Ministry Of Controversy

Garden Literature goes Up in Smoke

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Dear friends, just as there is no hiding the fact that Professor Roush is a rose nut, there is also no suspense to the revelation that I am an entrenched bibliophile.  My love of printed and bound material stretches far back into my childhood, to that happy time when I was still an only child and had to find ways to occupy myself.  While burdened now with middle-age, a sister, a wife, and children, I continue to feel comforted with the feel of paper and printed letters, the smell of new ink and glue.  I aspire to become the last person on the planet to purchase a Kindle or Nook.

My long worship of books and growing interest in gardening has, for the past twenty years or so, connected in that genre we know as garden literature. I have discovered natural gardening with Sara Stein, delighted in the philosophical ramblings of Michael Pollan, grown older with Sydney Eddison, and grumbled with Henry Mitchell.  I’ve plotted spousal demise with Amy Stewart and searched for old roses with Thomas Christopher.

All that, I fear, is disappearing.  Literally, it seems to be going to pot.  Marijuana, Mary Jane, reefer, and cannabis.  Call it what you want, I was shocked, visiting a large national book chain, to realize that what was previously eight shelves of fascinating garden literature is now four shelves, two of them composed entirely of books about growing, marketing, or self-medicating with marijuana.  I counted 87 different books on pot cultivation, with such imaginative titles as Marijuana 101Organic MarijuanaEverything Marijuana, and the Marijuana Garden Saver.  The Big Book of Buds is not about roses.  Only one even looked mildly interesting to me—Super Charged: How Outlaws, Hippies and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana, probably because it was more science and history-oriented rather than a how-to-grow-to-get-high-at-home manual.  I didn’t buy it for fear someone might see it laying around.

Can the drive for all these new books about marijuana really be sales-based?  I don’t see these on the bookshelves of friends, sitting on tables of garage sales, or promoted in bestseller lists.  Perhaps the gray-haired members of my daylily club are only pretending to grow hemerocallis in my presence, but pass the potato bong when I’m not around.  Somehow, somewhere, are the same clueless editors and booksellers just surmising that these are what the public wants?  The same editors that contract good writers to produce lame and repetitious books of landscaping dumbed down for the homeowner, or to write the 200th tome cautioning against over-watering houseplants (which currently comprise the other two gardening shelves in the store)?  Would Scotts, Bayer, and other companies grow richer if they forgot about lawn care and rose chemicals and concentrated their marketing on hydroponic fertilizer and gro-lamps aimed to entice that little extra buzz out of hemp?

Don’t answer that last question. It was rhetorical, not a suggestion for improvement.

Posted by

James Roush
on October 11, 2012 at 9:00 am, in the category Guest Rants, Ministry of Controversy.


  1. I’ve noticed this at the local Barnes & Noble for the last few years, now. I guess it might make some sense if I lived in California or Colorado, but I’m on the east coast.

  2. Here in DC, which has legalized medical pot, I expect we’ll be seeing more of those how-to-grow-pots on the book shelves.
    The “Super-Charged” book about pot I already own and am reading it for a review here on the Rant. So that’s my excuse for having it lying around MY house.

  3. I’ve also been disappointed in the decline of good gardening books in local bookstores as well. It seems to be an combination of a couple of unfortunate trends. Big-box bookstores seem to be focusing almost entirely on lifestyle books these days. Anyone remember when literary fiction was upfront?– now it’s all dieting/yoga/cookbooks/exercise. And there seems to be a declining market for garden literature, which the bookstores understandably reflect. Popular writing about gardening has, I think, declined markedly over the past decade or so. The Times coverage has diminished in recent years, and the Post has never replaced Henry Mitchell (although Jonathan Yardley remains) and ended its book review section (Bookworld) years ago. And television has essentially given up on serious gardening.

  4. Hey, the WashPost not only has Jonathan Yardley reviewing books; it’s one of the few newspapers in the U.S. to have a full-time garden writer in Adrian Higgins. Plus the syndicated Barbara Damrosch.
    Before the excellent Higgins we did suffer a few bad years with Jack Eden (after Mitchell), who never saw a toxic chemical he didn’t love, and recommend highly. Lots of complaints were finally heard.

  5. Here’s a scriptural reference from the Wise King Solomon. It has powerful & insightful so take it for what it means and nothing more. I actually saw this back in the 1970s when in High School when reading and studying seemed a chore and not the pleasure it is now.

  6. Well, er, uh, yes, I agree….primarily because I have a son whose gardening genes were expressed early on in the Colorado hemp boom….and it was amazing what he knew about hydroponics and….cultivars….although he’s been squeezed out of the business now.

  7. Sadly Tom, your input falls on glazed over eyes. Let us not forget, it is really difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. Still, there is something so solidifying in tradition.

  8. The Barnes & Nobles here in Oregon have all morphed into gift/toy stores with coffee shops and what might best be described as a newsstand feel when it comes to the kinds of printed matter they sell. A place to rest during mall shopping, but not to buy books.

  9. Shocking to say, in a University town, but the answer is no! A secondhand bookstore, two stores that are primarily textbook suppliers, and a Hastings entertainment center.

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