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.


  1. An excellent read about one of my favorite garden bloggers...Hmmm...We do need more garden related apps!

  2. Hi Gail. Didn't Helen have good ideas? As much as I love books made of paper, some of the garden iPhone apps do provide good information "on the run." Thanks for stopping by. Teresa

  3. Great post, Teresa! Helen always has wise words to offer, and she's picked one of my favourites too, in Michael Dirr. Like her, I bought the iPod app and am very pleased with it; sure easier than lugging the actual book around!

  4. I did not know that Dirr's book had an ap. Must have...

  5. I'm loving this series, Teresa! And Helen is full of wonderful suggestions, as always :) Now to go see if Dirr's has an android version.......

  6. Carole, Yardflower and Jodi: Thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear the iPad app is worth the money, Jodi. It sounds great. Happy to help spread the word, Yardflower. And I hope Carole finds her android version. Good luck! Teresa