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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Houseplants and Peeks at Specialty Nurseries

Growing Healthy Houseplants

Growing Healthy Houseplants

Some of us may have gotten  gift houseplants during the holidays. If we are not experienced indoor gardeners this can cause some anxiety. “Now what do I do?” the recipient may wonder when the gift givers have left the premises. I personally think it is perfectly acceptable to treat any gift plant as a living bouquet, which will last longer than cut flowers, but still a bouquet that will have a limited life span.

At the same time, I know that a little information can help keep a gift houseplant alive for many months, and possibly years. Just as in the outdoor garden, if you want an indoor garden you must choose the right plant for the right place. Does your plant need sun, or does it require a northern light? Does it need frequent waterings?

Storey Publishing has put together a series of useful little books called Storey Basics. Ellen Zachos is the author of Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely and Control Pests ($8.95) which has exactly the basic information needed to provide proper care to a gift plant, or the plant you give yourself. Beverly Duncan, of Ashfield has provided the black and white drawings throughout the book.

Growing Healthy Houseplants is organized to give you basic information about lighting, watering, potting soils and fertilizing in general and then goes on to talk about maintaining plants which includes a section on making more plants and managing pests.

The final section talks about ways to display houseplants, and provides specific information about an array of flowering and foliage plants from ferns and begonias to ficus trees and mistletoe cactus. Orchids, too.

The days are growing longer and brighter. If you didn’t get a gift plant, enjoy a minor splurge and choose one for yourself. Flowers are cheerful, and foliage plants are an optimistic addition to a room in winter. This book will set you on the road to months and years of pleasure. A plant or two (given appropriate light) will add a note of vibrant life and welcome to any room.

Whether you have houseplants or not, most of us gardeners are starting to leaf through the catalogs that arrived even before Christmas. What new directions will our garden take this year?

Guan Yin Tree Peony

Guan Yin Mian tree peony

I love to shop for perennials locally, but local garden centers are necessarily limited in their choices. They can only carry so many varieties of rhododendron or iris or rose. I recommend a look at mostly local specialty nurseries like the ones I’ve listed below – in alphabetical order by plant.

Silver Garden Daylilies (www.silvergardendaylilies.com) run by Richard Willard has over 400 daylilies now located on Pickett Avenue in Greenfield. It is often possible to choose your daylilies while they are in bloom so you can get exactly the colors you want.

Noted plant hunter Darrell Probst has been finding rare epimediums in China for many years. This beautiful shade loving ground cover with delicate flowers is also known by the name fairy wings. The nursery, Garden Visions Epimediums (www.epimediums.com) in Templeton sells other shade loving perennials like iris cristata. It is open to the public only on select weekends in May.

Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain is operated by Deborah Wheeler and her son Andrew Wheeler. Their specialty is Japanese iris which bloom in July. They usually have open digging days that are announced. When I bought my white Japanese iris from Andrew he said it didn’t need to be planted where it was wet, but it should be planted where it could be watered regularly. Good advice.

Joe Pye Weed’s Garden (http://www.jpwflowers.com) in Carlisle specializes in Siberian irises, but also grows versicolor, crested and species irises as well as primroses. There is an online catalog with photos, or you can request a print catalog for $2, refundable with your order.

Nasami Farm (www.newenglandwild.org) in Whately is the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society which has its main office and the famed Garden in the Woods in Framingham. Nasami sells an array of native plants, perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees on weekends in the spring and fall. With all the interest in the importance of supporting our local food web, more and more people are making a special effort to make sure at least some of their plantings are natives.

Not quite so local is Fox Hill Lilac (www.lilacs.com/) in Brunswick, Maine, but it offers scores of lilac varieties and the catalog gives information about fragrance as well as color and size. I cannot imagine my own garden without a lilac or two.

A luxurious plant in the garden is the tree peony. Unlike the familiar herbaceous peonies, these have a shrubby structure that does not die down in the fall. Although the large blossoms look fragile, the plant is very hardy and blooms earlier than herbaceous varieties. Klehm’s Song Sparrow nursery (www.songsparrow.com) offers a large variety of tree and herbaceous peonies.

A very large collection of rhododendrons can be found at WhitneyGardens nursery in Washington state (www.whitneygardens.com). They also offer azaleas, mountain laurels and other plants. PJM rhodies are very pretty and very hardy, but there are so many other varieties and colors, it is a shame to limit yourself.

Whatever new plants you add to your garden this year, take the time to find something that might be a little unusual – and yet no more difficult to care for.  ###

Between the Rows  January 10, 2015

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening

Digging Deep by Fran Sorin

Digging Deep by Fran Sorin

In her book Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening ($14.95) Fran Sorin makes the point that we are all creative creatures. Every baby ever born learns something new every day, laughs at something new every day. That creative urge can be tamped down in dozens of ways from an early age. Remember the coloring book and the stricture not to color outside the lines? Remember the frown when you couldn’t help it, or just wanted to color outside the lines?

Digging Deep is about garden design and planning and planting. Sorin shows us ways to create a healthy and beautiful garden that is unique and our very own. She also shows us that digging in the dirt and connecting with nature in a very physical way releases the other creative impulses that may have been discouraged.

Digging Deep is a perfect book to use as a guide as a new year begins. What do any of us want as we look ahead? A lot. We want to enjoy the love of family and friends. We want adventures. We want to make things better at home or work and we want to learn more and have fun. All those things will take imagination and resourcefulness, the elements of creativity. All it takes is a little confidence.

When we are lacking confidence in the garden Sorin takes us through the stages of creativity: awakening, imagining, envisioning, planning, planting, enjoying and completing. I think awakening may be the biggest first step. I know a number of people who have turned down the invitation to ice skate, bake bread, knit, build a trellis because when they tried any of those things it wasn’t perfect. They fell on the ice, the bread didn’t rise, the knitting got knotted and the trellis collapsed. It can be hard to live in spite of the fear of seeming foolish or incompetent. It takes time and patience to learn something new.

Sorin takes her time in teaching us how to begin visualizing our own garden, trusting our own instincts, and owning our own style. She suggests different styles from funky to romantic to minimalist. The question is what style or combination appeals to you? How do you see yourself in your garden, with friends and alone?

Then we come to the more practical advice about actually building soil, choosing plants, waiting while they grow, and making necessary changes. Nature will bring change, and you will see the need for change. At the conclusion of each chapter there are things To Try, or lists of equipment ongoing chores.

The final chapters are for enjoyment and celebration. You would not think gardeners would need to be reminded to enjoy and celebrate, but sometimes we cannot turn off the busy button.

I’m older now, and more apt to sit in my garden chair and appreciate what Mother Nature and I, and my husband, have accomplished, but I am not beyond needing a reminder to stop, breathe and enjoy. Sorin’s conversational style is also a joy to read, and re-read, in quiet moments.

Greenhouse Gardener's Manual

Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual by Roger Marshall

For those whose creative juices are still bubbling away Roger Marshall brings us The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual ($24.95). This readable and encyclopedic manual begins with a review of the different types of greenhouses, warm and cool, and their pros and cons. It is obvious that many gardeners are not satisfied with two or even three season gardens because I have seen more and more greenhouses, modest and grand, going up in our region.

Growing in a greenhouse requires more than your outdoor skills. No longer are you limited to planting in soil. Hydroponics and aquaponics require new skills and techniques.

Many local greenhouses or hoophouses are used for raising vegetables through the winter. Marshall gives full information about growing 70 vegetables, but he opens up who new worlds of plants that are more easily grown in a warm greenhouse than a sunny windowsill. Chapters on growing fruit, ornamentals like flowers and foliage plants, specialty plants like cactus, bromeliads and orchids all suggest new opportunities for experiment and fun.

The colorful photographs of all the systems and beautiful plants are inspiring. Many photos give clear information about how to manage certain techniques.

In case you need a little extra encouragement to get a greenhouse Marshall even suggests ways it might make you some money.

Any garden venture requires maintenance, cleanups, management of bugs and disease. Marshall gives clear, brief instructions how to manage all the every day aspects of greenhouse ownership.

If you are dreaming of the delights of having a greenhouse, read this book first. It will help you make decisions about every aspect of greenhouse ownership.

Now that 2015 is here, what are you seeing as you gaze at the blank calendar pages? What opportunities do you imagine will present themselves? Will you grab them?

Of course, you will! You are a gardener! ###

Between the Rows  January 3, 2015

All Kinds of Books for the Reading Season on Wordless Wednesday

Books in the Great Room

Books in the Great Room

Where do you keep your books for the reading season that follows the delightful chaos of the holidays? I will show you my bookshelves – or at least portions of the ranks of bookshelves in my house. There are about 44 feet of bookshelves in the Great Room. This section includes nature refernce books, mysteries, essays and cookbooks and books on cooking.

Cookbooks by the dining table

Cookbooks by the dining table

This array of cookbooks is next to the dining table that also serves as a worktable. This is probably the most used collection of cookbooks in the house.

more cookbooks with an emphasis on baking

More cookbooks, with an emphasis on baking

When we remodeled the kitchen a couple of years ago I gained shelf space for more cookbooks (and the dictionary which must always be at the ready for family ‘discussions’) with an emphasis on baking.

books in the downstairs sitting room

Books in the downstairs sitting room

This is just one section of bookshelves in the sitting room – and you can see it hold more than books. Culinary liquers that can’t fit in the kitchen and Christmas is not quite over at our house which accounts for gifts waiting for more chaos.

books in the bedroom

Bookshelves in the bedroom

A motley collection of books lives in the bedroom – fiction, essays, mysteries, and non-fiction.

garden books in the office

Garden books in the office

My husband and I share a tiny ‘office’ under the eaves, but the books are all ‘mine.’The garden books in this section of office bookshelves have to share with reams of paper, envelopes, toner, etc.

Ever since I learned to read, winter has been a welcomed Reading Season. Where do you keep your books for the reading season? For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Last Minute Trio of Gift Books for You or a Friend

We are not slaves to the calendar at our house. If you cannot buy any of these gift books for delivery before Christmas, who cares? I still want to remind you of three different types of books that would make great gifts.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Nicki Jabbour

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Nicki Jabbour

Groundbreaking Food Gardens (Storey $19.95) by Niki Jabbour will indeed give you 73 plans that will change the way you garden. If you have limited space or no land at all you can grow a container garden, or you can think about the ways to limit your garden ambitions. I’ve  always said no matter how small my plot of land I would need to have a salad garden, and an herb garden. Niki collects advice and designs from a range of skilled gardeners all across the country. I was intrigued by Amy Stewart’s cocktail garden. Amy’s earlier book, the Drunken Botantist gave information about all the different plants that have been used to make a whole barroom of supplies.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.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95) by Dee Nash 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. Are you a new(ish) gardener? Is there a new gardener in your family? This book is full of information and inspiration. You can also get more of that information and inspiration on Dee’s blog reddirtramblings.com

Sometimes we want to leave the garden, wash up and sit in the shade with a book that concentrates on the romance of the garden. In

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

my case that would be the romance of the rose. Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venitian 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. My own reaction to roses, especially those on my Rose Walk  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.”

Books are one of my favorites gifts. I love to get them and I love to give them.  I am never alone or lonely when I have a book, and this has been true my whole life.  And a garden book can take me into someone else’s garden for a pleasureable and informative visit. It can even take me adventuring across  the Venetian countryside to admire the roses.

And for those who want to have more roses, I can suggest a bonus of The Roses at the End of the Road, our story of life in the countryside among the roses. The December Sale continues. For more information click here.

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

When I first started reading Elizabeth Millard’s new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, ($24.99) I had some idea about growing herbs and sprouts indoors during the winter, but I wasn’t so sure about tomatoes.

For that reason I dashed right past all the basic information about getting started to the back of the book, past microgreens and herbs, past the potatoes! and straight to  tomatoes. Millard acknowledges that growing tomatoes, which we all know love sun and warmth, indoors is a challenge, but she shows that it can be done. The first trick is to choose cherry tomatoes or other small tomato varieties. The second trick is to prepare yourself to imitate a bee ready to pollinate your tomatoes. This is a great project and would have a super payoff when you serve family or friends a salad in February and say, ” Aren’t these tomatoes good? I grew them myself.”

Having satisfied myself that I am not ready to grow tomatoes this year, I went back and read the book from the beginning. It is always wise to learn about basics first. I didn’t mean to scare you off with tales of tomato – and potato – harvests in the house, because Millard gives great advice for those more familiar indoor crops. Sprouts and microgreens and herbs are simpler ways to begin gardening indoors because those crops give you a lot of nutrition in tiny packages, and flavor. I liked the list of possible sprouts beyond mung bean and alfalfa. Broccoli, fenugreek, dill, daikon radish  and kale. Growing pea shoots, sunflower and corn shoots would put you right up there in the high echelons of foodies.

Millard’s style is chatty and she shares her own experiences and preferences. She also includes  troubleshooting tips in each section so you can diagnose droopiness, discoloring, and mold. The photographs are clear, appealing and instructive. Millard’s own garden and CSA farm, Bossy Acres, is in Minnesota.

The New York Times interviewed Millard and the Chicago Tribune named this one of the best garden books of 2014. Many of us are looking for local food, and it doesn’t get any more local than the kitchen counter. The book is available at bookstores, and at Amazon.com  where there is also a kindle edition for $11.99. This is a useful book for a novice gardener, but also for an experienced gardener who is ready to branch out in new direction.

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer and Other Gifts

 

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

It’s a truism that every garden is different. Gardeners don’t begin by asking “how can I make my garden unique” they begin by looking for ways to bring their passions and preferences into the garden. This search will include choosing plants and planning pathways, but it will also include finding chairs and a table for conviviality, a birdbath for attracting the birds, possibly even a protecting summerhouse. In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality ($35. Timber Press), Rochelle Greayer provides inspiring ideas and information about different garden designs and accessories.

Nearly encyclopedic this is not a book that requires beginning at page one and marching on to page 304. The bright illustrations inspired me to browse through the book first, trying to find myself within a category or two. Is my garden Cottage Au Courant with its controlled chaos? Possibly. But what about Sacred Meadow? I am surrounded by meadows. Definitely not Wabi Sabi Industrial, but still, I do long to be able to recycle odd and rusty junk into useful and beautiful garden details.

Greayer herself does not worry about purity of style. Though she lives in eastern Massachusetts now, she was born in Colorado, and describes her garden as “Handsome Prairie, with healthy dashes of Sacred Meadow, ForestTemple, and Homegrown Rock’n’Roll thrown in.” Clearly unique gardens are not created by locking yourself into a theme, even if it is your own.

Cultivating Garden Style - Wabi Sabi Industrial

Cultivating Garden Style – Wabi Sabi Industrial

The various themes are beautifully photographed and provide that initial inspiration, but the sections on Learning, Doing, Growing give you practical information about how to achieve the garden in your mind. These sections cross over the various themes. You will need advice about deck essentials, buying plants, choosing a tree, understanding and using microclimates, making paths, or creating visual illusions no matter what kind of garden you are creating. She also provides directions for a number of DIY projects like making planter sconces, oilcloth placemats, a fountain, and lighting fixtures.

Pith & Vigor garden newspaper

Pith & Vigor garden newspaper

Greayer’s prose style is chatty and informative. She loves talking to gardeners, learning from them and teaching them. For years she has written a garden blog, www.studiogblog.com which is currently taking a new form but remains a pleasure to read. She is also the editor of a new quarterly garden newspaper, Pith&Vigor, of which I am a charter subscriber. The first issue includes an interview with Ken Marten and his directions for making an exquisite terrarium, how to make a mushroom garden, a bouquet gathered on the Massachusetts coast in mid-September, an autumnal container arrangement and an article on how to grow giant pumpkins – and compete! Lots more in this issue and to come. Subscribe for $32 a year, for a paper and online subscription by ordering at www.pithandvigor.com. A subscription to Pith&Vigor would make a great gift for gardeners on your list.

There are other subscriptions that will feed a gardener’s interests in more specific ways. Recently I was given a subscription to the quarterly Heirloom Gardener, published by Rare Seeds Publishing, an arm of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The lushly illustrated current issue contains articles about poisonous plants, indoor gardening with herbs and bulb forcing, crops and seeds of the Incas, and rare fruits. And more. $15 for one year (four issues). Call 417-924-8917 or order online at heirloomgardener.com.

For many years I have been a member of the American Horticultural Society. One of the perks of membership is the bi-monthly magazine The American Gardener with regular articles about plants from ornamentals to poison ivy. Did I know there was anything good to say about poison ivy? No. But it seems it seems that it has the “potential for use in a variety of commercial applications, including an environmentally smart replacement for the petrochemicals used to make paints and industrial coatings.” There are also interviews with fascinating gardeners, book reviews, news about AHS programs  – and more. You can join online. The basic membership at $35 will get you The American Gardener, free or discounted entry into many gardens and arboreta and plant shows around the country as well as the member seed exchange.

I am also a member of the New England Wildflower Society where a year’s membership at the $55 level gives me free access to the famous Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and a discount at Nasami Farm in Whately where the NEWFS propagates many thousands of native plants. I am a regular shopper at Nasami Farm. There are many workshops available at a discount. Membership will also give you a subscription to their newly overhauled magazine, reciprocal admission to 270 public gardens, and borrowing privileges at their 4500 volume library. You can join online at www.newenglandwild.org You don’t even need to be a member of NEWFS to read their blog about native plants, or use their great Go Botany database to help you identify plants. All this is yours for free.

Gardeners are always learning; and a gift of books or memberships in a horticultural society are good ways to keep feeding their hunger for new information, and new pleasure.  Happy shopping.

Between the Rows   December 6, 2013

Timber Press and Rochelle Greayer are helping me celebrate 7 years of blogging here at the commonweeder.com. You still have another day to leave a comment here by midnight Saturday, December 13, and have a chance to win a copy of Cultivating Garden Style AND a copy of my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 14.

Blogoversary – and Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

My first blog post went up on December 6, 2007, which means I have seven happy years to celebrate on this blogoversary. In that first post I wondered whether 67 was too old to begin blogging. I  guess I didn’t need to worry. I don’t have statistics until 2010, but since then I have written 1582 posts and received over 6000 comments. I don’t feel a day older and there are many new ideas and plants, and gardeners out in the world to meet and learn from. And many wonderful books.  In that first post I mentioned Eleanor Perenyi’s book Green Thoughts and I have written about many more garden books since then.

On this Seventh Blogoversary Timber Press and I are giving away a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s new book Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality. This bright and cheerful book contains hundreds of ideas for creating a beautiful and personal garden. Browse through the wonderfully illustrated page and consider – is your garden Wabi Sabi Industrial? Hollywood Frou Frou? or a Pretty Potager?  Do you long for a Forest Temple? A Sacred Meadow? Or are you Organic Modern?  Of course, as you browse you might think you cannot pigeonhole yourself like that, and why should you. Rochelle herself describes her garden as being influenced by her childhood in Colorado but she’s a little bit Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as Handsome Prairie.

We all deserve to let our best selves shine, but sometimes we need information about how to make that happen. What do you know about decking or outdoor fabrics? Rochelle has answers and ideas.

Roses at the End of the Road

Roses at the End of the Road

I will also be giving away a copy of my own book, The Roses at the End of the Road, with charming illustrations by my husband. I do give some basic information about growing roses, but when people ask me what my secret of success is I always say it is choosing the right rose. I don’t fuss with my roses or use any poisons. I was a beekeeper and I treasure all the pollinators who come into the garden. I do talk about neighbors, the history of roses, and my own adventures among the roses. I had no long held desire for a rose garden until I planted the Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose and thus began my own love affair. There is no explaining passion.

To win both of these books all you have to do is leave a comment here by Midnight on December 13 here I will draw a winner at random on Sunday, December 14. Once I have the winner’s address, I will send the books right out.12-2 me illustration

You’ve got to love a man who thinks you look like this. And I do!

 

 

 

 

The Roses at the End of the Road – on Sale

The Roses at the End of the Road

The Roses at the End of the Road

The Roses at the End of the Road is a collection of essays written about our life at the End of the Road. We found our way to Heath in 1979 and located a tumbledown farmhouse at the end of a town road. My husband checked that fact many times. What people think is our driveway is nearly a quarter mile of town road, plowed and maintained by the town. After the big snowstorm in 1982 when the town plow, and the town bucket loader broke down trying to remove the drifted snow off the road so that we could leave the hill, we planted a snowbreak. I figure we and the town are about even on this one. No more broken machinery. Other adventures include tales of neighbors, our daughter’s wedding, the night lightning struck – and what we learned about roses and gardens during our two years in Beijing.

I began the commonweeder blog in December seven years ago. Now, during the month of December I sell The Roses at the End of the Road for only $12 with free shipping. for full ordering information click here. If you can’t wait to read the book it is also available as a Kindle version on Amazon.com for $3.95. This is a great gift for rose lovers, and those who enjoy tales of living in a small town.

Windowsill Art and Gardens in Detail – Book Reviews

Windowsill Art

Windowsill Art

Many of us are very reluctant to put together a flower arrangement. We see photos of complicated bouquets accompanied by complicated descriptions of color and texture and know we could never aspire to making such a thing. In her book Windowsill Art: Creating one-of-a-kind natural arrangements to celebrate the seasons (St. Lynn’s Press $18.95) Nancy Ross Hugo, shows us a way to make arrangements that are beautiful in their simplicity.

I am a person who is known for looking at the big picture. For me the delight of Windowsill Art is the way it encourages me to look at the details, of a flower or twig or leaf.

Hugo knows about plants, big and small. She is the education manager for the LewisGinterBotanical Garden in Virginia and has written four other books including the magnificent Seeing Trees with photographer Robert Llewellyn. In Windowsill Art she explains that she has great fun making windowsill arrangements because there is no anxiety. She also considers making these regular arrangements a kind of spiritual practice that prompts her to notice the changes that every day brings to the natural world.

This little book with its glowing photographs is divided into four sections beginning with Getting Started that will push aside all worries about finding plants or containers or even windowsills. In the next section she goes on to Explore the Process, and then on to Experimenting with Styles and Technique. The final section is a photographic record of windowsill arrangements through the seasons of the year.

Sometimes an arrangement goes solo, a single vase filled with the plants of the season. Sometimes she shows the power of massing when she puts an assortment of related flowers in un-matched containers.

Throughout all this it is clear that there is no plant or part of a plant that Hugo does not find stunning. Vegetables, herbs, weeds, and shrubs find their way into her arrangements in addition to familiar flowers. She even finds drama in the arching branch of dead leaves.

I think this is the value of all her teaching. She knows how to entice us into new ways of looking at the common things around us. And if we learn to see the elegance of a cabbage leaf while we wash dishes, it will not take long before we see the beauty of many other everyday details.

Hugo says, “ . . . although I had been meaning to create something ‘pretty’ every day, it is seldom the beauty or design success of an arrangement that moves me . . . it’s the way they capture the seasons.”

This beautiful little book is the kind of book that would even please a non-gardener. Any walk outside might result in a bit of grass or leaf or flower, all you need to make Art.

Gardens in Detail

Gardens in Detail

Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs by Emma Reuss (Monacelli Press $45.) is also about details, but it is the big details of landscape design: repetition, pattern, geometry, symmetry and proportion. Those are big details and Reuss takes us to 100 contemporary gardens around the world to show how they can play out to very different effect.

My garden is not contemporary in the sense that a landscape designer would use that term, and yet any successful elements I have achieved can also be credited to repetition – of my gingko trees in the Lawn Beds – and rhythm – of the curving Rose Walk.

Water features abound in this book. Many years ago I was reading one of Beverley Nichols charming books about his garden where he insisted that ornamental water was essential in any garden. Since I could not imagine how I could get water into my garden I dismissed his dictate. However, more and more gardeners have found ways to put water in their gardens, reflecting pools, fountains, and ponds. Water in the garden is not a contemporary idea

This is the point I want to make. Although you might think that this book would be of limited use on our suburban plots, there is something to learn and adapt from almost every detail described in this book. For example, many kinds of path grace these gardens. In one formal garden the path is closely clipped and edged grass; one path through a meadow is a boardwalk; one is cement pavers arranged in an idiosyncratic pattern; a brick path ends and segues into ‘ sympathetically colored gravel of the dining area.’

One of the techniques I liked, in opposition to severely clipped hedges, is the ‘staggered hedge’ which is made up of several different shrubs. This is a softer, and less work intensive, way to create a boundary. The shrubs would be different depending on your climate.

For each garden the defining details are listed, photographed and an explanation is given for how it works within the design of the whole garden. The instruction is brief but dense as elements reappear throughout the book in a number of different ways. Five hundred photographs make the principles very clear.

Reuss is British, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and lives in London, but the ideas in this book range from the formal to the more ecologically concerned, as well as from the Arizona desert to Tokyo, Japan.

Reuss stresses that the “key to successful garden design is to be true to the character of both the site and the house – the genius loci . . . and environmental conditions.” That is where we all must start.

Between the Rows   September 27, 2014

Coffee for Roses by C.L. Fornari

Coffee for Roses

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. ###