By Diana Beresford-Kroeger
In her latest book, Beresford-Kroeger takes readers into the rustic home she built with her husband on 65 hectares of land near Ottawa and around her large, elaborate garden of rare, endangered and native plants. The acclaimed Canadian botanist and medical biochemist combines her profound knowledge of horticulture and her unique sense of spirituality and Aboriginal traditions as well as alternative and Western medicine with one goal: good living. “Life has become complicated,” she writes, “and this complication is not necessary.”
The book contains 60 essays, which are meant to help people “recalibrate their lives and connect with the natural world.” Some contain practical and frugal tips, which Beresford-Kroeger says align with sustainability: baking soda is a non-toxic all-purpose cleaner; beef bones used to make stock should later be buried to nourish plants; ashes of burned hardwood is the ultimate fertilizer; the tear-inducing fumes released when cutting garlic and onion stave off cancer and high blood pressure. She explains how trees have been abolished by urbanization, and extols the virtue of forests: “They perform a vital scrubbing or detergent effect in the atmosphere, keeping it clean so that we can breathe the oxygen.”
Beresford-Kroeger describes mystical encounters, such as when the spirit of an Algonquin chief communicated with her just moments after his death in the form of a “sudden bolus of energy . . . coming from the red pine trees.” She is eccentric, calling her root cellar “my private boudoir,” the hideaway for her coddled seasonal harvest—replete with a well “encased in expensive bronze fittings.” Her recommendations are inspiring and enlightening, and occasionally exhausting and scolding. But her enthusiasm for and understanding of the natural world, and her poetic way of describing its glory and complexity, is satisfying. Even if most people don’t, or won’t ever, live like Beresford-Kroeger, it’s reassuring to know it is possible. If not simple.
Correction: An earlier version of this review wrongly indicated the author recommended exposing freshly harvested potatoes to sunlight for days, a practice that would cause the potatoes to lose their nutritional value and possibly become toxic.