Author and gardener Luke Ruggenberg often digresses. Then digresses further. In the process he makes what is usually a deadly narrative sin into something of a positive in PLANTS ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE.
That’s quite an impressive achievement, and a tribute to the author’s distinctive style, highly evident personality, and his devoted yet cynical (and at times even fanatical) affection for his subject matter: gardening. As the book’s title not merely implies but boldly announces, this is hardly your usual guide to plants and gardening, even if a few key elements in that pursuit–a good garden needs a plan, how to organize your seeds, what a hori-hori knife is–are touched on (or digressed into). Readers looking for a practical nuts-and-bolts, no-nonsense guide to plants and gardening will have to look elsewhere.
That said, PLANTS ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE is a book that can be enjoyed by the neophyte gardener, a casual hobbyist, a devotee and even someone with little if any interest in rooting around in the dirt on their knees (aka this reviewer). It reads like the kind of far-flung ruminations a wacky mind might ponder during the mundane processes of working on a garden. Ruggenberg liberates gardening from its formalist stature as a serious pursuit with his humorous bent (and bent humor).
One does wonder what the author’s purpose here is other than fun as there isn’t a through line to be found buried in the loamy dirt of prose within. The book swirls and zips around topics and thoughts like some mutant splice of a butterfly and bee, alighting on this flower or that vegetable for a bit and then flying off elsewhere. Amidst its dozen chapters are bits of verse and recipes that never yield dishes. Even if it never adds up to a neat sum, the book is peppered with shoots and blooms of amusement and occasional consequence, among them this definitive quote: “Gardening, after all, is living poetry of the earth. And just as most poetry is awful to those who didn’t write it, creating a garden, for us mortals, is not always an objectively triumphant endeavor in human artistry. It is, rather and simply, another of our species’ endless forms of self-expression.”
Thoughts, flights of fancy and some useful information about gardening cheekily flow and tumble around in PLANTS ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE, a compendium of playful and free-flowing essays and interstices from a writer with a vivid, offbeat imagination.
~Rob Patterson for IndieReader