Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Part IV - Charlotte Germane Shares Great Garden Books

Books in the garden. Photo by spakattacks on Flickr
After visiting Seattle, Toronto, Philadelphia and Nova Scotia, this multi-part series has landed in Nevada City, California to hear more about how great garden books inspire writers.

Charlotte Germane gardens in California, but it's not all tender succulents for her. In fact, her garden in Nevada City has four seasons and snow in Zone 7b. In this scenic area, Charlotte says her plant choices are limited by two requirements: "deer-resistance and drought-tolerance."

When she's not gardening, she's blogging for Dirt du jour: Northern California and Daffodil Planter. Or tweeting as @DaffodilPlanter.

One of Charlotte's favorite garden books is based on a love that started when she was a 22-year-old transplant to Washington, D.C.

The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell

Charlotte first became a fan of Henry Mitchell's writing after reading his Earthman garden columns in The Washington Post religiously each Sunday. "After a few readings he convinced me I would never find happiness in life unless I had a water lily pool, some climbing roses, and a grapevine."

Charlotte admits, "I have none of those things today (they'd be favorites of my neighbors, the mule deer), but I re-read his collected columns every winter."

Courtesy of David Neumeyer

In his writing, the author called tall bearded irises, "princes of the vegetable kingdom," explains Charlotte. "Well, he's my king."

You can learn more about the late Henry Mitchell, the distinguished garden columist for The Washington Post, here.   

Another one of Charlotte's favorite books comes from another gardening role model ... this time from the world of fashion.

Dirt: The Lowdown on Growing a Garden With Style by Dianne Benson

Courtesy of Dianne B.
"Dianne B writes with brio about tackling a garden and making it your own," says Charlotte. "Re-reading Dirt each winter always makes me feel like I can do just about anything come spring. After all, in just a few years Dianne took her Hamptons garden from a wilderness to a stop on the same garden tour with Martha Stewart."
Dianne B. was "a big name in fashion and her well-developed taste shines through," she says. "Of course, a fashion maven had to include a chapter on what to wear while gardening."

According to Charlotte, this book is "worth the price just for the detailed plant lists."

Now that spring is approaching, it's time to get outside and get planting. Look for more gardening-related tips soon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Part III - Robin Haglund Shares Great Garden Books

Garden reference books are popular, but so are garden-related
fiction and biographies. Photo by BrewBooks on Flickr.
In an ongoing search for great garden books, this multi-part series has traveled everywhere from the city lights of Toronto (Part II) to remote Nova Scotia and historic Philadelphia (Part I).  This time, we're heading to the Northwest, specifically the scenic city of Seattle.

Robin Haglund is a professional garden coach and award-winning garden designer, who is passionate about cultivating beautiful and sustainable outdoor spaces. Although she has gardened, ranched and farmed in Virginia and all over California, Robin is now settled in Seattle (Zone 8).

For more than a decade, Robin has created gardens everywhere from the parking strip in front of her house to the driveway in the back. She says, "As with every garden, mine is a labor of love, always in progress."

As passionate about reading as she is about gardening, Robin admits, "I always have a mountain of books piled on my bedside table, by the sofa and loaded into my iPhone book apps. I gravitate to literature for a good read, while reference books are used for just that ... reference."

Although Robin agrees with Helen Battersby that Michael A. Dirr's books are excellent, adding that Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs should be a "must-have book for any serious hort-head," she selected a biography as one of her favorite garden books.

The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and The Business of Breeding Plants by Jane Smith

This mix of history, botany and biography was the recipient of the Caroline Bancroft History Prize for the best book in Western American history.  It tells the story of plant breeding legend Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa, California, who was the world's most famous gardener a century ago.

"This biography of intrepid plant breeder Luther Burbank is a can't-put-it-down tale of Burbank's amazing life story," reports Robin. "I have a hard time agreeing with the idea of plant patents and ownership of nature. But reading this book gave me a stronger appreciation for the work that goes into developing new plants."

She adds, "I understand now why a breeder deserves credit and money for their developments. They can take decades and can transform what we eat for generations."

After reading this book, Robin now believes that "transforming food, through plant cultivation, isn't always a bad thing. Each time I bake a russet potato (the most widely grown cultivar in U.S.) or yank out yet another self-seeded Shasta Daisy, I think back on this fun read ... whether I'm enjoying a delicious meal or cursing Burbank for those darn stinky daisies."

Another favorite is The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs: Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw

Robin hosts a couple of honeybee hives with Corky Luster of Ballard Bee Company, so she certainly knows more than most about pollinators and insects.

Still she admits, "It's taken me years to find an insect guide that really works for me. Many guides let you look up insects by names to determine whether they are good or bad, and how to deal with them."

This book does that too, according to Robin, but what really differentiates the guide is the "fantastic set of photos showing insects in all stages of life."

"You can match a photo in the book to the critter you just pulled off the shrub," explains Robin. "You'll easily find your way to useful details on insect life cycles, controls, host plants, predators and more. If that isn't enough, the index gets down to the nitty-gritty."

Last fall, she found a shiny, gold beetle, so she looked up "golden bugs." Voila! Within minutes, she had identified her insect as "a bindweed-eatin' Golden Tortoise Beetle. Fantastic!"

Find Robin:

Stay Tuned: Seasonal Wisdom is off to Northern California to share more great garden books.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Part II - Helen Battersby Shares Great Garden Books

With so many good gardening books, it's hard to pick just one.
Photo by ulle.b on Flickr

Spring is right around the corner, so it's the perfect time to reach for a garden book. In Part I of this series, I traveled from the remote shores of Nova Scotia to a hundred-year-old Philadelphia neighborhood to learn about great garden books. This time, I turn to the cosmopolitan city of Toronto to get more tips.

Helen Battersby is one-half of the popular Toronto Gardens blog, which she created with her sister Sarah. An avid reader, this blogger says her bookshelves rival the size of her small city garden in Toronto's east end. 

Also known as the "microgarden," Helen's city plot is USDA Zone 5 or Canadian Zone 6. Garden books keep her inspired, as she waits for a long, cold winter to turn into spring.

A self-proclaimed "treehugger," Helen says one of her all-time favorite resources is Michael A. Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

"This book has comprehensive descriptions of just about every tree, shrub or vine in cultivation," says Helen. "That includes the relative merits of different cultivars. Dirr's writing is both authoritative and refreshingly opinionated."

Helen's dog-eared 1990 software copy lacks the color photos of more recent editions. But she finds the detailed line drawings handy for plant identification.

"Imagine my pleasure when I discovered Dirr's book is now an iPhone app from Timber Press," she explains. "At $12.99, it's my priciest app to date. But it's worth every cent, because it contains the entire book contents, plus color photos as well as handy search, favoriting and emailing capabilities."

The iPhone app is more portable than her phone book-sized print copy. But the print version still retains "a place of honor" on Helen's bookshelf.

Another favorite is Lee Schneller's The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden: A Blueprint for Continuous Color.  According to Helen, "Whether you're starting from scratch or filling gaps in an existing garden, the author's five-step system for planning continuous garden interest is simple and do-able."

The author also includes information on 200 easy-care plants. But with cultivars multiplying rapidly, as well as zone challenges in different regions, Helen says it is "the planning techniques that are of greatest value in this book. I expect to use them frequently."

Find Helen:

What's Next? Tune in next time for great garden book tips from an award-winning landscape designer in Seattle.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Part I - Favorite Garden Books of Jodi DeLong and Carole Browne

Loads of books to read. Photo by maubrowncow on Flickr.

On cold winter days nothing beats the pleasure of curling up with a good book and a hot drink. That's especially true for gardeners ... who must patiently wait until Mother Nature allows them to finally play in the dirt again.

That's why I asked some garden writers and bloggers to share their favorite gardening books.  Here's what they had to say:

Jodi DeLong is a garden writer, who lives on 7 acres (Zone 5b) in a rural site in Nova Scotia, Canada, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. 

With "hundreds of books" in her library, Jodi is often found with a good book in her hand. And soon, she'll have her own book to hold when Plants for Atlantic Gardens (authored by Jodi) comes out in February - March 2011.

Meanwhile, here are two gardening books Jodi highly recommends:

Native Plants for North American Gardens by Allan Armitage

"Any of Armitage's books are excellent," says Jodi. "But I am especially fond of this book because he looks at natives using a North American perspective - as opposed to merely a county/state/province perspective."

As Jodi explains, "A plant may not be native to my area, but I still plant it knowing it is native elsewhere. And given the right growing conditions it will prosper here too. I'm not a natives-only sort of gardener but have always been interested in them. Reading Armitage's book gives me a far wider perspective on great plants from our continent."

Another one of Jodi's favorites?

Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury

"Anything that Oudolf writes is worth having," says Jodi. "And Kingsbury is no slouch either. I love this book because it shows how to use certain plants - mostly perennials and some grasses - in wonderful ways, with large drifts focusing on texture, light and foliage color as well as flower or seedhead. They edge into four-season gardening, which I love."

Find Jodi:

Carole Brown gardens in Philadelphia (Zone 6b) in a neighborhood more than 100 years old. The many majestic, old trees in her area can sometimes cause problems with roofs and electric services, but they are home to a large number of birds, especially woodpeckers.

As creator of Ecosystem Gardening, Carole says, "My greatest joy is watching the butterflies, bees and birds who call my garden home. Who needs TV?"

Here are two of her favorite gardening books:

Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East
by Carolyn Summers                                                             

 "Many gardeners are reluctant to use native plants in their gardens because of the stereotype that native plants look wild and messy," explains Carole.

"Carolyn Summers breaks this stereotype down," she says, "by teaching gardeners how to design any style of garden using native plants. She covers formal gardens, cottage gardens, knot gardens and even Japanese style gardens. Summers has included plant lists and resources for each garden style, plus an entire chapter on how to best locate and purchase native plants."

Another favorite book explains how to create meadows in your garden.

Urban and Surburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces
by Catherine Zimmerman

"A meadow is much more than a collection of wildflowers," says Carole. "It is a living ecosystem which supports butterflies, pollinators, birds and other wildlife. Most books about meadows ignore this fact."

According to Carole, this book does a great job of describing how a meadow community is made when native plants are used correctly to create a garden full of life.

"The book thoroughly describes the process," says Carole. "There are helpful tips for evaluating your site, preparing your space, planting your meadow and maintaining it. Plant lists for every area of the country are featured, as well as a thorough list of local and regional resources to help you make the best plant choices for your areas."

Find Carole:

Gardening books galore! Photo by Canton Public Library (MI)
So, as the snowflakes fall and the winter temperatures keep dropping, be sure to pull out a good book to keep you inspired. More great book suggestions are coming soon from your favorite garden writers and bloggers. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables

If you've read Seasonal Wisdom before, you know that I love heirloom vegetables. From purple beans and spotted lettuces to long red radishes that look more like carrots ... I'm hooked on the old, open-pollinated vegetables of the past. Especially if they have a charming history behind them as well. 

That's why I was excited that my friend Chris McLaughlin authored the newly released Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables.  A few months ago, I spoke with Chris on Nest in Style about heirlooms, and she shared stories about these interesting old vegetable varieties. Listen to the interview.

'Chinese Red Noodle' beans are an unique Asian heirloom
that produce all summer.
About the Book:  The new Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables helps introduce mainstream America to the wonders of heritage vegetables in a simple, conversational language that the general public will appreciate.

Using skills culled from writing for The Herbal Companion, and other well-known publications, Chris does a good job of bringing alive such subjects as:
  • What is genetic diversity in vegetables, and why should you care?
  • The sex life of vegetable plants, and why you don't want cross-pollination.
  • Ten questions to ask yourself before choosing your heirlooms.
  • Some creative ways to share your wealth (of heirlooms seeds), and learn about new types.
Readers will find an entire chapter on seed saving, as well as tried and true gardening tips to help beginners.

Companion planting and beneficial insects are touched upon. Compost is covered briefly too, which isn't surprising as Chris authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Compost. I was glad to find a chart of seed starting tips with handy information on when to plant, soil temperatures, spacing and germination times.

This beautiful 'Cylindra' beet is a Danish heirloom
that's tender and sweet.
Chris plays fair when explaining the pros and cons of growing hybrid vegetables versus heirlooms -- recognizing that both can bring benefits to our gardens. Sometimes you may want a hybrid tomato plant with extra disease resistance. But at least this book will introduce you to some gorgeous and delicious old heirlooms too.

My favorite part of the book are the descriptions of the individual varieties. Chris describes hundreds of different heirlooms, and even reveals a few histories behind certain ones like 'Mostoller Wild Goose' beans. Personally, I would have liked to have found even more of these fascinating stories in the book.

An extra plus is the companion website with color photos of the described heirlooms. (See examples above.)

My verdict: Gardeners eager to start exploring the world of heirloom vegetables will find lots to like in this new addition to The Complete Idiot's Guide series.

Connect with Chris:
On Twitter: @Suburban_Farmer

Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of this book, but my opinion is strictly my own.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Seven Ways to Recycle Christmas Trees

A  pine needle-infused bath is just one
earth-friendly way to reuse your Christmas tree.
About 13 million Christmas trees were cut and sold last year, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Unfortunately, many ended up in the holiday trash.

Here are eight better ways to reuse your Christmas tree after the holidays:

1. Recycle It: Many communities around the United States offer recycling programs for properly prepared Christmas trees. First, remove ornaments, tinsel, nails and stands. If your tree is taller than 6 feet, cut in half.

Trees that have been flocked, painted or fireproofed cannot be recycled ... something to keep in mind when you shop for Christmas trees each year.

2. Feed the Birds: Set the tree outside and decorate with orange slices, cranberries or popcorn. The birds will love the winter feast. Be sure to remove all tinsel, lights and decorations first.

3. Chip It: Run Christmas trees through chippers or shredders to make mulch for garden paths. Chips also make effective bulk for compost piles. Always strip trees of decorations first.

4. Mulch: Remove needles and use to mulch garden, conserve water and fight weeds. The needles are especially appropriate for acid-loving plants. Later, use tree to support climbing beans or sweet peas in warmer months.

Photo by doortoriver on Flickr
 5. Protect Wildlife: Consider leaving the tree outside to decompose naturally and provide wildlife cover for birds, rabbits and other small animals. Over time, trees decay and add nutrients to soil.

6. Smell It: Make aromatic portpourri. Combine dry, crumbled needles with cloves, broken cinnamon sticks, dried orange peel and orrisroot. Add a few drops of fir, cedar, pine, orange and/or cinnamon essential oil(s). Keep covered for at least a week so scents blend. Stir regularly. Display in bowls or use as stuffing for scented pillows.

7. Take a Bath: Soaking in a pine needle-infused bath is popular in Europe's Alps. In fact, pine is widely used for muscle pain, rheumatism and circulation problems, according to "The Herb Society of America's Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses," (Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2001).

For a homemade remedy, infuse pine needles in oil. Fill a glass Mason jar with washed needles and sweet almond oil. Close tightly and place in sunny spot. Steep at least three weeks. For stronger oil, steep longer. Use as a massage or bath oil.

Never use trees sprayed with fire retardant or other artificial substances in bath tea or oil. Ingredients listed here are safe for most people, but always check for skin sensitivities before using.

What's your favorite way to recycle a Christmas tree?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fun Facts About Christmas

Christmas has a rich history filled with lots of little-known facts. Consider these unusual facts ... or these fun facts you might not know:

Birth of the Sun: Christmas and the winter solstice have more in common than you think. The birth of Jesus was assigned to various dates for more than 300 years, but never much celebrated.

In the fourth century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine moved the holiday to Dec. 25. The Julian calendar used at the time erroneously considered Dec. 25 to be the winter solstice.

Many early civilizations, including Ancient Rome, believed the winter solstice - the year's longest night - symbolized the birthday of the sun and the return of the light. The annual event was extremely important for these early cultures - depending as they did on the natural elements to survive. The solstice seemed an appropriate day to celebrate Christmas.

Here's a winter solstice menu, with delicious recipes from Helen Yoest, yours truly, Blue Moon Evolution Cafe, and Kelly Senser of the National Wildlife Federation.

The Giving Tradition: Today, it's hard to imagine Christmas without gifts. But it wasn't always so. The tradition dates back to the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, held on the days leading up to the winter solstice. Kalends of January - the New Year - was another important gift-giving time.

As the Greek Libanius explained, "The impulse to spend seizes everyone ... a stream of presents pours itself out on all sides."

This was why the early Church considered gift giving to be a pagan holdover. And they frowned upon the practice for centuries. Instead, gifts were given on Twelfth Night (January 6) instead.

Since that's not the case now, here are last-minute gift ideas from the Nest in Style podcast.

"At Christmas we banquet, the rich with the poor,
Who then (but the miser) but openeth his door?
Thomas Tusser, 1524-1580

A Slow Start: Christmas ranked low as a holiday for centuries. Many traditions had pre-Christian roots and the early Church wasn't keen to accept them. It wasn't until the late Middle Ages that Christmas became popular.

Towns and cities often appointed a Lord of Misrule, who presided over the Christmas entertainment. (Santa didn't come until later.) This Lord of Misrule was typically dressed in colorful clothing and directed elaborate processions, plays and festivities. Their services were an important part of Christmas and these "lords" were hired by such royalty, as the English kings Edward VI and Henry VIII.

The largest Christmas feasts often included roasted peacock and swan ... painted with saffron and "refeathered" right before serving. In 1289, a boar's head served as a stylish centerpiece for the bishop of Hereford.

Want something easier for your holiday party? Here are last-minute entertaining tips from Nest In Style podcasts.

Four strange facts about Christmas you probably didn't know.

However, you decide to celebrate ... may you and your family experience joy, peace and prosperity this holiday season.