Even though my grandfather David Augustus passed away when I was three weeks shy of my sixth birthday, I’ve always felt a particularly strong affinity with him—and not just because I’m the only one of the four boys in my family to be given his surname as my middle name. Born in 1907, he studied law at Benjamin Harrison Law School in Indianapolis but couldn’t afford to take the bar exam. The son of a carpenter and cabinetmaker, he built his first home for his wife and baby daughter in 1938. He spent the rest of his life building fine homes in and around Indianapolis and in 1958 leased the abandoned Monan Railroad Station in Broad Ripple and converted it into a “sausage and cheese shop, ” which my grandmother Lee ran for the next 25 years. The more I discover about my grandfather, the more I find we have in common. For instance, after returning from a visit to The Roycroft Campus in East Aurora New York decades ago, I was telling my parents about the Arts & Crafts community and its charismatic founder Elbert Hubbard and my mom went to her bookshelf and pulled out my grandfather’s copy of Elbert Hubbard’s Scrapbook. Inside the front closet of every home my grandfather built, he placed an engraved brass plaque that reads, “On that which is built well I will proudly put my name.” That’s the same way I feel with every issue of Country Gardens.
Too often we think of nature as something we have to seek out, a remote place far from the city limits. But nature is, in fact, much closer than we realize. Check out these recently published titles that encourage us to pause for a moment and recognize the natural world that is truly teeming all around us, even in our most urban spaces. And by doing so, perhaps we’ll all realize that ecology is not just the domain of scientists but something we can all practice and enjoy.
• Crafting with Nature: Grow or Gather Your Own Supplies for Simple Handmade Crafts, Gifts & Recipes (Page Street Publishing.99) by Amy Renea: This impressive compilation of DIY crafts, recipes, and gifts made with natural materials you can grow or gather yourself will take you on a journey to collect plants from the woods, the backyard, the garden, and even the pantry. Renea provides detailed tutorials and recipes for projects like making perfume, crafting wooden buttons, preparing natural dyes for easy paper flowers, canning your own fruit jam, handcrafting wreaths, using seedpods to make earrings, and even making your own coconut oil for lotions and hand scrubs.
• Hello Nature: Draw, Colour, Make and Grow (Laurence King Publishing, $17.95) by Nina Chakrabarti: Like her previous books, Hello Nature is a cleverly guided activity book that encourages users to observe the patterns and designs found in nature. Part scrapbook and part journal, the book invites readers to experience the seasons through art and on the page. Users are asked to color or finish off an illustration, or to design something entirely new. The book includes educational close-ups of the rings of a tree and the anatomy of a flower. Gratifying activities include making a daisy chain, an herbarium, twig sculptures, and growing sprout heads.
• The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling (Heyday Books, $35) written and illustrated by John Muir Laws: A potent combination of art, science, and boundless enthusiasm, this latest book from Laws (The Washington Post calls him “a modern Audubon”) is a how-to guide for becoming a better artist and a more attentive naturalist. While the books advice will improve the skills of already accomplished artists, the emphasis on seeing, learning, and feeling will make this book valuable to anyone interested in the natural world, no matter how rudimentary their artistic abilities.
• Cabinet of Curiosities: Collecting and Understanding the Wonders of the Natural World (Workman, $24.95) by Gordon Grice: This lavishly illustrated introduction to the natural history and the joys of being an amateur scientist and collector seems especially suited for educators as well as young people who need to unplug and get outside. It’s packed with fascinating facts and tips on identifying, finding, and preserving nature’s treasures, from flowers and butterflies to fossil fish and space rocks. More than that, it explains the workings of the natural world.