Monday, April 02, 2012

The Untamed Garden by Sonia Day

The Untamed Garden: A Revealing Look at Our Love Affair with Plants by Sonia Day

Release Date
: November 8th 2011
Pages: 240
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House
Buy It: Book Depository
Which suggestive plant caused a queen to faint when it was presented to her at court? What was the original French name for the Great Maiden's Blush rose that had the Victorians blushing? Why are figs and pomegranates thought to be the real forbidden fruit that led Adam and Eve into temptation?
I love plants, but almost from page three I was concerned I wouldn't love Sonia Day's The Untamed Garden. That's because it begins with vivid and erotic imagery:
"the plant world is drenched in sex," she writes "Passionate, urgent, unabashed sex. Buds swell suggestively. Phallic stalks thrust skywards. Enticing orifices and lolling tongues invite probing. [...] Pornographic couplings take place. And ah, those seductive scents, like the one wafting from my father's cereus."
She's writing about a flower her father grew, one that bloomed at night and only for a couple hours, but honestly, that kind of description not only made me want to giggle a bit, but seemed like it belonged more in a steamy romance novel than a non-fiction book about flowers. But according to Day, that's why she "wrote this book– to encourage people to start celebrating the wild, sexy side of Mother Nature as humans once did, because it's been shunted aside and forgotten for far too long."

Believe me, it's not that this kind of lusty, vivid imagery went away after page 3, but I kinda got used to it.  And somewhere amid the blushing and giggling that accompanied my reading of this book– I'm really a ten year old at heart, apparently– I started to enjoy it. What sets The Untamed Garden apart, besides for its beautiful design and images, is Day's wonderful conversational way of writing. Often, it sounds like listening to an old friend (or maybe a slightly cooky aunt). At one point, Day writes how clergy
"removed the stamens and pistils from white lily blooms displayed on church altars on the grounds that such "overt symbols of sexuality" might move the congregation to think impure thoughts. Tut-tut." 
Estella Rijnveld Tulip– I'm in love with this one!
Or talking about the Greek god Paeon, she writes, "His is a complication and confusing myth (like so many)."

Her language didn't always hit the mark for me, she seems to have a fondness for some strange vocabulary, often using phrases such as "hot-to-trot", "titillating", and "pooh-bahs", quite a few of which I had to Google. I actually really recommend having the Internet handy when you read The Untamed Garden, as there are so many references to erotic looking plants that even with the many photos I was constantly Googling. Also, I don't think they look sexual, but the book did lead me to discover Parrot Tulips, which I am now officially obsessed with. So gorgeous!

There's also humour to The Untamed Garden as well. A self-described "master gardener" Day doesn't take herself too seriously. Writing on Amorphophallus konjac, she says:
"The whole plant could be described as a knock-out, in fact, and a great way to impress the people gardeners always like to impress– other gardeners."
Ultimately, if you're looking for a sexually charged book on plants, I completely recommend The Untamed Garden. But even if you're not, it's definitely entertaining enough to be worth a try– you'll never look at plants the same way again.

3 comments:

  1. I should get this book. I have a garden tht I can describe as partly untamed - it needs a lot of work even though it's small! How to find space for all that I want to put in it. Lovely book!

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  2. :) I'm glad you ended up really enjoying this one, if nothing else, it sounds like a really fun read. Definitely entertaining, as you said. :) Plus, I enjoyed googling the plants you told me, too. haha

    Thanks for sharing your review, Zoë! I may just have to check out this book. :P

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    1. PS. Parrot Tulips really are gorgeous. :D

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