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Dear Friend and Gardener

Reading and Planning

I am still in the middle of reading and planning season. Two very different books have sent my imagination into high gear.

Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars: Grandma’s Bag of Tricks by Sharon Lovejoy  ($14.95 Workman Publishing) is ostensibly for grandmas, but among the 130 activities described and illustrated with engaging photos and charming drawings, many will engage mommies and daddies as well.

The opening chapter, Preparing Camp Granny, gives advice about welcoming a visiting grandchild so that even the first night without parents can be comfortable and cozy. Like Lovejoy we have a well stocked dress-up box, but I am going to have to think of a place to have a tokonoma, to place a simple flower arrangement as they do in Japan. You don’t even need a grandchild to make and enjoy the pleasure of a fresh daily plant arrangement reflecting the season.

The other chapters, Neighborhood Naturalist, Kids in the Kitchen, Kitchen Garbage Garden, Kids in the Garden and Rainy Day Activities, also have many ideas that are as appropriate for moms and dads as for grannies. Many, but not all the activities involve the natural world; I was happy to see that Reading Aloud plays a part in Grandma’s bag of tricks.

Lovejoy explains how to attract butterflies to the garden. In addition to including plants that support butterfly life cycles, she says something as simple as a shallow bowl filled with wet soil and sand, complete with a rock island, will help attract butterflies who need a place to drink. She mentions that butterflies and moths also like to dine on rotting fruit, and gives a recipe for Moth Broth of mashed up banana, plum or peach that rots quickly in the summer sun. Moth Broth can be painted on trees and prepares the way for a magical show of moths eating it up in the dark of a summer night.

Water, food and shelter are all a granny needs to entice all manner of wildlife into even a suburban yard that can be rich in wonder for a young child. One of the things that made a particular impression on me at UMass when I was in the education program there was the Square Foot Field Trip project. Everyone was sent out to the grounds around the building to choose a single square foot of ground and examine and catalog it carefully, noting all the different life forms, to see and think about what was going on, and what relationships might be.  What worked for would-be teachers also works for grannies and parents. We all have to learn to keep our eyes open and pay attention.

There are any number of projects that I can’t wait to try out when my grandsons visit this summer, making a pizza box solar oven (I’m a big fan of solar power) that will make grilled cheese sandwiches, mini pizzas and half baked apples; sprouting seeds including peanuts; planting a garden in a straw bale or two; and making leaf and flower collages.

Lovejoy is also the author of Sunflower Houses: Inspiration from the Garden, Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, and Trowel and Error.  She advises about children’s gardens to the American Horticultural Society and has a charming website and blog for adults, www.sharonlovejoy.com .

Children love color but Tom Fischer’s new book, The Gardener’s Color Palette with photographs by Clive Nichols (Timber Press $12.95) is a delightful  book that will appeal to the sophisticated gardener. Fischer presents ten flowers in each of ten color families to entice the gardener into colorful new directions.

I confess that that I don’t take a very organized or artistic approach to the garden. Partly because I don’t have a very strong visual sense, and partly because I am so easily seduced by a flower in the nursery or catalog and buy it without thinking about where or how it will fit into the rest of the garden. I comfort myself with Elsa Bakalar’s dictum that all natural colors  go together and one shouldn’t agonize too much.

Still, I love books like The Gardener’s Color Palette because it opens my eyes to colors I hadn’t even thought of using. Some colors like red, yellow and blue are very familiar to us in all their shades. Others are less so.

Fischer looks at ranges of color like orange to peach with the strong hues of Orange Beauty cannas to the Dordogne single tulip which is a blend of amber, coral and gold. Fischer is also generous with suggestion for plant pairings. He says Dordogne would be pretty with the clear yellow Mrs. John T. Scheepers tulip, but a more dramatic companion would be the dark purple Greuze tulip..

One unusual color family is Brown, Bronze and Copper from the familiar chocolate cosmos with its dramatic dark flowers that has such a long season of summer bloom, to the copper flame on the ruddy brown Abu Hassan triumph tulip. Fischer suggests that a planting of Abu Hassan with other tulips in orange, deep ruby or darkest purple will be a striking sight.

This book is not all about dreaming and planning. Fischer gives an ample measure of information about the cultural needs of each plant.

Somehow with its gorgeous photographs of one hundred flowers The Gardener’s Color Palette is spurring a thousand ideas for this summer’s garden.

Between the Rows   February 20, 2010

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