A sumptuously written history of greenhouse horticulture.”
International Herald Tribune on Paradise Under Glass
“Ms. Kassinger’s writing is chatty and intimate, but she has clearly done her library research.”
New York Times Book Review
“Ms. Kassinger’s writing is chatty and intimate, but she has clearly done her library research.”
Library Journal
Kassinger (Build a Better Mousetrap) was experiencing a midlife crisis when she wandered into the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington, DC, and concluded that she wanted a verdant indoor garden. Though the sole houseplant she owned was hardly thriving, this journalist and award-winning author of YA science and history books enthusiastically immersed herself in exploring the history of indoor gardening and experimenting in her own new conservatory—a room filled with tropical plants, butterflies, and loved ones. Her lively, detailed descriptions allow readers effortlessly to feel as though they are witnessing eureka moments in the development of winter gardens and tagging along with historic plant adventurers like those featured in Mary and John Gribbin's scholarly Flower Hunters. Readers easily transition back to the present, vicariously visiting Kassinger's local garden center and getting a ringside seat as she chats with contemporary heavyweights like Byron Martin, owner of the famous Logee's Greenhouses. VERDICT Informative and extremely entertaining, Kassinger's indoor garden memoir seems a surefire antidote for a midlife crisis or the winter blues. Highly recommended.—Bonnie Poquette, Milwaukee
Katherine Bouton
Ms. Kassinger's writing is chatty and intimate, but she has clearly done her library research…[she] embroiders much of her historical information with colorful sociological detail.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A cancer survivor's foray into horticulture and healing. After losing a sister to cancer and surviving a bout of her own, science and health writer Kassinger (Glass: From Cinderella's Slipper to Fiber Optics, 2003, etc.) embarked on a personal journey to construct a small conservatory in her home, investigating the history of mankind's understanding and acquisition of plants. The early addition of an orange tree to her collection leads to an exploration of the plant's Chinese origins and early spread across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The subtropical plant, writes the author, took root in Europe despite the area's inhospitable winters, thanks to the development of "orangeries" among 16th-century nobility. From the utilitarian orangeries-basically sooty, windowless rooms heated by roaring fires and seen only by gardeners-came windowed greenhouses, glass lean-tos and splendorous glass-houses that allowed in vast quantities of sunlight and, ultimately, the public. Kassinger's own conservatory developed in fits and starts as she learned the ropes from the local garden-supply store. Eventually, she expanded her horizons by visiting historic and eclectic green- and glass-houses around the Eastern United States. As she relates the exotic adventures and practical challenges faced by Enlightenment-era "plant hunters" in far-flung lands across the seas, we see the technological advancements that allowed for a deeper understanding and cultivation of plants and the commercialization of gardening. As Kassinger's conservatory develops, she works through her own tale of loss and survival, examining the mercurial nature of life and nature and the solace to be found in that symmetry. The authorcolorfully describes her new herbaceous friends and writes about family and mortality with a colloquial zest.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061547744
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/20/2010
Pages:
347
Product dimensions:
8.68(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.19(d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Kassinger is the author of Paradise Under Glass, as well as a number of award-winning science and history books for young adults. She has written for the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Health magazine, Science Weekly, and other publications.

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