I’ve been delighted with the advance reviews for A Garden of Marvels (to be published by Morrow/HarperCollins on February 25). But I’m especially tickled by the one from Kirkus because it notes Eva-Maria Ruhl’s beautiful drawings and highlights my favorite, the vegetable-lamb.
Up to the late 1600s, Europeans believed that out on the central Asian steppe there were plants that grew tiny, perfect lambs. This “vegetable-lamb,” also known as a “borametz,” was said to emerge from the top of the plant’s stalk, to which it was attached by its navel. The lamb’s four cloven feet hung down, but not far enough to reach the ground. Fortunately for the borametz, its stalk was flexible and its neck was long enough so that it could, by leaning this way and that, nibble the grass in a circle around the base of the stalk. Once the lamb died–either from starvation or at the hands of hunters–its white fleece could be sheared and woven into the fine, snowy cloth for which the region was famous.
The vegetable-lamb was a lovely idea, but ultimately people realized that it was only that. The mix-up started with Theophrastus, the ancient Greek proto-scientist. He wrote about “wool-bearing” trees in India and Arabia, and the word he used for the pod (or boll) was “apple.” Unfortunately, the word could also be translated as “sheep.” So, when European travelers in Asia asked about the source of the fine white fabric and heard about cotton plants, they recalled Theophrastus, and the vegetable-lamb was born.
You can see more of Eva’s art at evaruhl.com.