There comes a time when a gardener just throws up her hands and says “I can’t do this anymore!” She doesn’t really mean she can’t do it at all, she just can’t do it all the way she has been. That moment came for Kerry Ann Mendez when her husband was in a terrible accident, broke his neck and had to retire. Mendez then needed to work full time and could no longer spend long hours tending her extensive gardens.
There are other reasons for throwing up our hands, full time employment while taking care of young children, or waking up one morning and realizing you are no long 30 years old, or even 60 years old. The time has come, as Mendez says, to create The Right Size Flower Garden.
Mendez’s book, The Right Size Flower Garden (St. Lynn’s Press$19.95) is chatty, a real gardener to gardener conversation about the ways that our outdoor spaces can be simplified. The book is filled with photographs, before and after right-sizing, of her own gardens.
Gardens change over the years. There is no way to stop them changing. All of us have stories about plants we used to have, and about how we have moved a plant all around the garden until we found the perfect spot. By the time Mendez gets to Chapter 3 she says, “We are approaching the elimination round . . . which gardens will remain as they are, which can be revamped, and which will be removed.” Then she steps forward to find ways to reduce work and expense 50% – while keeping the garden as beautiful as it ever was.
Mendez is the Queen of Lists. I find myself often turning to her earlier book The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists: 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7. That title says it all, and she includes many lists in The Right Size Garden. These lists separate plants by category, plants for sun or shade, lists of long lived perennials, long lived bulbs, tidy evergreens, flowering shrubs, plants for containers and many more. She knows that one of the easiest ways to cut down labor in the garden is to put the right plant and in the right spot and these wonderful lists with many enticing photographs will help you make good choices.
The sections that were of particular interest to me were those focusing on ground covers like sedums, creeping thyme and pink sundrops for sunny areas, and shade loving groundcovers like epimediums, ajuga, tiarella, and sweet woodruff, as well as shrubs that don’t require complicated pruning like fothergilla, viburnams, and daphnes. And trees, of course, redbuds, fringe tree, and stewartia. Can you tell I like springtime bloom?
Annuals are not forgotten. If you want color and flowers all season you must have annuals. The RightSizeGarden is not a big book, but you will find yourself turning to it as long as you are searching for the right size for your garden.
While I am not a bird watcher (I can barely tell big birds from little birds) I do love to have birds in the garden. I enjoy their mostly unidentified songs, and their occasional antics. Now that we no longer have cats there is a bird feeder or two in my future.
Still even with a bird feeder sited where I can watch activities unseen, I will never see the activity shown in the beautifully photographed book Into the Nest: Intimate views of the courting, parenting, and family lives of familiar birds by Laura Erickson and Marie Read. (Storey $16.95).
Erickson and Read have compiled an extraordinary array of photographs of the nests, courtship displays, eggs hatching, and the feeding of nestlings of 25 bird species from blue jays to yellow warblers. I will never see a group of naked baby flickers sleeping inside their log home and nest, or see a hummingbird gather up the necessary spider silk as she builds a nest that is stretchy and can expand as her nestlings grow.
And who knew that baby birds actually need lessons to get on in the world. I thought they were born knowing what to do, but they need to learn their distinctive songs, and young birds in some species like cranes remain with their parents through the first winter in order to absorb all the necessary life lessons.
Those raucous American crows are very devoted, mating for life and maintaining a relationship with their young, and their neighbors, throughout their lives. The brood of one year even help raise the brood of the next year. Blue jays also mate for life and kissing is a part of their courtship. Each chapter is short and information is arranged so that it is easy to compare the habits of one species with another.
Laura Erickson has written seven books about birds, won the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Lifetime Achievement Award, and contributes to Cornell Ornithology Lab’s All About Birds website, www.allaboutbirds.org. Marie Read has written three books and her photographs and articles have appeared in many magazines including Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birds and Blooms and National Geographic. Together they have created a book that is a delight for the novice and experienced bird watcher and bird lover.
Between the Rows May 23, 2015