Books I Recommend


Daisies tell, and what do they have to say to gardeners? That these pretty posies that flower in field and meadow are sure to have something to add to your garden. John Sutton in The Plantfinder's Guide to Daisies (Timber Press, $34.95) presents a plethora of these popular plants. There are hundreds of dozens of daisies, over 25,000 species all told. It is just skimming the very surface if you only think of the hardy white ox-eye daisies of summer roadsides, purple asters and goldenrods of autumn, or tender dahlias in the summer garden. This book introduces a wide variety of familiar and less well-known daisies. How you design them into a garden is your business. The plant chapters are sensibly arranged to help with this: sunflowers, yellow daisies, Michaelmas daisies (hah, that's fall asters to us colonists), chrysanthemums you get the idea. A very pleasant useful book for anyone with a garden of flowers.
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Should you feel more of a yardener than gardener or horticulturist, and somewhat overwhelmed by the erudite tone of some how-to gardening books then you'll enjoy Better Homes and Gardens Perennials for... by C. Colston Burrell (Meredith Books/ Better Homes and Gardens, $29.95.) Though including descriptions of many plants, this book focuses more on flower garden design, including a chapter on such elements of design as color, form and texture. Burrell suggests using nature as a model for garden design, working with the ecology of soil, sunlight, and moisture to choose the appropriate plants for a shady site, one with moist soil, and others. There are excellent descriptions of the plants accompanied by beautiful photographs throughout the book. The author has a degree in landscape architecture, and a passion for plants.
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A Garden in Lucca : Finding Paradise in...(hard cover) by Paul Gervais (Hyperion, $23.95) is a relaxing read. Chronicle of the author's journey down the garden path, the book introduces us to the landscape, Italianate garden style, regional history, and neighbors of Villa Massei. Never one to tend the soil before he and his partner purchased a dilapidated hunting lodge in Tuscany, complete with olive grove and vineyard, Gervais' efforts to restore the overgrown gardens becomes a personal investigation of time and place. Reading as easily as a good novel, this is a pleasant conversation with a fellow gardener, not a how-to book about horticulture. It reminds me of many of Beverly Nichols books the same delightful amalgam of erudite friends, odd acquaintances, special plants, garden accoutrements, personal exploration, challenges and achievements. Of suitably small size, this is a book to take with you into a hammock on a lazy afternoon. A Garden in Lucca : Finding Paradise in...is also available in soft cover.
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I have a particular fondness for native plants. (And can hear my husband muttering sotto voice, "Yes, and any other plant she ever met too!") The New England Wild Flower Society... by William Cullina (Houghton Mifflin, $40.00) tells how to propagate and grow nearly a thousand herbaceous perennial wildflowers. As population growth and concomitant development put ever-increasing pressure on natural areas, it behooves us to grow native plants in our gardens. One thing holding back their use is propagation unless plants can be easily multiplied they may only be commercially available as wild collected material which is a poor ethical choice. Cullina writes about cultivation first, and there are a few lines for each plant with information about hardiness zones, soil types, where found, and flowering period. There's a line or two about propagation easy or difficult from seed, and vegetative methods. A page reference sends the reader to the separate section on propagation, where detailed information about seed treatment, germination requirements, and more provides a lucid guide to what's essential. Asexual propagation by stem and root cuttings is also discussed. A useful book both for the gardener and from the propagator's point of view.
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Ferns ought to be more popular. Deer do not eat ferns, a big plus in my part of the country. Many ferns grow in shade, a typical habitat in our locale. Perhaps the difficulty lies in a lack of knowledge and an assumption that ferns are these plants that grow in soggy, boggy places and look pretty much alike. The Plantfinder's Guide to Garden Ferns... by Martin Rickard (Timber Press, $34.95) will set the record straight. The book has much to recommend it, not only descriptions of a tasty assortment of ferns, but also sound cultural information and recommendations of ferns for different uses. Ferns are elegant plants that come in a diversity of sizes from large to small, they may be deciduous or evergreen, running or clumping define your requirements, then select the fern that fits your needs. And, if propagation interests you, there's a chapter on the mystical, magical alteration of generations, and how you too can raise ferns from spores. Ferns reproduce in so unique a manner that it was once thought that fern seed could make one invisible. Harry Potter, are you reading this?
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If you'd rather KISS (keep it simple, sweetheart) then Organic Gardening has a nice little series, Rodale's Organic Gardening Basics. Volume one is about lawns, volume two about soils, volume three about vegetables, and volume four is on roses. ($14.95 each.) The basic premise of all four titles is "Go Organic!" and each one starts with some simple "Stop" suggestions: stop mowing your lawn too short, stop compacting the soil, stop throwing kitchen scraps in the garbage (compost them instead), and stop buying (roses) on impulse. Simple text discusses the how and why, as well as the benefits of the organic approach. What's that brown patch on your lawn (with a picture of the ugly stuff), which grasses are susceptible (all of them), what causes it (cutting the grass too short, poor drainage, over-watering) and how to get rid of it organically. If this method of gardening is something you have thought about, perhaps wanted to try but were unsure of what might be involved, these well illustrated, easy to follow little books are just the thing. Each explores a specific topic, and could either be read cover to cover, or kept available for easy reference when you have a question or want to master a specific technique. Other titles in this series include Perennials (Rodale Organic Gardening..., Compost (Rodale Organic Gardening Basics), Pests (Rodale Organic Gardening Basics,..., and Organic Gardening Basics : Herbs (Rodale...
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One of the most popular garden concepts to find its way from England to our shores is that of the cottage garden. A happy blend of perennials and bulbs, annuals and vegetables, shrubs and more in a relaxed and casual, "anything goes" style, accompanied by a mental picture of a sweet, thatched-roof cottage covered with a tumble of pink roses and the stately spires of delphiniums. Thatched cottages being in the decided minority on our shores, some changes are necessary if the concept is to be translated into our gardens' language. Creating a Cottage Garden in North... by Stephen Westcott-Gratton (Fulcrum Publishing, $29.95) nicely fills such needs. First define your terms, says my husband (who is an engineer.) And that's what the book does, explaining what is a cottage garden, how it developed, and only then going on to creating one. There is basic information about climatic zones, soils and their amendments, drought-tolerant plants, which vegetables require heavy feeding and which do not good foundation information. The author's focus is on organic, but not to an exclusionary extent. Lovely information on such rustic plants as foxgloves and sweet William, hollyhocks and poppies, as well as a handful of bulbs, a selection of herbs, some heirloom vegetables.
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The Tree & Shrub Finder : Choosing the... by Robert Kourik (Taunton Press, $27.95) is a useful book whose author is determined to see that you select the best possible choice for a specific situation. He indicates a given selection's adaptability to clay or sand, wind and drought, deer resistance, natural bird feeding capability. Do you want a formal hedge or evergreen screen? There's such useful information as how to shape the hedgerow, and why; its permeability to wind (and you might be surprised to learn that the densest evergreens might not be the best choice!) Only then does he get down to options and plant selection. Using trees for summer cooling and winter shelter; choosing and planting street trees to avoid cracking pavement and tortured pruning; how to plant, stake, water and more makes this a very useful book indeed.
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Sonja Nelson's Rhododendrons in the Landscape (Timber Press, $29.95) is a charming and practical book filled with suggestions about what you might do with rhododendrons. It stretches far beyond the usual foundation planting. There's discussion of the options and possibilities using species and cultivars of rhododendrons and azaleas in many different garden settings. Use them in a shaded woodland garden. Choose dwarf rhododendrons for a small garden. Combine rhododendrons with perennials in a mixed border. Or, in the native plant garden, focus on native rhododendrons. In the last instance Nelson would have us begin with an inventory of the site and consider the choices, then improve and plant these beautiful shrubs. There are some excellent suggestions for companion plants too, North American native trees, shrubs, and perennials that would happily, and aesthetically, blend with the rhododendrons. Each chapter ends with a brief suggested reading list, much more sensible and useful than alphabetical bibliography with everything together in an appendix. Some line drawing and a section of color photographs round out a helpful, well-written book.
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