EXTREME GARDENING: Reclaiming One Woman’s Life and 999 Plant Species on a Hawaiian Island

WAKING UP IN EDEN follows me from conventional city life to Kauai, Hawaii to work at a lush but neglected tropical botanic garden. I find myself identifying with the plants, “cut loose from all their past ghosts and demons and given perfect conditions to thrive.”

The Hawaiian Plant Story in this book shows us what it takes -- sweat, tears and Herculean persistence -- to try to preserve some of our most threatened natural environments. Some might say that the fragile Hawaiian native plants aren’t worth the effort -- as the ultimate hot house varieties, they have grown infertile, lack the ability to absorb nutrients and are easily mowed down by invasive, imported species.
     As a result, the Hawaii Islands have lost more plant and animal species than any other place in America, with many more wavering on the brink. Five hundred and forty U.S. species have now become extinct -- almost half of those occurred in Hawaii.
     All these troubles make Hawaii a botanist’s paradise. Scientists consider Hawaii the Rosetta Stone of evolution. By studying how waft wisps of plants slowly colonized the islands millions of years ago, and then adapted into spectacular forms, botanists begin to decode the very evolutionary process.
     That’s why I follow plant hunters who scale mountains and brave jungles to find rare species and bring back seeds. I show the painstaking work by nursery workers to propagate these seeds, often experimenting for months before finding the right formula. I even join a volunteer task force to “weed” the jungle of one of the most explosive pest vines in Hawaii. Then I show how biologists are searching for ways to restore the forests.
     After all, if we can’t save Kauai – a mere 552 square miles -- how can we save the rest of the earth?
     I found inspiration in the writings of 19th-century adventuress Isabella Bird, and like her ride a horse up volcano cones and along deserted beaches.
     Exploring the Garden of Eden that is Kauai, this is a book for armchair travelers, modern-day romantics, gardeners, green activists, and everyone interested in a true adventure story about following one’s heart.