This is my first Reading Roundup. Over the year I have ‘reviewed’ a number of books, any of which would make an excellent holiday gift. Good reading is one of my favorites gifts to give, and to receive. Over the next couple of days I’ll be giving a note about each of them again, with a link to the original post. All but one of the books were sent to me by the publisher and you may note a very positive note in all of them. This is because I only ‘review’ books that I think are useful and engaging, and in most cases beautiful. I have neither the time, nor space, nor inclination to spend time writing about books that I cannot recommend. Not every book is for everyone, but each of these worthy books will have a substantial audience. Click on the link for each to get the full review.
I did buy Taste, Memory: Lost Foods, Forgotten Flavors and Why They Matter by David Buchanan after I heard him speak at the Conway School of Landscape Design. David is a graduate of the CSLD, and his book about his growing passion for heritage apples is a joy. “This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness, and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected, and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.” This idea is also behind the Slow Food movement and The Ark of Taste which catalogs endangered foods
Taste, Memory also introduced me to John Bunker, David’s apple mentor and a great Maine character who has his own book, Not Far From the Tree about the old apples of Maine. You will never look at an apple in quite the same way again
No Mow Yards
Beautiful No Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives byEvelyn Hadden. Evelyn Hadden is a founder of Lawn Reform Coalition which aims to teach people about sustainable, healthier lawns. In Beautiful No-Mow Yards she proposes 50 alternatives to mowed grass lawns, offering solutions to cutting down on grass cutting in ways that are likely to appeal to every kind of gardener: new gardeners who are more interested in flowers or vegetables, experienced gardeners who are looking for new ways to garden, and environmentally concerned gardeners who want to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, herbicides and their own energy.
Lawn Gone: Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yardby Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press)
Some of Penick’s chapter titles will tempt you to imagine a new yard of your own. For example: Ponds, pavilions, playspaces and other fun features and Designing and installing your hardscape, immediately set my mind buzzing. Other chapters indicate the sticky issues that gardeners may have to deal with like working with skeptical neighbors or homeowner’s association regulations or city codes.She also explains ways to eradicate lawn, and gives you the names of grass substitutes in the sedge and carex families.
Bringing Nature Home
Bringing Nature Home by Dr. Douglas Tallamy is a book I write about regularly. His argument for the use of native plants in our domestic landscape is ever more important and we think about land development. “Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.”
Latin for Gardeners
Latin for Gardeners: Over 3000 Plant Names Explained and Explored by Lorraine Harrison is a beautifully illustrated book that is great fun to read even if you never took Latin in high school and never got beyond Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?” in English class. Beyond explaining the Latin words that make up proper botanical names, there are special sections of Plant Profiles, information about Plant Hunters like Sir Joseph Banks and Jane Colden and Marianne North, and Plant Themes like The Qualities of Plants. The book is also generously illustrated with colored botanical drawings of plants and their parts. This is definitely a book for browsing.
I’ll continue the roundup tomorrow. These books make great gifts for any holiday – or birthday.
Fruit ornaments on Christmas tree
Christmas trees were the hit of the Christmas party held by the Greenfield Garden Club. We have the best meetings and parties! Our hostess has dozens (I lost track) of themed Christmas trees as well as the big gorgeous fabulously ornamented tree in the living room. I cannot show them all here.
Teddy bear Christmas tree
Christmas shoe tree
A shoe tree!
A quilting Christmas Tree
Our hostess is a mistress of every type of needlework including quilting.
Feather Christmas tree
Admittedly a faux feather tree, but a style all its own.
Christmas bird tree
When I saw a version of this tree many years ago, I was inspired to create my own bird garland.
My bird garland
This garland tops our 8 foot window wall.
View from the bedroom 12-17-13
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! It’s almost Christmas.
For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
Plants, one way or another, play a big part in our Christmas festivities and gift giving. I can’t think of any other holiday when plants are so important. We decorate our houses with evergreen wreaths, and deck our halls with holly. Or at least with laurel ropes, evergreen boughs and swags, and forced bulbs on the festive table.
We also give plants as gifts, and may also receive a potted plant. The question is how can we choose a gift plant, or care for a plant we never imagined taking up residence on our windowsill? The answer is the same as it is for a plant in the garden. We have to know what the plant needs in terms of light, water and heat, and where in the house those needs will be met most easily.
When choosing a gift houseplant consider the home of the recipient. Is the house or apartment very warm or cool? In my house the downstairs is quite warm in winter because we have a woodstove and solar gain. Cooler at night, of course. The upstairs bedroom is cool during the day and much cooler at night. How bright or sunny is the house? Different plants have different light requirements from tolerant of low light, to bright but not sunny, to long hours of sun.
Choose your plants with those conditions in mind. The poinsettia is a tropical plant that requires four hours of sun, with daytime temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees, and nighttime temperatures 10 degrees cooler. This iconic Christmas flower has the advantage of coming in a range of colors and having a long period of bloom. The ‘flowers’ are actually bracts that will easily give a month of color. People do carry poinsettias through their dormant period to bloom another year, but most consider the poinsettia a living bouquet, and toss it without a pang when it begins to shed bracts and foliage.
A glamorous Christmas houseplant is the amaryllis or Hippeastrum. White Flower Farm offers a huge selection of large amaryllis bulbs, but you can buy these at local garden shops. They come in a full range of colors from pale white to rich red, and even candy-striped. They often come potted up ready to wake up and start growing once they are watered and placed in a bright, warm (70-80 degree) room. They need to be watered when the top inch of soil is dry.
After amaryllis bloom, they can be carried over by cutting off the flower stalks and putting the plant in a bright cool 50 degree room. Leave the foliage to gather strength for another bloom period, just as you leave daffodil foliage. When the weather is warm the potted plant can be put outside. In the fall, cut back the foliage and store the bulb, without watering, in a cool dark space like a basement for at least eight weeks. Then the bulb can be repotted and brought into a bright room. When growth begins you water the bulb and carry on as before.
Yes, amaryllis can be carried over, or as with any gift plant, you can chuck it, or make it a gift to a friend who is a patient gardener.
Two plants that need very little care are the Thanksgiving (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (S. bridgesii). These two succulents are very similar, but the stem segments of S. truncata have points rather than the scalloped stem segments of the Christmas cactus. Both are available is shades pale and bright.
Christmas cactus bought now will probably be in bud or bloom that will last for a month or more. It is a cactus but needs bright light, not sun. While it does need to be watered, less harm is done by underwatering, than by overwatering. This is true of most houseplants. Christmas cactus stems will begin to soften or shrivel slightly if the plant has been underwatered, and will recover quickly when watering is resumed.
Once they have bloomed these houseplants can live in a sunny room, and live outside in light shade in the summer. They can be given a little fertilizer for flowering plants. Buds will set in the fall when nighttime temperatures dip to 55 degrees. Christmas cactus is so easy to maintain that it can be handed down from mother to daughter.
One of my favorite holiday plants is the cyclamen. Cyclamen is a cool weather plant so it loves my cool rooms. This is not a plant for an overheated apartment! I bring my cyclamen into the social area for brief celebratory occasions. The blossoms, white or pink, dance like butterflies above the heart shaped foliage. Water carefully around the edges of the pot so the corm does not become waterlogged and rot. Fertilize every two or three weeks with a soluble fertilizer for blooming plants.
The biggest challenge in carrying a cyclamen plant over is keeping it cool enough. When the bloom period is over the plant goes into dormancy. The foliage will dry and fall off. Repot the corm in a slightly larger pot, and put it outside for the summer in a shady spot. Do not overwater. By the end of the summer new growth should have started. Fertilization can resume when buds are set. It is hard to say exactly when a carried over cyclamen will bloom, but if it comes out of dormancy you should be assured of another bloom season. Just remember. Keep it cool.
Of course there are many other houseplants available for gift giving, but any of them will give pleasure throughout the holiday season and beyond if you keep their needs in mind when making a choice.
Between the Rows December 7, 2013
Seeing Flowers from Timber Press
Betsy Johnson is our winner! Practically a neighbor over there in Williamstown. Timber Press will send Seeing Flowers directly after I have her address, and I’ll be sending her The Roses at the End of the Road.
Everyone can order their own copy of The Roses at the End of the Road, or a copy to give as a gift to anyone who loves roses or tales of life in the country by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or clicking here so you can order through Pay Pal. The December sale price is $12 wtih free shipping. All I will need is a check and an address. The book is also available as a Kindle edition.
Best wishes to all in this holiday season. Happy reading and happy gardening.
Free Harvest Supper fudraiser for food pantry
As we race around shopping and buying Christmas gifts for the people we love, the Salvation Army bell-ringers seem an appropriate accompaniment. The Holy Family was poor, and enduring so much bad luck, that they had to find shelter in a stable for the birth of the Christ Child. It is not hard to imagine the fear that Mary must have felt as she labored to bring this baby into the world. Where were they to go from here?
And then the skies were filled with the heavenly host singing songs of joy, shepherds arrived to see what was going on, and finally three wise men arrived bearing rich gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is those wise men who gave birth to the idea that all who celebrate the miraculous birth, should do so with gifts. Ever since, the world of myth and story tell of the desire to give a gift, and which gifts were most valued.
There is the story of the poor girl who wanted to bring a gift to the Christ Child, but had nothing to give. She searched for wildflowers, but it was the wrong season. Her tears fell on the snow and the first Christmas roses, hellebores, bloomed to make a bouquet she could carry to the stable.
Another little girl also wept because she had no gift to bring. She gathered what dried grasses she could to make a kind of bouquet, but when she laid them by the manger they were instantly transformed into brilliant poinsettias.
One of my favorite Christmas stories is about why the bells rang on Christmas. Two poor brothers were on the way through the snowy night to bring their small gift to church, a church that had bells that did not ring on Christmas unless a great and especially valuable gift was given. The bells had not rung for many years. The two boys trudged along as fast as they could until they came across an old woman collapsed in the snow. One boy left to get help, but before he returned to his brother he slipped into the church as the great congregation was leaving, disappointed that the bells remained mute even after the king had left his jeweled crow. The boy crept unnoticed up to the altar to leave his small coin and then, suddenly, the bells began to chime, but no one knew why because the boy had already left to return to his brother and bring help to the old lady.
A more modern story by O. Henry is about the poor young couple, each of whom gave up their dearest possession to buy a Christmas gift for the other. All of these gifts were valuable, not because of their intrinsic worth, but because they were given out of love. Something to remember as we stand in front of the bright and shiny wealth of the department stores.
We might console ourselves with the thought that the three wise men did not show much wisdom in their choice of gifts, except possibly the one who brought gold to the poor family. Those who pay attention to symbols might say that we don’t really know what the wise men brought, but gold is a gift appropriate to a king, frankincense, a fragrant resin from a tree, is symbolic of a priesthood, and myrrh, another tree resin, is also used in embalming. These three items are symbolic of Christ’s life, but one cannot help wondering what Mary and Joseph thought as they opened what I imagine was a jeweled gift casket to find an embalming agent.
Still, all three gifts were intrinsically valuable, and that value was going to be very important to the Holy Family as they learned that Herod had ordered the death of all male infants.
An angel warned Joseph that he should not return home and so they fled, with that noble donkey, for Egypt. The poor family had not planned an extended time away from home and Joseph’s livelihood. Surely the gold was welcome and then I imagine the frankincense and myrrh were sold to provide them with a home in faraway Egypt.
During their flight to Egypt legends are told about the plants who gave their own gifts of service to the family. Mary had to wash the Christ Child’s clothes. Unlike other plants, the rosemary allowed her to hang them on her branches. Ever since the rosemary’s flowers are as blue as Mary’s robe. At one point, with Herod’s soldiers drawing near, the holly allowed the Holy Family to hide within its branches. It immediately grew lush and green with prickly foliage. How can you measure the value of these gifts, of help with every day tasks, or the gift of safety in danger?
Now as we hurry to complete our Christmas shopping, and grocery shopping so that we can bake special treats and a feast for gathering family and friends, we hear the Christmas bells of the Salvation Army on the street, and the bells of our own churches. I think they are asking – what valuable gift have I forgotten? What do you hear when you hear the Christmas bells?
Between the Rows December 22, 2012
The first REAL snowfall of the year
I am counting this as the first snowfall of the year, although there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground on Christmas so we could all have a white Christmas and get an extra helping of Christmas spirit. Now we can enjoy the post-Christmas tranquillity, sitting by the fire, watching the snow snowing and the wind blowing. This photo was taken at 7 a.m.
More Christmas is coming with further gatherings with family and friends. Gourmet Club! and then we will enjoy more post-holiday tranquillity.
UPDATE – 3 p.m.
Snow December 27 3 p.m.
Over a foot of snow has fallen, with only a bit of snow still flurrying.
FURTHER UPDATE December 28 11 a.m.
View to the south
Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn Galbraith
I’ve written about a number of garden books for the young over the past year. They are not how-to books although there are books that do lead a child into the garden with real instructions. My friend Kathryn Galbraith wrote Planting the Wild Garden and turned science into poetry. She reveals all the ways that Mother Nature spreads seeds over the landscape using the wind and rain, and hot sun that makes seed pods burst. The rivers and streams carry seeds long distances, and animals move sticky seeds from here to there and the birds drop seeds in their own inimitable way. Even we humans carry seeds when they stick to our sweaters and socks. Wendy Anderson Halperin created the beautiful delicate and accurate illustrations.
Kathryn takes a different tack in Arbor Day Square, the story of a family that was part of the pioneer move westward, building towns where there had only been grass and woods before. The young girl in the story knows that trees have more value than utility, they are for beauty too. As the story unfolds it is clear that trees are also about building community. A tender story that we can all identify with today. The illustrations by Cyd Moore are as bright and cheerful as a quilt.
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
For the very youngest potential gardeners Lois Ehlert has given us a board book that teaches colors and the rainbow sequence while showing bold stylized flowers.
When my five children were small the happiest part of my day was bedtime (so often the case for us busy mothers) when the children were bathed and in their jammies, and we could all sit down, and slow down, together to read. A whole wold of wonderful children’s books opened up for me and them at the same time. Then we acquired 9 grandchildren and when they visit we have moved on from my reading to them, to evenings of Reading Aloud when we all read to each other, and sometimes we even invite other guests to join us. We even have two great-granddaughters now. I have not had many opportunities to read to them, but as a new kindergarten student Bella is already to read aloud to us!
While I cannot claim that my book, The Roses at the End of the Road is suitable for bedtime reading for the young, it does work very well for us older gardeners. Right now, for those who buy it directly from me, I am offering a sale price of $12 and free shipping until the Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 6. It is also on sale at the Kindle Store for $3.95.
The Roses at the End of the Road
With these suggestions come my wishes for a happy Christmas and a year filled with happy hours of reading, about plants, and gardens, and gardeners, and every fascinating thing out in our beautiful world.
Red pots at Shelburne Farm and Garden
I’m not saying gardeners are greedy, but it is true that it is easy to choose Christimas gifts for gardeners. When I wander through Shelburne Farm and Garden or Greenfield Farmers Coop I have all I can do hold myself in check. There are so many bright and sturdy items that will please and be useful to both novice and expert gardeners.
The Shelburne Farm and Garden Center has a wonderful collection of pots. So many of us are growing flowers and other plants in pots that a handsome pot is almost always a good choice. Two matching Christmas red pots, different sizes, really caught my eye, priced at $20 and $30.
The glove rack is a temptation. Gloves are always wearing out. MUD gloves are a particular favorite, some made with the wonderfully flexible nitrile, while others are heavier for jobs that require greater protection. Both types cost $10.
There are so many great gift choices from an array of bird baths, ceramic and metal, in the $70 t0 $90 range as well as a great collection of bird feeders and sacks of bird seed from $22 to $60. I was particularly struck by the Bird Nester ($19), a wire cage filled with cottony fibers that is available for birds when they are building their nests. It made me think of Patricia Machlachlan’s tender children’s book, Sarah, Plain and Tall, where older sister Anna is cutting young Caleb’s hair, and sets out his curls for the birds to use in their nests.
On my way out of the store I couldn’t help picking up a few bulbs that were on sale and will be used for forcing. The Greenfield Farmers Coop also has bags of bulbs for sale right as you talk into the store. It might be too late to get bulbs in the ground, but there is plenty of time to force them. A great gift would be bulbs for forcing along with a bag of soil mix and a handsome pot. You could plant the bulbs yourself, or pass it on as a DIY project.
The Coop has a large array of tools. Good quality pruners like the Corona bypass pruner for $30 and the Corona needle nose thinning shears at $24 would make any gardener happy – though I hope that experienced gardeners long ago learned the benefits of quality tools and already have their own favorites. Although, if they had a second good tool they might be able to work with a companion.
I was particularly taken with the small, bright red, fixed tine shrub rake at $13. I have seen the Flower Brigade ladies using similar little rakes as they tended to their clean up chores on the Bridge of Flowers and saw how efficiently and gently they worked in the borders.
Tubtrugs at Farmers Cooperative in Greenfield
I loved the display of colorful Tubtrugs in sizes of three and a half to ten gallons. These light, strong flexible containers will hold a lot of weeds, or compost, or what you will, in the garden and around the house. I can imagine a wonderful gift of a bright Tubtrug filled with bags of Espoma fertilizer, seed starting mix, twine, Bag Balm and other small necessary and consumable garden items. Prices range from $9-$27 depending on size.
Compost makings are the result of every meal preparation. A bowl by the sink will serve, but not as handsomely as the lidded one, or one and a half gallon Compost Keepers ($27-$39), in stainless steel or ceramic.
As useful as these practical items are and as welcome as they will be, one could take a different tack to gift buying for the gardener. Luxury!
J.H. Sherburne has a new wing to her portraiture and frame shop in Shelburne Falls called Serious Whimsies for the Garden and Home. I do buy my own tools and consumables when necessary, but I never buy luxurious gifts for my garden like the stone rabbit and hedgehog sculptures for $80 and $30. There is a wonderful big dancing angel planter for $90, but many more modestly priced planters like the stone bowl ($29) with a frog sitting on the edge. This could be planted with a bit of sedum or succulents for a really carefree bit of elegant whimsy.
Birch Bark Baskets at J H Sherburne’s Serious Whimsies
I also liked the birchbark baskets and containers that are perfect for holding holiday greens and decorations. The large flat basket ($30) would work as a handsome wreath substitute on the front door filled with greens. Smaller baskets, round and square, cost $9-$19. You can even buy silk flowers and greenery to fill them if you wish.
Siver jewelry at J H Sherburne’s Serious Whimsies
Of course, some of us might like to luxuriate in our gardens by wearing beautiful garden inspired jewelry. Sherburne has a small curated collection of delicate silver pins, a dragonfly ($50), a fern frond ($36) and a gold and silver sunflower bracelet ($100).
Though small, the shop is a treasure trove of whimsical delights. A fancy soap is shaped like a heavily frosted cupcake and the scented candles come in little milkbottles.
There are many ways to shop for gifts. Sometimes you know just what that special person in your life wants or needs. Sometimes you just want to surprise and delight which can take thought. Sometimes you have no clue. All these shops can provide you with a gift certificate – and gift certificates always make my eyes light up.
A final note – J H Sherburne is also noted for her portraiture including portraits of pets, or of pets with their owners.
Portrait by J H Sherburne
Between the Rows December 8, 2012
Our newly cut Christmas Tree
We usually cut our Christmas tree from our own land. We are famous for having Charlie Brown trees. This tree strikes me as a hemi-demi-semi tree.
Our Christmas tree in profile
The only tree we could find was this section of a tree that had been damaged by the ice storm several years ago. It only has branches on one side.
I think this year, for the first time in over 30 years, we’ll be shopping for our Christmas tree.
For more (almost) Wordlessness click here.
Roses at the End of the Road
Today is your last chance to leave a comment here by midnight tonight and participate in the my book giveaway. You could win a copy of Beautiful No Mow Yards AND my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I have enjoyed these past five years that has brought so many wonderful new people into my life. And useful and inspiring books like Beautiful No Mow Lawns from Timber Press.
I will choose a name randomly tomorrow morning and will announce the winner. Good luck!