Publishers are hoping that narrative non-fiction books about plants and gardens will break into the mainstream market this autumn.
In October, Profile Books is releasing Richard Mabey’s The Cabaret of Plants (£20). Almost 350,000 print copies of the author’s titles have been sold through Nielsen BookScan to date, worth £3.3m to UK booksellers. Profile is describing the new title as his “magnum opus: global in its breadth and ambition, it looks at flora as no one else could, using myth, metaphor, fact and analogy. It is a celebration of all living things and their interconnectivity.”
The Bodleian Library is publishing two literary plant titles in October. What Have Plants Ever Done For Us? (£14.99) has been written by Stephen Harris, druce curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, and explores Western civilization chronologically through 50 plants, in the style of A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (Penguin, 2012, £9.99). Its other title is a tribute to William Shakespeare’s use of plants in his plays: A Shakespearean Botanical by gardening historian Margaret Willes (£12.99). The book takes 50 quotations about flowers and plants from Shakespeare’s oeuvre and gives them social context to provide “an intriguing and original focus on daily life in Tudor and Jacobean England”. Dr Samuel Fanous, commissioning editor at Bodleian Library Publications, said: “Plants are an indispensable part of our lives—anyone interested in life should be interested in plants. Their centrality in our lives is mirrored in their appearance in the literature of our culture.”
Carol Klein, one of Mitchell Beazley’s (MB) bestselling nature writers and a regular presenter of “Gardeners’ World”, has moved in more of a narrative direction with her forthcoming title, Making a Garden (September, £25). Alison Starling, publisher at Octopus, said: “Our past success with Carol has been based on a very practical handbook but we were keen to publish something much more personal, allowing her to explore the gardening philosophy.” MB moved publication of Klein’s book from the spring—a traditional slot for gardening publishing—to the autumn, with Starling adding: “We believe this is a book that people will read for pleasure as well as for the advice.”
Icon Books’ horticultural offering is a collection of Ken Thompson’s articles that were originally published in the Daily Telegraph. The Sceptical Gardener (November, £12.99) comprises a selection of Thompson’s columns, in which he explores gardening questions such as why bees improve the flavour of strawberries. Icon claims the book is “aimed at making readers not necessarily better gardeners, but quite probably far more thoughtful ones”.
Sphere’s June-issued The Flower Appreciation Society: An A to Z of All Things Floral (£20), by florists Anna Day and Ellie Jauncey, has sold steadily since its release. A “recipe book of flowers” that takes readers on a “meandering journey”, it features colour illustrations by Day.
Anna Pavord’s 1999 title The Tulip (Bloomsbury) explored the flower and its place in society and culture. To date it has sold 101,000 copies, worth £1.5m. Her new book, Landskipping (Bloomsbury, January 2016, £18.99), focuses more on the British landscape than individual plants. Michael Fishwick, Pavord’s editor at Bloomsbury, said: “Anna’s book [has] many, many passages of great beauty and brilliance and originality. It transcends genre and will break out of every market.”