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.