These books, along with other recently published gardening books, were reviewed in our Winter Newsletter. We’ll be adding new reviews weekly, so be sure to check back regularly for more!
A Beginner’s Guide to Succulent Gardening
By Taku Furuya
Paperback, 96 pgs
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; English translation-March, 2019
Reviewer: Jody Morgan
Step-by step skillfully drawn illustrations and detailed instructions guide the reader from purchase to potting and on through care and propagation. Most of the several succulent species described are listed as easy to cultivate. The final chapter includes a few like lithops that are difficult to maintain.
However, this book lacks some information the novice grower needs. Cold tolerance temperatures are missing. None of the plants described is hardy in New England. Most need protection below 40°F and a few won’t tolerate temperatures below 50°F. The excellent graphics showing care and exposure during each month of the year are drawn for a climate where these plants only need to be indoors from December-February.
The recommended soil mixes include specialty items more familiar to bonsai enthusiasts than the average home gardener. For Echeverias, for example, Furuya suggests: “Mix 5 parts small-grain Akadama, 3 parts Kanuma soil and 2 parts mulch for a ratio that has good drainage, water retention and breathability. Add a layer of gravel like large-grain Akadama or pumice to the bottom of the pot.” Akadama is made of clay pellets. Kanuma soil is composed of volcanic rock. Both are available online.
For anyone experienced enough to check hardiness and enthused enough to follow Furuya’s advice, success with succulents seems assured. There’s even a chapter on Tillandsias, commonly called air plants.
Life in the Garden
By Penelope Lively
Paperback, 199 pgs
Publisher: Penguin Books; 2019 (first published in GB 2017)
Reviewer: Jody Morgan
From her perspective as a best-selling novelist, avid reader and life-long lover of horticultural pursuits, Penelope Lively leads the reader along a philosophical ramble examining the roles gardens play in art and literature, how dominant designers have shaped taste and most importantly how actually getting down in the dirt transforms the dedicated gardener’s concept of time. Like a stroll through a series of mental garden rooms, Lively’s text alternates from focused observations on the work of a single painter or author to a broad view of the impact of both imagined and actual gardens.
Claude Monet described his garden as “my most beautiful masterpiece.” Yet Lively notes that his series of water lily paintings transcends the immediate experience of seeing or filming the garden. “The photograph reports; the painting examines, interprets, expands.” Examining the way writers use gardens to establish mood, Lively highlights Daphne du Maurier’s opening chapter of Rebecca setting the stage with a dreamed return to the sinister scene of action. “The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high, twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs …”
After analyzing the influence of landscape designers from Capability Brown to Gertrude Jekyll, Lively concludes that contemporary gardeners “are opportunists, not slaves to fashion. Most know a good thing when they see one, and are pragmatic enough to change course if that looks expedient.” Speaking from personal experience, she asserts: “A garden is never just now; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow; it does not allow time its steady progress.”
Replete with quotations gardeners will cherish for years to come, Lively’s slim volume is meant to be savored. “Gardening we step beyond the dictation of time. We create order. We design and direct.”
Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening: Rare Varieties – Unusual Options – Plant Lore and Guidance
By Matt Mattus
Hardcover, 272 pgs
Publisher: Quarto Publishing Group; January, 2019
Reviewer: Beth Ann Loveland Sennett
If you have begun to think that your vegetable garden selections are a bit mundane, or that your planting and growing patterns have become a little bit stale, it may be time to read Matt Mattus’s Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening for some inspiration.
Matt represents the third generation of his family farming in Worcester, Massachusetts. This gardening book describes tried and true methods for growing everything from kohlrabi to tomatoes, parsley, and onions. Some of the approaches promoted are age-old, such as crop rotation and use of cover crops to restore soil health. Other methods such as strategic use of containers and floating row covers may be new to you.
Matt’s beautiful photographs of his own farm, gardens, and produce will motivate you to think differently about what you want to grow. Once you have read Matt’s celtuce story, you will want to grow it, and his photos will help you to confirm that decision. Celtuce is a true stem lettuce, not a cross between asparagus and lettuce or celery and lettuce. Its stem is peeled, sliced, and eaten raw or stir fried. If celtuce does not interest you, look at Matt’s okra blooms, and you may decide to grow okra as an ornamental.
Book sections are devoted to artichokes (which I have never considered growing until now), asparagus, rhubarb, garlic, onions, and the lovely leek. I have multiple onion varieties in my garden, inherited or gifted, and Matt’s informative passages and photographs clarified the planting, harvesting, and storing of my alliums.
Mattus writes about what he learned from growing bitter melon and why he keeps growing it, which most readers will find instructive. This book may put you on the path to thinking about new vegetables and recipes, and your personal goals and reasons for growing. The book is clear and well-organized; the advice and recommendations are thoughtful and informative, and Matt’s stories and reflections are entertaining. The photos make this a worthy coffee table volume, but it is way too valuable to leave it there unopened. Find one idea you can adopt to grow a little bit smarter and more successfully next year. Artichokes, perhaps?
The Tree Book; Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes and Gardens
By Michael A. Dirr and Keith S. Warren
Hardcover, 939 pgs
Publisher: Timber Press; April, 2019
Reviewer: Janet Leonberger
Some good news: Planting a trillion trees can combat global climate change, according to a July report published this summer in Science journal. The bad news: the trend is backward. A 2015 Yale study said of 6 trillion trees on earth we are losing about 15 billion per year. A trillion trees can soak up as much carbon pollution as humans have created in the past 25 years. There is enough room, about 3.5 million square miles, mostly in 6 nations including the US, to plant those trees even allowing for cities and farming needs.
This handsome book can help achieve that goal. Dirr’s academic horticulture work intersected Warren’s nursery management and tree production work. Their professional friendship has germinated ideas and plant production for over 30 years.
The introductory essay catalogs civic, psychological, scientific, aesthetic and economic value of trees as well as current production practices and disease control progress. Thereafter, the emphasis is on usefulness in the landscape for homeowners, gardeners, landscapers and urban foresters who question how to select therighttreefortherightlocation.Treesin the book were included if they are available, promising or underutilized. Listings apply most to zones 3-7.
Articles are arranged alphabetically under scientific name in a format similar to Dirr’s older tree books and include new cultivars and also trademark names in bold print. Clear color photos support entries which describe foliage, flowers, fruits, cones, native range, adaptability, landscape and street use and availability, among noteworthy features. Occasional humor peeks in here as in the other books. Example: (re monkey puzzle tree) “You would be a foolish monkey to try to climb through these.”
Get it as a holiday gift, read it all winter and plant trees in the spring. We know what we have to do. Let’s get crackin’.
Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants
By Jessica Walliser
Paperback, 200 pages
Publisher: Cool Springs Press; June 2019
Reviewer: Karen Tolan
Especially developed for the time conscious gardener with a desire for a beautiful garden and less maintenance, Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants; Edibles and Ornamentals for Small Space Gardening, introduces the reader to more than 150 edible and ornamental plants that are smaller and more compact than those you may be familiar with.
The author leads the reader through a logical progression of topics in her chapters that include how to define and recognize compact plants, where to find and how to select them, and how to plant and maintain them. A thought-provoking chapter is devoted to landscape design, in which Jessica presents ten small space plans, submitted by ten different landscape designers from different regions in the USA. Another especially good chapter is devoted to incorporating compact plants as problem solvers in the landscape, for example to extend the growing season, attract more pollinators, or provide more winter interest.
Almost half of the pages in the book are devoted to specific plant profiles that include perennials, trees, shrubs, fruits, and an especially good section on compact varieties of vegetables. Plant profiles are full of specific details, including pictures, typical plant details, and particularly good information on planting, care and pruning or harvesting for success.
Do you know Helesia carolina ‘UConn Wedding Bells’, Clethra alnifolia ‘Crystalina’, or Chelone oblique ‘Tiny Tortuga?’ If sowing seeds is the plan for small space vegetable and herb gardening this year, try some ‘Little Gem’ Lettuce, ‘Little Finger’ Carrots, or ‘Fairy Tale’ Eggplant. Don’t forget the herbs, like ‘Spicy Globe’ Basil and ‘Elfin’ Thyme.
Once again, Jessica Walliser, award winning radio co-host and author, delivers an information-packed guide for either novice or experienced gardeners. Small space gardening is coming alive in the landscape of America, in raised beds, patio containers, petite yards, and community plots. Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants; Edibles and Ornamentals for Small Space Gardening is a great place to start or fine tune your plant selections for many seasons to come!
A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season
By Margaret Roach (an update to her 1998 book)
Paperback, 316 pages
Publisher: Timber Press; April, 2019
Reviewer: Sarah Torff
Several decades ago when I purchased my first home, the word “garden” evoked swaths of never-ending color. Though I had a knack for indoor plants, my notions about the landscape were informed by glossy commercial garden magazines and glamorous artsy coffee table books filled with stunning photos. I knew nothing about the varied and changing nature of outdoor plants and looked upon landscape gardens, as Roach calls them, “outdoor decorating.”
Ms. Roach’s latest book A Way to Garden upends these popular commercial notions and invites the novice as well as the master gardener to approach gardening not as a process of making things “better” but one of listening, of connecting the successive changes in the cycles of our garden plants to the larger environment and our personal lives. To this end Roach has organized each section of the book around the life cycle: conception, birth, youth, adulthood senescence death and afterlife. She finds this anthropomorphic view “… comforting, a handle to hold when trying to remember what to do when reviewing the incessant chores list. It also reminds me that this gardening stuff is not just a hobby…. the medium is alive, and always changing and no, you are never really in charge for a second… something larger is always at work…”
Roach creatively and with great integrity weaves the practicalities of each cycle of gardening into her larger perspective on why we bother with this endeavor at all. Most topics cover the basics: plants for birds, planting zones, mulches, fall cleanup. But Roach also amplifies and offers some fresh takes on the topics drilled into every experienced gardener: underplanting, cover crops, etc. The uniqueness of this book is her framing the practical within the boundaries of seasonal cycles and their connections to our inner as well as outer lives. Her introductions to each chapter are personal but relevant and refrain from the TMI that invades much of current personal writing. She includes animals in her book: not just the “good” or “bad” insects and critters, but how they too connect to this vast network. And yes, the photographs are beautiful; but they are not included as a standard to be met but rather an invitation to reflect on how the beauty that emerges from sound practice is grounded in acceptance of the larger ebb and flow of nature.
Perhaps this is a book that could only have been written from the perspective of someone firmly planted in adulthood; after decades having gained an appreciation for the “big picture.” Through practical advice, photos and personal reflection, Roach illustrates how these beautiful things called plants incarnate the cycles of our personal and collective lives: slow to emerge, often dry, but at each stage filled with their own beauty and color.