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Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen

Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen

With snow on the ground in Heath it is hard to believe that spring is here and gardening season has begun. I have seedlings planted and sitting on my new heat mat in the guest room, but not a shoot in sight. Yet.

Since this spring is somewhat delayed there is still time to think about planting a small vegetable garden, even if you have never had one before. Or maybe you wish you had a flowery place to sit outside. 0r maybe you wish you had shade and a cool place to relax. The wild and witty Amanda Thomsen of the famous Kiss My Aster blog has just given us Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You. This book for the beginning gardener with it jolly cartoon-ish illustrations will help you sort out what kind of gardener you might be to garden design.

Thomsen has real insight into the mind and psyche of the new gardener. You can tell because on Page 14 she asks, “Overwhelmed? Don’t be. You’re just reading a book. Wait until you’re knee deep in quick set concrete before you freak out.” Does that tell you what kind of gardener she is?

For all her smart aleck frivolity and word play, Thomsen walks you through figuring out what can grow in your area, including taking a camera tour through your neighborhood to see what other people are growing This tour will give you inspiration and information Then you can show the photos of the plants you like to the people at the garden center, get them identified and buy them. She is full of slick tips like this.

Kiss My Aster is helpful to the gardener when she is planning to make her yard more beautiful and/or needs more information about starting a vegetable garden. In either case Thomsen gives brief information about individual plants, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals for sun or shade. Herbs, too.

Thomsen doesn’t think you necessarily have to read this book from beginning to end. She even encourages you to look here and there. “To create the privacy of a hermit, turn to What Neighbors? Page 75” or “For a new and improved be, border or berm, turn to Soil Yourself page 62” or “Got a problem? Consult Weeds Happen page 154.” She includes a sustainability quiz. You get the idea.

Amanda Thomsen is great fun, but she gives good information and advice. She doesn’t think you have to do everything yourself. She is happy to suggest getting in some temporary help to do heavy jobs. She pays attention to the limits of resources, human and natural. She is even willing to hire a professional gardener or a garden coach. Sometimes the garden coach can be a good friend, or a good friend who knows a good gardener. That’s my additional advice.

When I have talked to people about starting a garden, or wanting to ‘do something’ with their yard, I always start out by asking what they want. Do they want a vegetable garden? Keep the first one small, I always say. Think about what you like to eat and plant that. Dig in compost before planting. And then I tell them they can get good compost locally from Martin’s Farm or Bear Path Farm. They don’t have to wait until they have made their own.

If they want to do something with their yard I ask what they like to do in their yard? Or what would they like to do? Do they want a patio where they can barbecue and visit with friends? Do they want a privacy barrier between them and their neighbor? Do they want flowers but don’t know a daisy from a phlox?

After identifying what they want in their yard, patio, vine covered fence, or a flower garden, I usually ask how much time they have to garden. Couples with children at home usually have less time than couples whose children are grown, although they may have responsibilities to older parents. What are your family responsibilities? Community responsibilities?

After you consider your desires and your constraints, it is time to begin. I recently came across a quote from the avant-garde composer. John Cage (1912-1992). He said “Begin anywhere.”  I liked that. We might hesitate, but begin. What’s the worst that can happen? Change is the nature of a garden. It will change itself. Or you can make changes. Either way, change in the garden is inevitable. Begin and learn. Begin and embrace change.

Between the Rows  March 30, 2013

L is for Literature – Literature about Gardening

L is for Literature.  In the A to Z Challenge I am referring specifically to Garden Literature which covers a lot of ground. I cannot garden or do much of anything without books. There are general garden books and specific garden books. I’ll mention just a few of my favorites with links to earlier columns that will have more information about each of them.
Kiss my Aster

Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen

            One of my oldest and most useful vegetable garden books is How to Grow More Vegetables Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine… (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains) by John Jeavons. I have the 1979 edition and it is well worn. There is all the basic information you need to grow vegetables from tools, fertilizing, composting, efficient planting, and companion planting.
The 20-30 Something Garden Guide

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

    If you are a new gardener you will find The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A no fuss, down and dirty Gardening 101 for anyone who wants to grow stuff by Dee Nash, professional writer, gardeners and speaker. 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.
            For a humorous and sassy introduction to gardening try Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen. This is a ‘graphic guide to creating a fantastic yard totally tailored to you, Thomsen has real insight into the mind and psyche of the new gardener. You can tell because on Page 14 she asks, “Overwhelmed? Don’t be. You’re just reading a book. Wait until you’re knee deep in quick set concrete before you freak out.” Does that tell you what kind of gardener she is?
            For all her smart aleck frivolity and word play, Thomsen walks you through figuring out what can grow in your area, including taking a camera tour through your neighborhood to see what other people are growing This tour will give you inspiration and information Then you can show the photos of the plants you like to the people at the garden center, get them identified and buy them. She is full of slick tips like this.
Roses Without Chemicals

Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski

  I am passionate about non- fussy roses. A book with the most information about these roses is in Peter Kukielski’s book Roses Without Chemicals: 150 disease free varieties that will change the way you grow roses. He is the former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and is now Executive Director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability. He is also working with Earth Kind Roses.
            In my new house I am trying to eliminate lawn. A book I have found extremely useful and inspiring is Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for your Yard by Pam Penick. Whatever your reason, Penick has practical advice and instructions about ways to create beautiful spaces without a lawn. Groundcovers are an easy answer. In fact, many perennials and small shrubs cover the ground and add great interest when planted over a generous area. Some of Penick’s chapter titles will tempt you to imagine a new yard of your own. For example: Ponds, pavilions, play spaces and other fun features. The designing and installing your hardscape chapter will immediately set your mind buzzing.
The Indestructible Houseplant

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin

     For those who love houseplants, or wish they had houseplants there is Tovah Martin. The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow by Tovah Martin ($23 Timber Press) As far as I am concerned Tovah Martin is certainly the Queen of Houseplants. Readers who drooled over her earlier book The Unexpected Houseplant with special attention to gorgeous or surprising containers will be happy to see The Indestructible Houseplant.
            One of my favorite books focuses on bugs and birds. Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home explains why bugs are good, and why having bugs in your garden will attract the birds. Many bugs are beneficial. This is a call to avoiding broad spectrum pesticides. And a delightful read! Talk about Literature! This is the real thing.


Lawn Gone!

Lawn Gone! by Pam Penick

            To see who else is writing a post every day in April lick here.

Garden Planning I – What Do You Need?

Peony ‘Kansas’

There is a pile of seed and plant catalogs next to my chair so garden planning for 2014 has begun. I already have existing gardens, the big fenced Potager, the blueberry patch, the  Herb Bed, the little Front Garden for early vegetables, the Daylily Bank, the Rose Bank, the Shed Bed, the Rose Walk, the Peony Border, and the two Lawn Beds, north and south, which means my garden planning is in the nature of review and renew. Reviewing and renewing at my time of life should and shall mean it is time to consider whether I must think about reducing – but we’ll get back to that.

            Some gardeners, and would-be gardeners may have a new garden space to plan.  When considering a new garden the first task is to assess what kind of a gardener you are.

Are you a new gardener with little or no experience? Are you a passionate gardener with limited time due to the demands of family and work? Are you so obsessed with gardening that you will always make time to play in the dirt?

            I think one of the most under-appreciated and under-calculated aspects of gardening is the amount of time a garden will take. Even those of us who love gardening, and happily spend hours planting, weeding and cultivating are often overwhelmed by weeds and undone chores come August, so I advise everyone to consider realistically how much time you can devote to playing in the dirt.

            The advice for a new gardener to start small is advice that may very well be revisited at different times. I think I already mentioned that I should be thinking of reducing, and making my garden smaller.

            The new gardener can start with small projects like a dooryard garden that will be welcoming. Even in a small space you can think about layering. Is there room for a small tree like a witch hazel (Hammamelis)  that will give you the earliest of twirly flowers in spring, or a new small redbud (Cercis), or a dwarf crabapple. Beneath the tree you can have annuals or perennials, and beneath that a low, ground hugging plant like the spring blooming tiarella (foamflower). 

            A small utilitarian garden could be an herb garden planted near the door. An herb bed is pretty, useful and very easy to care for. There are annual herbs like parsley and basil, and many perennial herbs like sage, chives and mint, with self seeding herbs like dill and caraway.

            I’ve always said that if I could only have the tiniest of vegetable gardens it would be a salad garden with tomatoes, lettuce and a bean tree for the green beans that I love. Someone else might have other favorite vegetables in a tiny vegetable garden.

 Whether beginning a first garden, or in a new space where you will begin again, the question to answer is whether you begin with an edible garden, or an ornamental garden with flowers and shrubs?

            After assessing what kind of gardener you might be, you have to assess your potential garden space. Do you have a lot of space? Or a small space? Is it sunny or shady?

            The attributes of the space will provide both limitations and opportunities.

            Is the space just a wide open expanse of sunny lawn? Does it make you feel hot and exposed? You may want to think about plants that will give you some shade but also some privacy.

            Is the space dominated by large tree that throws dense shade, or is the house situated so that it throws long hours of shade in the best garden spaces? Sometimes it is hard to remember that there are many plants that tolerate shade and some demand shade. It is also true that there are many shades of shade, from high, dappled shade, shade produced by deciduous trees that changes over the course of the year, and dense shade produced by large evergreens.

            Shade also moves across the landscape. Do you have shade for many hours, or only a few. Sun loving plants that bloom usually require 4-6 hours of sunlight, and it is preferable that those sunny hours be in the middle of the day. Sunlight from 7 am til noon is not as strong as the sunlight from noon til 5 pm on a summer day.

            If you are a new gardener and look at your space with despair and terror there are different ways of beginning. You can join a garden club! Garden club members love to visit other gardens and they usually have experience to share, lots of advice, and even opinions that you don’t have to share. If you have a gardening friend you’ll have someone to question, and who will play with ideas before you get to serious work.

            There are many books on landscape design like the wild and witty Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You by Amanda Thomson, or Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love by Julie Moir Messervy who has been designing beautiful domestic (and other) landscapes for over 30 years.

            You can also spend some money on a consultation with a garden designer who will help start you off.

            There are many ways to begin a garden plan, and it is wise to remember that a plan is always a plan writ in pencil, not stone. It can change.

            This is the first of a four-part series on garden planning. Stay tuned.

           Between the Rows   January 4, 2014 

Good Reading Roundup for 2013 – Part Two

My Reading Roundup Continues. Books make up a good part of my pleasure in gardening. I get information during the growing season and varied pleasures in growing season – and all the rest of the year. Clink on the link for full information about each book.

Speedy Vegetable Garden

The Speedy Vegetable Garden by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz (Timber Press) is not necessarily for impatient gardeners, but gardeners who want to extend the growing season into the depths of winter.   Soaks (I never heard of those before), sprouts and microgreens. A micro-green is really just the baby stage of the shoot and this is a time when nutrients are at a high level. You wouldn’t make a whole salad out of micro-greens, but they add vibrant taste to your regular salad.. . .A micro-green is really just the baby stage of the shoot and this is a time when nutrients are at a high level. You wouldn’t make a whole salad out of micro-greens, but they add vibrant taste to your regular salad.



Kiss My Aster

Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen is informative, encouraging and great fun, complete with cartoon-like illustrations. The wild and witty Amanda Thomsen of the famous Kiss My Aster blog has just given us Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You. This book for the beginning gardener with it jolly cartoon-ish illustrations will help you sort out what kind of gardener you might be to elements of garden design. Thomsen is full of fun – and good advice. Kiss My Aster is helpful to the gardener when she is planning to make her yard more beautiful and/or needs more information about starting a vegetable garden. In either case Thomsen gives brief information about individual plants, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals for sun or shade. Herbs, too.


Garden Projects for Kids: 101 ways to get kids outside, dirty, and having fun by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher of LIfe Lab in Santa Cruz, California will help you as you bring your children into the garden. What with people talking about a ‘nature deficit’ among our children, and the presence of so many screens in our life, parents and friends sometimes wonder who we are going to get kids back into the outdoors. Garden Projects for Kids will inspire and support the parents of young children about all the ways the garden leads to healthy playtimes. Of course, there is just plain playing in the dirt, which can lead to planting in the dirt, which can lead to harvesting and eating good treats, but it can also lead to looking at bugs, looking at all the life to be found in a square foot of ground, how to make birdhouses out of plants you have grown, and how to pound flowers into art. Lots more too.

Gardening with Free Range Chickens for Dummies is for gardeners who have taken on a backyard flock of chickens.  Bonnie Jo Mannion, who has a degree in Avian Science, and Rob Ludlow, the owner of, have put together Gardening with Free-Range Chickens for Dummies which answers every question you ever thought of about caring for chickens, while also caring for your garden. They even have answers to important issues you never thought about. is an excellent book for people who are planning to raise a small backyard flock. It is unique in that it addresses your dual goal of raising a healthy flock of chickens and a beautiful garden.



Vegetable Literacy

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press) is a beautiful book, almost as much garden book as cookbook. Madison tells us about her understanding of plant families she explains that if we look as vegetables in a single plant family we can see how they can be substituted for each other. She also shows us that parts of a vegetable we don’t ordinarily eat, are edible and can be used as part of a dish. Her book is organized around twelve families beginning with the Carrot family which is huge. It is comprised of a host of Umbelliferae like angelica, anise, asafetida, caraway, carrots, celery, celery root, chervil, cilantro and coriander, cumin, dill, hennel, hemlock, lovage, osha, parsley, parsley root, parsnips, Queen Anne’s Lace. For each plant family, Deborah Madison gives advice about using the whole plant, good companions, and some kitchen wisdom. And great recipes, of course.


More to come tomorrow.

Tall Perennials, Statuesque and Beautiful

Actea racemosa

Cimicifuga or Actea racemosa, a very tall perennial, on the Bridge of Flowers, blooming as happily in sun as shade

Using shrubs is one way to take up room in a garden, but it is also possible to have tall perennials serve the same function. I have several tall perennials in my garden that I realize are not well placed, partly because they are overcrowding each other. I will be reorganizing them in the fall. In the meantime I want to suggest some tall, dare I say statuesque, perennials that can make quite a statement in a flower border.

Right now Filipendula rubra, queen of the prairie, is producing delicate pink astilbe-like flowers on which can reach six to eight feet. The deeply cut bright green leaves are as fragrant as the flowers.  It is easy to grow and tolerant of wet sites and clay soil. Even though it can become very tall it does not need staking making it ideal for back of the garden border. It likes the sun, but can tolerate some shade. Tall plants like this make a really dramatic clump.

If you have a shady spot Actaea racemosa, formerly known as Cimicifuga, and always also known as black cohosh, can reach a height of six feet. If the site is particularly fertile and damp, the one to two foot white spires rising from the dark foliage can reach a height of eight feet. Depending on the site and weather, it can begin blooming in July, August or September. It stays in bloom for at least three weeks. This stunning plant also serves as a host plant and nectar source for the Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon).  I had this growing in my Heath garden and it was a real attention grabber glowing as it did in the shade of an ancient apple tree. Cimicifuga seems to enjoy the sun just as much blooming as it does on the Bridge of Flowers.

Culver's root

Tall Culver’s root

Another tall native plant is Culver’s root, Veronicastrum virginicum which will reach a height of seven feet including the nine inch spikes of small white flowers. It needs damp to wet soil and will bloom in July and August. To extend the bloom season, cut back the spent flower. You can even cut it back to the basal leaves and possibly get a second flush. Like the queen of the prairie, Culver’s root, is a good choice for a rain garden. It also attracts butterflies.

Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum, is known to many people as a roadside weed, but there are different species in the Eutrochium genus. That explains why one Joe Pye weed in my garden looks nothing like the roadside variety, and the second Joe Pye weed looks nothing like either one because it has variegated foliage. What they all have in common is their size, up to six or seven feet, and mauve dome-like flowers that appeal to many butterflies and bees. There is a dwarf Baby Joe that will not grow taller than three feet and has blooms in a deeper shade of purple. Joe Pye weed is another plant that will thrive in a rain garden.


Boltonia will stand on its own – lounge on a fence

Boltonia is another wonderful plant that can reach a height of six feet and will need little or no staking. Having said that I have to say that the boltonia on the Bridge of Flowers is very happy to be able to lean on the wire fence behind it. From August through September Boltonia is covered with tiny white daisy like flowers. Once in a while those white petals will have a pink or mauve tint. For a slightly more sturdy and compact plant  Boltonia asteroides var. latisquama‘Snowbank’ (3-4’ tall) might be a good choice if you are not necessarily looking for a statuesque beauty, but are looking for lush autumnal blom.

I have two very tall perennials in my garden. Right now my giant meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebrunianum) with its cloud of tiny lavender blossoms is about eight feet tall. This is an unusual height; six feet is more common. It is a hardier plant than you might imagine looking at the delicacy of its flowers and its foliage which looks very similar to the foliage of the spring columbine. I planted it a couple of feet into the garden bed, but this spring the few stems I had last year sent out about a million babies.  I pulled out a lot of those babies, but it was hard to get rid of them all, even when I tried. Right now the meadow rue and the variegated Joe Pye weed look like passionate kissin’ cousins right at the edge of the bed. They will bloom into September.

The other equally tall perennial is Hemerocallis ‘Altissima.’ It has not yet reached its full height, but this daylily will be at least six feet tall. Like all daylilies, it has increased each year and in the fall I will have to divide it.

I have certainly not named every tall perennial available for the backyard garden. I visited a friend some years ago who used perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) to create a hedge on one side of his corner garden. Another friend lined a walkway with a profusion of lacy white fleece flowers (Persicaria polymorpha) reaching six feet tall. Delphiniums can be tall, from four to six feet, but there are smaller varieties as well. They come in a range of blues, and white as well.

A striking tall annual flower is the deep red Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranth, that can reach five feet and is useful in fresh or dried flower arrangements.

Tall or small, there is always great variety for the flower garden.

Between the Rows  July 21, 2018

All You Need is Love – Valentine


Kiss me over  the garden gate

Kiss me over the garden gate  –  courtesy Annie’s Annuals

The Beatles sang out “all you need is love, love, love”, an ancient philosophy not created by the Beatles, and it can play out in our gardens. As Valentine’s Day draws close the song is playing over and over in my head, combined with visions of Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, otherwise known as Polygonum orientale.

Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate is a fast growing five or six foot tall annual, loaded with graceful pendant pink flowers. This is a bushy sort of plant that I can easily imagine twining around a picturesque garden gate where a shy lady and a bold lover might share a kiss. This plant is not hardy, but it self seeds and will come back year after year. It would do equally well against a fence.

Love Lies Bleeding

Love lies bleeding  in my cousin’s garden

Of course, if kisses at the garden gate turn sour, there is always Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus. I first saw this annual in bloom at the Wave Hill Gardens in Riverdale, New York. It was stunning, if not shocking, with its long pendant wine red blossoms drooping and puddling on the ground. When I found the plant label I was distressed to find that I was looking at a visceral symbol of love gone bad. Having gotten over the shock, I now appreciate the drama of amaranth in the garden. Last year I admired the new amaranth that was planted at the EnergyPark in shades of gold as well as red.  Both Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, and Love-lies-bleeding are substantial plants, tall and wide; both need full sun.

Bleeding heart

Bleeding heart

Coming on Love-lies-bleeding as an adult was an unexpected shock, but somehow my young self found bleeding hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, delicate and charming. Maybe in my younger years I could not imagine anything more tragic than a poet’s sigh when his beloved sent him away. Dicentra is a modest plant, usually less than two feet tall, with attractive foliage. It will increase in spread over the years. An annual helping of compost is always a good idea. The name bleeding heart is clearly descriptive of the little pink heart shaped blossoms with their tiny white droplets of blood arranged on arching stems. They bloom in spring in damp part shade, not shouting of a broken heart, just a whisper.

Roses have their own language of love and friendship. It all depends on the color. Of course, we all know that the red rose shouts out I love you passionately. The white rose has been known as the wedding rose, and white promises more than passion; it speaks of true love, reverence and charm. Certainly in a marriage we hope that by definition true love does not age, nor does the reverence and care each will take of the other, and that they will never cease to charm each other.

Roses, like the other flowers under discussion, do not bloom in New England winters. Valentine bouquets must come from somewhere else. I found statistics that estimated 110 million roses get sent on Valentine’s Day in the United States. Not even California can supply all those roses. Over the course of a year many of our roses come from Columbia, South America.

Lion's Fairy Tale rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale rose by Kordes in October 2016

I am devoted to growing at least a few roses in my garden. In Heath I wanted old fashioned antique roses even though they usually bloomed for only a short season because they were naturally hardy and disease resistant. Now I am looking for disease resistant roses that will bloom for a long season. I have included the very small Pink Drift, and OSO Easy Paprika with its small bright sprays. I have also added white Polar Express and Lion’s Fairy Tale with its peach blush, both by Kordes, a company that has been breeding disease resistant roses for 30 years or more.

We will never be able to buy local roses during the winter, but there are more and more local flower farms like Wild Rose Farm in Florence, that grow annuals and perennials that they sell over a long season in mixed bouquets, or in arrangements for special occasions – like weddings! One advantage to local flowers is that they are much more likely to be grown organically which is a benefit to the birds and bugs of our local environment.

Sometimes flowers are grown as an addition to the main crops of a farm. We once took a family trip to a pick your own orchard with our daughters and their children. We got a wagon ride, petted the animals, picked apples and then chose our pumpkins, and a big bouquet of bright autumnal flowers, asters, brown-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, zinnias and big golden marigolds.

And that list of plants brings us to some of the results of all that love and romance – children. Flower names are growing in popularity for girls. There have always been girls named Rose, Violet, Lily and Rosemary, but flowers are claiming more girls. I have a friend whose daughter is named Hazel, back in favor, and my youngest cousin is named Zinnia. Newer names gaining popularity are Petal, and Iolanthe which besides being the name of the Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta is also the word for ‘violet flower’.

Boys are claiming the plant world, too. There is Fiorello or little flower, Jared, Hebrew for rose, and Florian.

This Valentine’s Day, whether we give a bouquet or a living plant – or box of chocolates – the recipient will know the gift is all about love, and that love is all we need.

Between the Rows  February 11, 2017


New England Gardening Books

Month by Month Gardening in New England

Month by Month Gar dening in New England

Who knows what weather tomorrow will bring? We are living in New England. No telling what the weather will be from one minute to the next. All I know is that we are getting closer and closer to spring, which means thinking about how soon we can possibly get out into the garden, and possibly wondering how long it will take us to feel that all of a sudden we are way behind in our chore

Charlie Nardozzi, author of Month-by-Month Gardening New England (Cool Springs Press $24.99) has recognized that some of us need help in planning our use of time and has created a month by month calendar of tasks that will keep every section of our New England garden healthy and beautiful.

For every month he gives advice about planning, planting and on-going care which includes watering and fertilizing, and finally solving problems like pests and disease. What makes this book so useful is his dividing each of these sections into specific advice for annuals, edibles, perennials, shrubs, and trees. This makes it easier for us to use if we don’t have every single category in our gardens.

Of course, having a chore schedule isn’t very helpful if we don’t have how-to advice on some of those chores. Nardozzi gives good instructions on planting trees and shrubs, on pruning, building a cold frame or raised bed, controlling tomato blight, aerating the lawn and many other tasks that are not only time sensitive, but may also require new skills.

Nardozzi covers a lot of ground (pun intended) and the book is well illustrated with excellent and clear photographs. His other books include Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening and he has an excellent website

Growing the Northeast Garden

Growing the Northeast Garden

If you want help choosing plants for your garden Andrew Keys, gardener, author and lecturer, has just written Growing the Northeast Garden (Timber Press $24.95) which provides information about the best trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, vines and grasses, as well as design suggestions that will make our gardens just what we have been dreaming of.

Keys begins with an overview of New England weather and soil conditions. Weather is unpredictable, but we can protect our most vulnerable plants by paying attention to the microclimates we may have in our gardens. In Heath our garden was on a southern slope where the winds blew the last frosts of winter and first frosts of fall down the hill leaving not even a kiss on my latest bloomers

Keys quickly launches into the best plant section with beautiful photographs by Kerry Michaels. This section presents a palette of different types of plants from trees, to annuals, those bright helpful plants that give us consistent bloom all season. We all know that each plant has a season when it is most interesting or spectacular whether because of bloom, or seasonal color. Knowledge of bloom times is certainly important if you are trying to have something blooming in the garden from early spring through the fall.

Many of the plants in Keys’ palette will be familiar, but others may come as a surprise. I always think of boxwood as a tender plant, but it is hardy in zone 4 which is minus 25 degrees. Likewise, European hornbeam which will grow into a very large tree, and yet it is often sheared and kept low and dense for a handsome hedge.

Grasses in the garden make me a little nervous. I fear they will take over. Keys offers a good selection of grasses that appear well behaved, but I will always be wary of Miscanthus grasses which grow and increase so rapidly.

Once you have gorged on beautiful images of plants that could inspire admiring glances from your friends, you will be happy to look at the section on design. Keys gives some basic design tips, but lets you see how these take shape in different northeastern gardens, each with a very different style and feel.

Finally there is a section on garden practice from building the soil, welcoming birds and butterflies and managing those less desirable creatures like squirrels and chipmunks. We love those ‘flying flowers’ like butterflies, but are less enthusiastic about the rodentia family.

For the Love of Everything

For the Love of All Seasons

Lastly, I want to mention a little garden calendar book, For the Love of All Seasons, which got lost in the mail on its way to my new address. Valerie Vaughn of Colrain did the line drawings to accompany a text by her good friend Geoff Allison who passed away last year. Allison was born blind, but he had an intimate relationship with the plants that he brought into his life and wrote about.

For the Love of All Seasons is a compilation of essays he wrote some years ago. He had an amazing knowledge of history and botany. He never mentions color, but his sensitivity to fragrance, texture, and sometimes taste are palpable. Always he is aware of the ‘aliveness’ of each plant.

Allison’s essays are interspersed with calendar pages, but when the days of 2016 have passed this modest book will have earned a place on your shelf, ready to refresh your own ideas of the ‘aliveness’ of the plants in your garden. It is available at McCuskers for $16 and at Collective Copies for $12.


Between the Rows   February 27, 2016