by Caro Langton and Rose Ray of RoCo
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Much of the interest in houseplants these past few years has been coming from the direction of the interior design community, rather than being driven by the horticulture industry – which is a phenomenon I find I can get thoroughly behind. But furniture is one thing – you can satisfy your craving for mid-century modern with vintage Ercol and GPlan, and place each piece in your room to show it off to best effect. Plants, on the other hand, require a little more attention – and when they don’t get it, they let you know. This is something that Rose and Caro have always recognised as proprietors of successful ‘green interior’ company, RoCo – and their first book House of Plants was notable for its melding together of a beautiful interior aesthetic with a deeply-felt connection with plants. In Root, Nurture, Grow, they’re taking this a step further, with more detailed information not just on how to care for your plant collection, but on how to increase it with a variety of propagation techniques that will see you creating your own indoor jungle from material you already have (plants for free!), and sharing these infant plants with friends and family.
The format of the book is pleasingly different – slightly taller, and less wide, than you might expect at 24cm high by 16cm wide. At almost 2.5cm thick and bound between thick coverboards, it feels satisfyingly chunky. There’s no dust jacket (hurrah, can’t stand the things), and the title is quite deeply embossed into the front cover and spine. A flatlay arrangement of leaf cuttings occupies the space on the front below the subtitle “The Essential Guide to Proagating and Sharing Houseplants” and above the authors’ names, and the marbled worksurface on which they sit wraps around the cover as an abstract background texture. Upon opening the book, the reader is presented with a satisfying wad of pages printed on a thickish, uncoated stock – the kind with that tactile, earthy feel, where the ink sinks in the blacks look particularly black. If you’re a fan of Rakes Progress magazine, you’ll be at home with the feel of this volume.
The design credentials of the authors are in evidence; the classic typography, beautiful lifestyle photography by Erika Raxworthy and a grid which somehow manages to combine a luxurious use of negative space with quite a significant amount of informative copy, all converge to give the feeling of a rather stylish instagram account in physical form. There’s enough flexibility in the presentation of the photography to prevent it from feeling formulaic – images are sometimes full-bleed across a double page spread, at others page-sized bounded by a chunky white border, and often four-up to a page, particularly where the text describes a step-by-step process which, being a practical book, it often does. I thought I’d miss the extra page real-estate from House of Plants, but this smaller format appears to concentrate all the immersive qualities of the photography and the text without every allowing it to become cramped. I was pleasantly surprised.
As for the flat, stylistically naïve illustration work by Karl-Joel Larsson, beginning with the abstract leaf-themed design on the endpapers and continuing more figuratively throughout – I’m sure if you’d shown me the artwork without the context of the book I’d never have thought it would work together with the sophisticated look and feel, but it does, and how. Not remotely jarring, and the book would suffer in their absence – they lend a laid back, approachable air which is welcome.
And approachability is key, because there’s some serious horticulture here which, presented in a more dry and academic fashion, or perhaps with an over-reliance upon the jargon that inevitably springs up around any pastime with a scientific basis, might be off-putting to those who are new to plants.
The book starts with a definition of propagation, and continues with a handy glossary (“Useful Terms”), some basic ground rules (“Tips for Successful Propagation”) and a rundown of the few bits of kit you’ll be likely to need (“Tools & Materials”). There are entire chapters on Rooting, Cuttings, Division & Grafting, Runners, Offsets & Suckers, Layering, Tropical Seedlings and a general chapter on Cultivating. In addition, there’s a really useful table to help you select the most appropriate method for propagating your particular plant. This forms a quite comprehensive primer in basic horticultural techniques – master this lot, and you’ll be a pretty formidable plant whisperer. But the presentation of the information is accomplished so unstuffily that the transfer of knowledge never feels didactic – just two plant enthusiasts, sharing stuff about plants, with no fuss.
House of Plants is always going to be a favourite book of mine, and one of the first I reach for when I want some plant-based interior design inspiration. But somehow, Root, Nurture, Grow manages to take everything that was good about that book, spin it around ever so slightly, and make it even better. Where HoP was poised and shyly prepossessing, the new book seems relaxed and confident in its approach, as if the authors have grown comfortable with the idea of claiming their space on the horticultural bookshelves. Consequently, it’s more authoritative, but the trick RoCo have managed to pull off is to maintain the accessibility – something critical when addressing an audience that will more than likely be comprised of readers who wouldn’t ordinarily be consumers of gardening books or magazines.
I love that this book completely busts any notion that gardening need be an expensive activity, for which a shed- (or cupboard-) full of equipment is required. I love that it places an emphasis upon sharing the joy that our plants bring us, equipping us with skills presented in an engaging, down-to-earth manner. And I love that I now have a new favourite houseplant book, from the people who wrote my previous favourite.
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Hello! I’m Andrew, gardener, writer, photographer, and owner of a too-loud laugh, and I’m so pleased you’ve found your way to Gardens, weeds & words. You can read a more in-depth profile of me on the About page, or by clicking this image.