Picks and Pans Review: Cultivating Delight

updated 10/29/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/29/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

A Natural History of My Garden
by Diane Ackerman

It's a violent, larcenous world, ripe with provocateurs, exploitation, promiscuity and voyeurism. Some "will do anything, no matter how lethal, extreme or bizarre, to get other life-forms to perform sex for them." And it's all hidden beneath a sweet scent and an innocent blush.

The Dynasty Channel? No, your garden. This book is a fascinating tour of plant mythology and fact, from aster to zinnia. Without straying from her own Ithaca, N.Y., garden, Ackerman, an erudite Cornell University humanities professor, plays both sleuth and poet, complimenting Mother Nature on her beauty (winter is a spider, "spinning its white web in the trees") and power (spring races north at 47.6 feet per second) while uncovering her gifts for deceit (flower petals disguise themselves as the sex organs of female bees) and murder (passion-flower produces cyanide, which is released only when something bites into it). And oh, those raging appetites: "I don't mind Japanese beetles having sex on the roses; I just wish they wouldn't eat at the same time." (HarperCollins, $25)

Bottom Line: Hot as a pistil

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