Coffee for Roses
Coffee for Roses by C.L. Fornari is subtitled . . . and 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95.) Fornari covers a lot of ground in this book that gives more than it promises. I had to laugh when I opened the book to the first myth,“A perennial garden is less work than an annual planting because the plants come up every year.” That was a myth that I believed in when I planted my first perennial. I soon found there was more to do than wait for the plants to come up every spring.
Then, when I had been tending a few passalong perennials for a couple of years I was stunned one summer day when I was reading Janet Gillespie’s delightful book, The Joy of a Small Garden, and she began writing about moving her perennials from one place to another. Surely not! Surely once you plant a perennial that’s where it will grow forever and ever. Dividing and moving? I hadn’t counted on that!
That brings us to myth # 3 “Passalong plants from neighbors or plant sales are a good way to plant a perennial garden.” Actually I think passalong plants are a good way to start a garden, but these plants are easy to give because they are what some might politely call strong growers, or aggressive growers or sometimes, thugs. I personally will never grow plume poppy again. Beyond thugishness Fornari points out some invasive plants might come with the passalong, because the owner thought it was pretty, and goutweed is very pretty, or because a bit of root or seed came along in the soil. Great troubles may await you.
We had plant swaps in Heath for a few years, but they stopped because in three or four years all of us had the same strong growers and no one needed any more. We were all busy digging out exploded clumps, and weeding plants that self seeded throughout the perennial bed.
Some myths grow out of a poor sex education. A female does not need a male holly (see Myth #36) in close proximity to grow – only to make the desirable red berries. Some biology principles cross species: women don’t need a man in close proximity to grow either, and hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs, only to fertilize the eggs and make chicks. I was talking to an acquaintance the other day and she was worried about whether her husband’s carefully tended tomato plant would produce fruit this year. I asked if it had any flowers yet. The question stunned her and I had to point out that fruits and vegetables begin with a flower, beans and peas and squash and tomatoes all produce flowers. Apples and peaches, too.
I was surprised to learn all the different ways that flowers seduce pollinators into their service. Perfume, of course, but color? Vibrators? Landing strips? Mother Nature certainly is creative.
And while we are talking about sex and reproduction Myth #21 explains why you can plant pumpkins and squash in your garden and not end up with “squmpkins.” It is true that pumpkins and squash can cross pollinate but that means that if you are a seed saver you cannot use the seed from those cross pollinated squash and pumpkins because you don’t know what you will get. Fornari gives you lots of information about the birds, bees and plants that you may not have considered before, but which may save you some blushes in the future.
Fornari not only explains why some myths are untrue, she gives additional related information. When she explains that spiked shoes (Myth #57) don’t aerate lawns, she goes further and explains the various ways you can maintain a healthy lawn as well as dangers like overwatering.
We all get our information about gardening in numerous ways. Experienced gardening friends are usually a font of good information and advice. But many friends are not all that experienced, though they are willing to repeat a tip they “heard somewhere.”
I get a lot of information from books, but even when books tell you something that is true, they might not tell you all the ramifications and consequences that follow. For example many years ago I read, somewhere, that tansy would keep away bugs. You could put it in your hat, or put it by your door, and then not be bothered by bugs. You would even reap a benefit if you planted it with your roses. I don’t recall the promised benefit; it has been erased from my memory by the terrible consequence – a field full of tansy that also infested my raspberry patch and vegetable garden. I am constantly waging battle with this invasive plant. It may be true that tansy keeps away bugs, but I cannot warn people enough about the dangers of tansy which spreads by roots and by seed. It is pretty, but it is dangerous.
Fornari gives you complete information when exploding a myth. She has been gardening for many years at Poison Ivy Acres on Cape Cod, written six books including Your Garden Shouldn’t Make You Crazy, hosts a two hour GardenLine call-in radio show, and won awards for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. You can find her wit and wisdom on her new blog www.coffeeforroses.com. No bum information anywhere. ###
We have a winner! A copy of Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb by Evelyn J. Hadden will be sent to Rose of Rose’s Prairie Garden. Congratulations, Rose!
Chasing the Rose
Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside (Knopf 26.95) is Andrea di Robilant’s quest for the name of a rose that grew on his family’s former estate near Venice. His journey took him from the wild overgrown park on the estate that had left his family decades before, to Eleanora Garlant and her rose garden, the largest in Italy with 1500 roses, as well as tales of his great-great-great-great grandmother Lucia with her love and knowledge of roses, the Empress Josephine and the histories of many individual roses.
For centuries people have considered the Rose a romantic flower, inspiring poets, artists and rose hunters who dared the treacherous and distant mountains of faraway China. Di Robilant’s researches are a romantic quest in themselves, and while his explorations and discoveries are fascinating to a rose gardener and lover, there is an enchantment in his travels, captured by Nina Fuga’s simple and graceful watercolor illustrations.
When I planted my first old fashioned roses I chose Madame Hardy, Comtesse de Murinais, Konegin von Danemark and Madame Plantier and other lady roses who were famous enough or loved enough to have a rose named in their honor. When I walked past these roses early in the dewy morning I imagined us all primping and preparing for the day together. My reaction to the roses is very similar to di Robilant’s in Signora Galant’s garden. “When I saw the ‘Empress Josephine’ spread out against Eleanora’s corner pergola, I inevitably conjured up the real Josephine. And so it was with the other roses arrayed around it. I was no longer simply walking along a path looking at the roses on display, I had stepped into a crowded, lively room filled with roses that were looking at me.”
Although di Robilant sometimes writes of the gardens of the wealthy, it is the stamina and resilience of these old roses that fascinate him, and me. I was moved by the amazing story of Pierina, a teacher who married a civil engineer and followed her husband to Irkutsk in Siberia where he was overseeing the building of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There she continued to teach school, and wrote about conditions for labor organizations. She survived the Russian Revolution and many other trials until at age 74 she walked to Vladivostok, and from there made her way home – and continued to teach! Stamina and resilience. Signora Galant named one of her new hybrids Pierina.
Heaven is a Garden
While Chasing the Rose is the tale of a quest, Jan Johnsen’s book Heaven is a Garden: Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection (St. Lynn’s Press 17.95) shows us how to make our garden a place to return to time and again, a refuge of cool tranquility.
Johnsen is a noted landscape designer who has worked around the world, teaches at ColumbiaUniversity and the New YorkBotanical Garden. She brings us her varied experiences with the cultures of the world and ancient principles of design to illustrate ways we can organize our garden and landscape space to be comfortable, beautiful and meaningful.
Although we don’t often think in mathematical terms when we are in our gardens Johnsen reminds us of the importance of proportion and the Golden Mean. Even a rectangle can lack harmony and therefore be unsettling or uncomfortable. The golden ratio, “a universal constant,” used by artists and architects requires that the long-side of the rectangle be approximately two-thirds longer than the shorter side.
Other geometry in the garden includes graceful circles and ovals. She reminds us “that designers should enhance our fondness for circular gatherings by creating protected, circular spaces for conversation . . . that are not cut by paths or movement.”
One chapter is given over to the magic of water. Every year I come to an ever greater appreciation of the power of water in the garden. Johnsen shows us cascades, musical streams, and fountains including a mist fountain. But even a bowl of still water has power. I remember an exhibit at what was then the Arts Council on Franklin Street. One element was a peaceful corner that contained nothing but a large pottery bowl of water on a slightly raised platform and a bench. When classes of teenagers came with their teachers I was amazed to see how many of them sat quietly in meditation before that bowl for as long as they were permitted.
Fortunate are those who have large stone outcroppings. Many years ago an acquaintance asked me what to do with the stone ledge that rose out of his lawn. I suggested some plants that I thought would thrive in its crevices or at its borders. My ideas were dismissed, and he went looking for large delivery of soil. I saw this as a missed opportunity and Johnsen illustrates what loveliness could have been created.
Heaven is a Garden contains beautiful photographs illustrating the elements of water and stone, of trees and flowers, of soothing green and brightly colored garden corners.
Most of us will not be able to install grass steps or arrange for standing stones, but Johnsen shows us how we can all create an unhurried garden where we can lose track of time.
On the hot summer days that await us, we can find adventure as we read Chasing the Rose in the shade, or we can re-evaluate our plantings on leisurely strolls and consider ways to discover that Heaven is a Garden in our own garden. ###
Between the Rows June 28, 2014
Don’t forget, you have until July 6 at midnight to leave a comment here and a chance to win Hellstrip Gardening by Evelyn J. Hadden
I have been reading Evelyn Hadden’s book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb, with all its beautiful photographs of the different ways a curbside garden can be created. Hadden includes gardens from across the country from Oregon and California to Minnesota and New York. Different climates and different inspirations. I was very happy that she also included Rain Gardens as one of her themes because many urban areas have a great problem with rain runoff. In these days some rains have become amazingly heavy, stressing storm sewer systems that then flood waste water sewers. It is ever more important that we all work to keep rainfall where it falls. We can make sure we have many permeable surfaces – and raingardens. I know in Cambridge, Massachusetts where my son lives, there are rules about how much square footage in a house lot must be permeable. You cannot build or cover more.
While Heath is a rural town and I live where there is not a single sidewalk, there are local towns that have sidewalks and some of them even have hellstrips, an area between the street and the sidewalk. However, I have a friend with an absolutely fabulous curbside garden.
This photo gives an idea of how this curbside garden works in the streetscape.
With heucheras, hostas and creeping phlox in this area there is a wonderful arrangement of foliage color and texture.
A great use is made of everygreens which can supply a surprising range of color.
Small trees, shrubs, ground cover – and flowers! This curbside garden has everything! And something for every season.
If you would like to win a copy of Evelyn Hadden’s book, Hellstrip Gardening, leave a comment here before midnight July 6.
20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash
When did you start gardening?
I was 25 and we had moved into our first house on Maple Street in Canton, Connecticut. It was a big old Victorian with a large front yard shaded by the maples that marched up and down both sides of the street. It had almost no backyard, just an 8 foot wide cement patio between the house and a steep weedy bank.
My first plantings were marigolds planted on either side of the back door. Bit by bit I turned the bank into what I called a rock garden. No real rock garden aficionado would have recognized it as such. The function of my rocks was to help hold the soil and some very common plants in place. The only plant I specifically remember was basket of gold, Aurenia saxatilis, (perhaps because it was the most successful) but I certainly knew nothing about Latin names or plant taxonomy at the time. I was lucky; basket of gold is perfectly suited for sites that bake in the sun and have well drained soil
Seven years later my first, very small, vegetable garden was between the side of my house on Grinnell Street and the driveway. Lettuce, peas and beans were my first crops. Thanks to the gift of a load of compost from a new friend, the garden did very well.
I mention my own experience because Dee Nash’s new book, the 20-30 Something Garden Guide (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95) takes me back to those blissful and excited days when I knew nothing, but plunged ahead anyway. Nash understands that a young adult’s first forays into gardening are often constrained by full time jobs and caring for young children. She successfully introduces novice gardeners into the basics of gardening with encouragement and some of the latest garden knowledge and techniques.
The 20-30 Something Garden Guide is divided into three main sections that first take the gardener into a container garden, and all the basic information about potting soil, garden soil, fertilizers, watering, and bugs. Let it be known that Nash’s own garden is organic. In addition to providing herself with healthy food and beautiful flowers, she is determined to do her part in supporting the natural world with its pollinators and other bugs, good and bad.
She also takes the gardener into the second and third years of gardening, as knowledge and experience grow. Learning to be a gardener is no different from learning math – you learn to count, then add, then multiply. Knowledge and interest build on each other and pretty soon you are learning the difference between open pollinated plants or hybrids or GMOs. We may start out thinking utilitarian thoughts about fresh food, but soon, we are appreciating the beauty of our vegetable plants and thinking about making the vegetable garden prettier. With Nash as our guide our perspective of the values of the garden are always shifting and enlarging.
Of course, even when you are concentrating on vegetables, herbs, and those flowers that attract vital pollinators to your garden, it is inevitable that you will want to add ornamentals and look for ways to design a garden with paths, flowers, and a place to rest. “Here’s where we look at creative ways to enhance your garden so it becomes the place where everyone wants to spend time . . . having fun with garden art . . . And we mustn’t forget about making places for just sitting and doing nothing at all.”
For those energetic moments she includes good instructions for DIY projects like building raised bed frames or laying a stone path. Her recipe for manure tea requires little energy, but if you have access to manure this is a great way to fertilize the garden.
Gardening in Heath as I do with no smartphone service I am amazed by a Nash tip. How many seeds or plants to buy? “With the help of Siri on my iphone, I keep notes throughout the garden season. This info syncs with my laptop and makes my job easier in January when I am tempted to order too much, too soon.” The young adults of today have so many new ways of keeping records and reminders and getting information!
On the other hand she encourages those without experience, land, or smartphones to start small and begin. I was pleased she devotes a chapter to the joys and benefits of a community gardening.
Nash is an engaging writer, with a conversational style. She is an excellent coach, like the one she urges every new gardener, of any age, to find in the first pages of her book. We all look for information and advice in different places. I began with a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine. It was my bible. Nash’s book will serve well as a bible for today’s new gardener. The book includes a good index, and list of online resources from seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, to plant and equipment suppliers and conservation organizations.
If you want more advice from Dee Nash you can visit her at her informative and inspiring blog www.reddirtramblings.com and http://20-30somethinggardenguide.com where you’ll also be able to link to the Dear Friend and Gardener virtual garden club where a whole variety of gardener/bloggers (including me) will be writing about their vegetable garden adventures this year.
Square Foot Gardening With Kids
Gardening with kids is being taken to a whole new level at the HawlemontElementary School. They have received a grant that is allowing them to establish themselves as an AgricultureElementary School. This means that the schoolyard will have a variety of raised vegetable and flower beds, including a story garden that is being sponsored by the school library. But the schoolyard will also become a farmyard with a cow, sheep, goats and chickens. And yes, that means a barn and chicken coop.
Jean Bruffee currently teaches second grade, but next year she will be the Coordinator of the HAY (Hawlemont Agriculture Youth) program. When I spoke to her she said, “Every grade will have an agriculture class every week next year, and children will have chores. We are already putting up hooks for the farm clothes, and they’ll also get a pair of farm boots.” But she explained that studies will also include environmental and sustainability issues. “The barn will have a weather station,” she said.
She also assured me that while the animals will go back to their home farms in the summer, families and teachers are making commitments to care for the gardens during the summer vacation.
Working with our children in a home garden can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it is hard to gauge what children can understand or how far their capabilities might extend. To help parents and friends make a start two new books came out this spring to provide help and inspiration.
Square Foot Gardening With Kids
Those who are familiar with Mel Bartholomew’s unique Square Foot Gardening techniques may be surprised to see how they can lead children not only into a successful garden, but into science and math understanding. Bartholomew’s new book Square Foot Gardening with Kids (Cool Springs Press $24.99) begins with a sensible overview of how to use the book with different age groups, and continues with basic information for all.
Of course, there will be a square foot raised bed box. Immediately we are thrust into a world of fractions. It doesn’t take long to be immersed in a project that requires information, thought, and decisions. The square foot bed needs to be filled with soil, a soil that will provide the nutrition that plants need to thrive. Bartholomew has his own soil mix recipe that he recommends, but on this point I think I recommend loam mixed with a really good helping of compost.
Experienced gardeners are so used to reading catalogs and seed packets, making a planting plan considering the arc of the sun and shadow patterns, maintaining a compost pile, making a trellis or two to save room and deciding what to plant and how to arrange the plants in a rotation, that we forget these acts and decisions require a lot of scientific information that is all new to children. Gardening is not just a physical act, it is an intellectual challenge, there is so much to know and consider. I’m still working on the intellectual challenges in my own garden!
Bartholomew’s book will be valuable to parents, but it will also intrigue children with various experiments, making functional trellises, and even a season-extending plastic dome. A final section gives growing information about the most common herbs and vegetables. Advice to any new gardener, child or adult, is to keep the beginning small so that it does not overwhelm.
Gardening Lab for Kids
Gardening Lab For Kids
While Square Foot Gardening for Kids is mostly geared to school age children, Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments by Renata Fossen Brown (Quarry Books ($24.99) is designed to help the parents of young children find their way into the garden with a series of discrete projects. A list of the short chapters shows the variety of approaches from Planting Spring Seeds, Make a Rain Gauge, Plant an Herb Spiral, Make a Bird Feeder and Make a Sweet Pea Teepee.
The 52 projects are simple, requiring very few materials. The potato tower is made from old tires, a bug net is a piece of tulle transformed with a wire coat hanger, a nesting material apparatus for the birds requires only a whisk and the materials, and a pollinator palace is made of bricks, pegboard and twigs. Lot of science in all these projects for any age child.
Fossen knows that the value of a garden is not only in the various practical functions it serves, but in the space it provides for imagination and rest. Suggestions are made for a fairy garden. I’m wondering whether great-granddaughters Bella and Lola might think the privacy under the weeping birch is a good place for a fairy garden. Fossen also suggests a place to sit and admire the garden. Sitting peacefully and admiring the garden is something we adult gardeners might need some help with. There is more to a garden than chores.
Fossen is the Associate Director of Education at the ClevelandBotanical Garden where thousands of children come with their classes or with parents to learn about butterflies and pollinators and all kinds of plants so she is familiar with the many tactile ways children engage with nature and a garden.
Do you have kids in your life that you might lead down the garden path regularly, or from time to time? Help and inspiration is at hand.
Between the Rows May 17, 2014
Groundbreaking Food Gardens
Groundbreaking Food Gardens is a great book to take new vegetable gardeners into an exciting and varied garden world this very long slow cold spring.
The snow is finally gone, even here in Heath, and bulbs are blooming and tender shoots are evident all through the perennial beds. I can finally think about the vegetable garden.
I actually have two vegetable gardens. One is very small. The Front Garden, or Early Garden, as I sometime call it, is right in front of the east end of the house. It consists of two beds, about 32 inches by 9 feet, separated by a woodchip path. This is where I plant the hardiest crops, seeds and seedlings. They are easy to remember right in front of the house, small enough to weed in the few odd minutes I spend surveying them every day, and easy to keep watered because an outdoor spigot is right near by.
The other garden is located at the end of the Rose Walk enclosed by a tall chicken wire fence to keep the deer out. It is not very lovely but I call it the Potager, a French word for a beautifully designed kitchen garden that includes flowers and herbs. My potager includes red raspberries, vegetables, a few herbs and annual flowers, but it is not beautifully designed.
While any well kept vegetable garden is a thing of beauty, most people did not think about vegetable gardens in terms of beautiful design until recently. Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, appealed to 73 gardeners/garden writers of every variety to design and describe all manner of edible gardens. The result is Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans that Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden published by Storey.
When I emailed Jabbour to ask why she wrote this book she replied, “As a gardener, I’m always curious about what other gardeners are doing and growing in their own plots. This book is the result of that curiosity and I hope that gardeners will find it full of useful tips, techniques, plans and ideas that can be used to boost productivity, add diversity and encourage pollinators and beneficial insects in their own gardens. The many contributors generously shared their expertise with me and I hope that gardeners will benefit from their experiences. Personally, I’m in the middle of a re-shuffling of my garden layout that is a direct result of writing this book. I’m picking elements from many of the plans to make my garden more beautiful and productive.”
This book certainly looks at gardens from every angle. Do you live in a town or city? Check out Theresa Loe’s Urban Homestead. Do you have land for a garden like Jennifer Bartley’s American potager, or is your garden space limited and containers are your only planting plots? See what Renee Shepherd and Beth Benjamin can grow in containers. Do you want to preserve your harvest? Daniel Gasteiger has a plan for a canner’s garden. Do you want a garden where you can entertain guests over fancy libations? Look no farther than Amy Stewart and Susan Morrison’s cocktail garden.
What are your edible passions? Chilis? Figs? Herbs? Italian vegetables? Asian vegetables? There is a garden for every taste. Literally.
Each garden comes with a bright plan illustrated by Anne Smith, Elayne Sears or Mary Ellen Carsley, plant lists, and explanations of why each gardener grows certain plants, and why they avoid certain plants. Nan Chase has a beautiful and varied front and side yard garden with fruit trees, herbs, blueberries, vegetables and flowers, but she never grows zucchini, squash and cucumbers because of bugs and powdery mildew, and she says she gets lots of tomatoes from all her friends so she doesn’t grow her own.
I was particularly taken with Ellen Eckert Ogden’s Formal Kitchen Garden even though there is no chance I will ever have such an elegant garden. Ogden lives in Vermont so I feel a sentimental connection, having spent some of my young years on a farm outside Burlington. Her design is 30 by 35 feet, which means it could fit into almost any backyard. She is a cook as well as a gardener so her garden surrounds a picnic table.
Although raised beds have become popular Ogden prefers soil level beds because she finds it is easier to “add compost, plant cover crops, and work the earth . . . and harder to do with a raised bed.
When faced with a big rack of colorful seed packets it is hard to narrow down what to plant. Ogden begins by thinking what she most likes to eat, but also what is most expensive to buy. What is most delicious when it is really fresh? Lettuce and other salad greens! Gourmet beans like ‘Fin de Bagnol’ bush bean and ‘Kwintus’ an early pole bean.
Her garden also includes bright varieties of sunflowers and edible little ‘Lemon Gem’ marigolds that add some sunshine to a salad.
As I looked through the different plans I saw changes I would make to almost every one. It can’t be helped. We each have our own tweaks that we would make. I’m never going to use ornamental evergreens as a border, but basil, parsley and bean trees make good borders. I think.
How do you design or layout your edible garden? What are your favorite edibles to grow? I’d love to hear how others approach their vegetable garden. Email me at commonweeder.com and I’ll pass on your thoughts and strategies in another column.
Between the Rows April 26, 2014
The April 2014 issue of Fine Gardening magazine has an article by Peter Kukielski, former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden titled Easy Picture Perfect Roses. Peter knows all about ‘Easy’ roses because during his tenure at that garden he ripped out 200 or so of the roses in the garden that needed pesticides and fungicides to survive and then replaced them with 693 roses that did not need that kind of care and pampering.
I met Peter in early November 2009 when he gave me a tour of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. Even at that time of the year many roses were in bloom and a number of volunteers were busy making evaluations of each rose to decide whether it was worthy of remaining in the garden. There is a great article in the NYTimes here that describes that process. I wrote about my visit with Peter Kukielski here and here. He is not only a brilliant rosarian, he is the most charming and good humored of men.
Since we met Peter, along with Pat Shanley and Gene Waering edited a fascinating book The Sustainable Rose Garden which covers many aspects of rose growing by 40 contributors, including Peter himself, and Stephen Scanniello of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and president of the Heritage Rose Society. He is now working on his own book Roses Without Chemicals. I can’t wait for it to become available.
‘Applejack’ a Griffith Buck hybrid
My Rose Walk began with hardy roses which include the Griffith Buck hybrids. It also includes rugosas, albas, another roses that can tolerate the winds and winter of our Heath hill. Many of them also turn out to be disease and pest resistant. ’The Fairy,’ a polyantha, is on the Earth Kind rose list, which is something Peter taught me about. I have added other Earth Kind roses like ‘Belinda’s Dream’ and Double Knock Outs. In his Fine Gardening article Peter lists other easy care roses like the luscious ‘Cinderella Fairy Tale’ and the rich golden ‘Tequila.’ Do you think I will be able to resist adding a new rose to the garden this year? I don’t think so either.
‘The Fairy’ Earth Kind rose closeup
I will be talking about The Sustainable Rose at the little e at the Franklin County Fairgrounds on April 26 and 27. I’ll only be there one day – not sure which yet. Lots of rose photos. I hope to see you there. I’ll be channeling Peter Kukielski, my hero.
Five Plant Gardens by Nancy Ondra
Nancy Ondra has been gardening for over 20 years and she has ten books to show for it and Five Plant Gardens: 52 ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants (Storey Publishing $18.95) is her latest. This book has something for everyone, but it takes garden design to a new level of ease and understanding for the novice gardener.
Even an inexperienced flower gardener understands pretty quickly that you put tall plants in back of the short plants. Then what? Ondra actually has more than 52 ways to design a garden because she suggests alternates for each of the five plants in a garden, and suggests that you can build out from the five plant garden. By treating a five plant arrangement as a building block you can plan long borders along a path, around a deck or patio, or half moon plantings by a doorway or around a lamppost. It will not take long for even a new gardener to find places to install one of Ondra’s gardens.
Before she gets into general gardening advice Ondra explains why she chose Five Plants. “It’s enough variety to give you a good mix of flowers and foliage, heights and shapes, and seasons of interest, but not so much that the collection looks like a jumbled mess. It’s also a manageable number of new plants to learn about at one time, as well as a limited amount of money to spend.” How understand and practical she is.
I have been gardening in Heath for over 30 years, and I still found good advice in this book. Even those of us who have been playing in the garden for many years trot off to a nursery or plant sale and are quickly seduced by plants we never thought of before. When we get home we often just stick them wherever we might have a bare spot and have to think all over again about height, shape, texture and bloom time. For most of us, practicing interesting and attractive garden design is an ongoing process.
Ondra’s book is first divided into two parts, sunny gardens and then shady gardens. Within each section are 25 five plant combinations, but with some alternate plants in case you want to provide a little more variety when you are extending the original plan. For example, theWelcomeSpringGardenappeals to me because I am so hungry for flowers after our long winters. The five suggestions are Jacob’s ladder with its tall lacy foliage and clusters of blue flowers, deep blue Caesar’s Brother Siberian iris, ‘Corbett’ a yellow wild columbine and a striped bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum) and ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow.’ I was pleased that Ondra gave a warning about the vigor of ajuga. Ajuga is wonderful because it so quickly covers a lot of ground but it is so vigorous that it is difficult to contain. I don’t mind the ajuga that has invaded a section of my lawn because I am no devotee of fine turf, but it is good to be warned.
I think it is good to have early spring flowers right near the house where they will be a comfort and be admired while going out and coming home as the days warm. Alternates are the wonderful blue anchusa, or ‘Telham Beauty’ campanula, almost any other Siberian iris or a foxglove, and any columbine would also be pretty, as would dianthus.
Ondra is only addressing perennials in this book, but after working on ourBridgeofFlowersI have learned that it takes annuals to keep a small garden like this in bloom for the whole season. Ondra’s spring choices bloom early, but you might like to think about adding a few annuals once the season warms up. She notes how many of each perennial to put in her five plant scheme, but perennials are not always large when you buy them. You can add pansies or violas to boost that early spring bloom, and as the season progresses you can add other annuals taking your color cue from Ondra’s plan.
Ondra is known for her passion for foliage, and this is especially evident in her plans for the shade or partial shade garden. She describes a lovely array of ferns, hostas, grasses and ground covers like European ginger with its shiny leathery leaves. She also notes which flowers will attract humming birds or wild pollinators.
Nancy Ondra is an encouraging writer. Her 2009 book, the Perennial Care Manual, is still an important resource for me whenever I need to check if a plant I have impulsively bought should be planted in sun or shade, whether it will tolerate a damp spot, or a very dry spot. I know how often I have told a friend that the secret to a successful garden is putting the right plant in the right spot. I know this is true, but I sometimes forget the specifics for a given plant and I’m glad to have this book with it full advice for the care of over a hundred popular plants.
I think spring will arrive in a rush, as usual, and this book will be a big help to the new and experienced gardener.
Between the Rows March 15, 2014
Five plant Gardens by Nancy J. Ondra
I’m just starting to read Five Plant Gardens by Nancy J. Ondra and I find it such an encouraging book. The book is divided into two sections, one section for sunny gardens and one section for shady gardens. She begins with one color gardens like the Bright White Garden for a sunny location. She suggests ‘David’ phlox, ‘White Swan’ coneflower, ‘Snow Fairy’ caryopteris, lambs ears, and candytuft, but gives alternatives and a planting plan. It is her planting plans that make Five Plant Gardens a really useful book. It is all very well to know tall plants in back, and short plants in front, but that doesn’t take into account plant spread or the differences of foliage.
White gardens are beautiful in the moonlight, blue gardens are peaceful, but should be closer to the house, and yellow garden are pure gold! Nancy beautifully illustrates the many ways of looking at color in the garden and the myriad ways of arranging or expanding a flower bed. I’ve just started, but you will be hearing more about this book soon. I’m ready to think about flowers! And Nancy is the person to give me some new things to think about. Nancy also has an excellent and very informative blog at hayefield.com