In My Life in Plants by Katie Vaz, the author reflects on her life using an unusual and charming framework, recalling defining experiences through the different plants she has grown (and in some cases, killed) over the years.
The book is arranged into thirty-nine chapters, each of which is two pages or so long and named for a different plant (the table of contents resembles the rows of a well-labeled garden). These chapters have been arranged chronologically, tracing Vaz’s life from childhood on through to the present day.
My Life in Plants is not a comic, but an illustrated memoir: while each and every chapter is accompanied by at least one illustration by Vaz, the text and art are presented alongside one another rather than integrated. The ideal reader will be one who seeks to have a book to re-read on occasion: while My Life in Plants can likely be finished in one or two sittings, it is the sort of reflective book that could easily become a centering, meditative read to return to as needed or desired – ideally, while sitting in a garden.
The book contains all kinds of memories, but the most affecting entries in My Life in Plants are those that concern Vaz’s experiences grappling with death. Like many of us, some of Vaz’s most vivid plant memories are centered on funereal flowers, and chapters like “Standing Funeral Wreath” and “Boston Fern” are especially heart wrenching.
However, while these chapters may carry the poignancy of loss, they also convey one of the most important lessons that can be learned from gardening: that life and death are on the same continuum, and areas which seem to have been overwhelmed by decay can eventually sprout new life.
Another way that My Life in Plants is especially effective is the way it uses plants to evoke specific responses in the reader. One example is the chapter titled “Rosemary,” which details Vaz’s gardening habits, with the text emphasizing her relationship with the scent of the herb. For those familiar with the scent of rosemary, it becomes impossible not to call it to mind, giving the book a vibrancy that fits its botanical theme.
If you’re interested in the memoir, you’ll also want to be sure to check out Vaz’s blog, where she has been posting a series of plant-related freebies to celebrate the release of My Life in Plants, including this very neat chart for tracking your plant watering schedule and other printable goodies.