Blog Party for Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom

photo-courtesy-Jessi-Bloom-5.jpgThe last time I reviewed Jessi Bloom’s new book, I focused on the text. Let me tell you, even with only three chickens, I needed the advice, and I could not wait for this book to come out. But in my eagerness to absorb everything that Jessi knows about gardening with chickens, I may have neglected to properly rave about the other awesome element in the book: the photographs. The pictures are so charming that if I didn’t already have my own flock, I would have been rushing out to the feed store to place a new order for a lovely variety of hens. I mean, look at this: photo courtesy Jessi Bloom (4) Those proud beaks, and their fluffy little behinds! I love the tiny gray one halfway hidden in the foliage – she looks like a miniature roadrunner to me. So cute! For me, the photos enhanced the text by making gardening with chickens seem not only accessible but chic. Sometimes, all the poop on the patio gets me down, but the reassuring photographs (with, yes, the occasional pile of manure in the shot) make me actually believe Jessi that having both a lovely garden and lovely birds is not only possible but fun as well.
photo courtesy Jessi Bloom photo courtesy Jessi Bloom (3)
The photos shown here are a selection of pictures that didn’t even make the cut for the book, so you know the book itself is a beaut. Want to win your own copy? We’re having a bit of a blog party to celebrate the book, so Timber Press has offered up a fresh new copy of the book to one lucky reader. But a one-book giveaway wouldn’t quite constitute a party in my view, so Storey has also offered up a copy of their brand new Fresh Egg Cookbook by Jennifer Trainer Thompson! Just leave a comment below and I’ll pick a winner at random on April 12th (US only). And if you really want a win (you know you do), head on over to  these blogs for another chance: Jessi at Erica at Theresa at Angela at Annette at Kylee at Willi at Debbie is our winner! Congrats, Debbie! I have emailed you about your prizes. All photos copyright Jessi Bloom.

Small Space Container Gardens by Fern Richardson

Small-Space-Container-Gardens-Review-photo-by-Fern-Richardson-2.jpgLongtime readers will know I’ve been a fan of Fern’s stylish blog Life on the Balcony for some time. Fern’s like an approachable version of Martha Stewart for container gardeners – while her photos and ideas are gorgeously inspiring, her projects are never so difficult or time-consuming that I feel I couldn’t possibly fit them into a weekend, unlike some of Martha’s cool but overly involved eye candy. So when Fern’s new book Small-Space Container Gardens came out, I already had two copies pre-ordered, one for myself and one to give as a gift. I just knew I was going to love it. And sure enough, I do! The book is structured as a total from-the-ground-up guide to having a gorgeous balcony garden. While you might think that would encompass only container planting, she also shares numerous tips on design and décor, dealing with narrow spaces, vertical gardening, and issues unique to balcony gardeners like how to deal with rain pouring in sheets off the roof and onto your potted plants. Small Space Container Gardens Review photo by Fern RichardsonEven better, Fern’s DIY style is made easy and fun with numerous tutorials and crafts throughout the book. I absolutely adored this chalkboard planter idea for taking ordinary, inexpensive pots and making them cute and functional. How many times have I gotten a call from a client just before dinnertime wondering whether the plant with big leaves was the oregano or the sage? Now, I can show horticulturally-challenged gardeners this tutorial and they can create their own (very chic) labeled pots for their edibles. What a great gift idea! I felt this way with all of the tutorials in the book. Fern made everything look so elegant that I immediately wanted to rush out, get a few supplies, and make ‘em happen. She showed a small-space DIY birdbath which would be perfect nestled among a few potted plants. And this mod-minimalist bird feeder? I totally want to adapt this project and make it my own (I mean, purple would be mod-minimalist too, right? Right?). Small Space Container Gardens Review photo by Fern Richardson (3) I also loved that Fern made cohesive garden design easy with her small-space patio design plans. She created full container planting designs for a Verdant and Vertical Garden, Potager With a Twist (some great edible and cocktail garden ingredients!), Succulents and Scents, and more. It’s not just the planting ideas, either; she mixes décor tips and layout ideas into her plans so you can see how all the elements fit together. The book is beautifully-photographed and designed, and would make a great gift for the beginning or advanced container gardener. The text covers all that a beginner would need to know in clear language, while the designs and DIY projects offer enough interest to keep even pros like me coming back for more. Want to win a copy for yourself? Timber Press has offered one up to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment for your chance to win. I’ll pick a winner at random on Friday April 6th, US only. Brynda is our winner. Congrats, Brynda! (All photos copyright Fern Richardson)

The NEW Sunset Western Garden Book

Sunset-book.jpg16 years ago, when I took my first horticulture class, The Sunset Western Garden Book was the very first book I bought. Its status in the West is such that I owned three copies by the end of my first year: one old edition which had the best basic gardening tips, one new edition with the most current plant listings and up-to-date science, and a battered, muddy one which I took with me everywhere. I’ve been through three updates over the years, and it’s one of the few books that I pre-order and squeal when the new one comes out, because this is it – if you’re a gardener on the West Coast, you either have this book or, um – you may be overestimating how seriously you’ve been taking this “gardening” thing. You may be wondering how different this new edition could really be? Well, for one, it has photos. Yep, the charming but often-frustrating illustrations have been replaced with vivid, beautiful photographs. And thank god, they put back the plant index, which was missing in the last edition. [Read more...]

The Chicken Encyclopedia by Gail Damerow

ChickenEncyclopedia.jpgI grew up a big-city gal, so when I moved to Humboldt County to go to college, I was amazed to find a field of cows just outside the backyard of my apartment complex. Passing by each day, I’d watch them grazing with an odd sense of unreality. Cows! Right there in town! With their fuzzy heads and big wet noses, they charmed me, and all these years later that feeling of awe has never left. So when I moved into my very own home, one of my dearest ambitions was to keep a backyard flock of chickens. I mean, cows were obviously not on, but chickens seemed doable! I could even hear evidence of ducks and chickens in the neighborhood, so I felt in good company as I brought home my first two laying hens. However, after getting them home, I had no clue what to do. Food and water, yes, but do people let them out all day? Would they get along with my cat? Why do they sell oyster shells, and if the chickens like scratch so much, why can’t I just feed them that and make them happy? Then, never having tasted fresh eggs, I was alarmed at the slightest inconsistency in them – differing shapes, yolk colors, occasional spots in them. I had no idea what was normal, and all of my city friends were chuckling about my new adventure and were no help at all! This is where I wish I’d had a partner to get me started in my chicken adventures. Gail Damerow‘s new book The Chicken Encyclopedia is just that kind of guide. While I’d generally think of an encyclopedia as a reference book, the life-like color illustrations in this book kept me rapt, turning pages and learning all of the mysteries of chicken-keeping that I wish I’d known years ago. Did you know you can keep a chicken as an indoor pet? And that you can hypnotize your ladies with a simple series of steps (Damerow shares a whopping seven methods)? There are tips on egg storage (important when you have an abundance of them) and a chart on the things that influence yolk color (blueberry pancakes, of course, are the chief culprit of a greenish scrambled egg). Then, there are the things you might have wished you’d known before you selected your breeds and brought them home. There’s a chart on page 91 which shares the approximate output of droppings for different weight classes of chicken. Had I realized that bantams only create 30 pounds of fresh droppings per year, while my golden sexlinks produce 120 pounds, I would have given much more careful consideration to a nice flock of banties! Whether you’re experienced with keeping hens or just now starting to consider keeping your own backyard flock, The Chicken Encyclopedia’s a great way of learning the odd tips and tricks that you could otherwise learn only from many conversations with more experienced keepers of hens. Want to read it yourself? Storey has offered up a copy of the book to one lucky reader! Leave a comment for your chance to win. I’ll pick a winner at random on Tuesday the 27th. US only. Congrats to our winner, Janetta!  To read more reviews, visit the rest of the people participating in the blog launch party for this book: 3/2 For the Love of Chickens 3/3 Vintage Garden Gal 3/4 The Garden Roof Coop 3/5 Common Weeder 3/6 Chickens in the Road 3/7 Garden Rant 3/8 Fresh Eggs Daily 3/9 My Pet Chicken Blog 3/10 Coop Thoughts 3/11 BoHo Farm and Home 3/12 Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs 3/13 A Charlotte Garden 3/14 Farm Fresh Fun 3/15 The HenCam 3/16 Life on a Southern Farm 3/17 ADozenGirlz, the Chicken Chick™

Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom

Free-Range-Chicken-Gardens-Cover.jpgJessi Bloom‘s new book Free-Range Chicken Gardens seems sure to be a new bestseller, because while the backyard-chicken trend has taken off, nobody has really stepped up to offer guidance on some of the issues common to owners of free-ranging hens, until now. In just four years of keeping my own tiny flock, I’ve had run-ins with predators, plants scratched into oblivion and all of my blueberry bushes stripped bare. Gardening with chickens can be a challenge! Yet Bloom points out that backyard chickens offer so many benefits. Free-range chicken eggs are much more nutritious than most store-bought eggs. In addition, chickens can help out in the garden by weeding, keeping pests in check, “mowing” the lawn (it’s true!), eating excess greens and food waste, and providing a steady source of organic fertilizer for the garden. Plus, chickens are just plain fun to watch. Bloom tackles the layout of a chicken-friendly garden from the ground up, including an overview of options for coops, runs and chicken tractors. She also covers ideas for where to site the coop given considerations of sun or shade, proximity to the home or neighbors, etc. Even if you already have chickens and a coop, you’ll find some new ideas for screening the noise, odor or sight of a coop so that it fits gracefully into your surroundings. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper gardening book without a discussion of plants. Bloom has an obvious love of gardening, and it shows in her creative plant selections. She shares lists of plants for screening (particularly for the benefit of nearby neighbors), flowering plants too tough for the chickens to bother, and plants with fragrances to mask any potential odors. She also suggests plants that can provide hiding spaces for the birds to minimize the chance of predator attack. Trees, shrubs, and thickets all provide important shelter from hawks and others. But by far my favorite part of the book is her perspective that gardening with chickens can and should be fun. While I began reading hoping for suggestions of plants too tough for the chickens to eat, Bloom surprised me with suggestions of things to plant that the chickens will eat and enjoy. Even a small garden, she feels, has ample room to plant for both birds and humans. Plus, she suggests projects and elements to add like mirrors, water features, dust bath areas and bug logs that provide entertainment and keep the ladies engaged. I found this a useful and inspiring book for chicken-owners, both novice and experienced. The photos are so good, you’ll want to leave it out for friends to flip through, and her encouraging attitude towards gardening with chickens got me all fired up to try some of these new solutions to gardening with my own ladies. Want to win a copy of your very own? Timber Press has been kind enough to offer up a book to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment, and I’ll draw a winner at random on Tuesday the 6th! (US only.) Congrats to our winner, Wendy! Wendy, I’ve emailed you for your details. Thanks to Timber Press and all who entered.

Book Review: The Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

Beginners-Illustrated.jpgKatie Elzer-Peters is one of those dynamos of the gardening world who is so busy Getting Things Done that you may not have actually heard of her yet. But she’s been working behind the scenes on so many projects – nursery newsletters, writing articles for sites too numerous to mention, and mentoring authors with Cool Springs Press – that even if you haven’t seen Katie’s name, you’ve almost certainly benefited from her work. And the special juice she brings to every project is her preternatural talent of simplifying the complex. So when I heard that her first published book was to be a guide for beginning gardeners, I could think of no better author for the topic. In The Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Katie brings her talent to the fore with a simple, straightforward, relaxed guide to gardening. This isn’t a book that gardening geeks need. But how many of us have a friend who comes over, looks longingly at our attempts to grow things, and wishes they were the kind of person who could do that? Or a young person in our life who wants to start a few seeds on their patio, but hasn’t ever really gardened before? This is exactly the kind of book I’ve wished I could give my friends and clients – warm, personal, and with a “you can totally do this!” kind of feel. Yet it’s not overly chatty, and the text is delightfully simple. It’s got all the gardening tips that people like me have gathered over the years, yet aren’t usually covered in books. Things like how to understand a fertilizer label, or why to buy plants that are in bud rather than in bloom. Katie demystifies these processes and gives readers the benefit of years of experience. This would make a great textbook for Master Gardener or Intro to Horticulture classes to help students get a firm grounding in the basics. A selection of topics she covers:
  • How to read a seed packet
  • How to read a hardiness zone map
  • How to start seeds
  • How to choose a healthy plant
  • How to water plants
  • How to care for a lawn mower
  • How to fix bald spots in the lawn
  • How to prune a tree
  • How to stake a plant
  • How to grow flowering bulbs
  • How to landscape wet areas
  • How to garden in narrow spaces
  • How to mulch and edge landscape beds
This is just a portion of it, and the text is beautifully illustrated with loads of full-color photos that are professionally laid-out and easy to understand. I hear it’s already selling like hotcakes. Want to win a copy? Cool Springs Press has been kind enough to offer one up to a lucky reader! To win, just leave a comment below and I’ll draw a winner randomly on February 22nd at noon. US only. Edit: Susan with the daughter new to gardening has won! Susan, I’ve emailed you for your address. Thanks to everyone for entering, and if you want to pick up your own copy, it’s available now at Amazon!

Dirr’s Encyclopedia a New Industry Standard

Cover-of-Dirrs-Encyclopedia-of-Trees-and-Shrubs.jpg***Timber Press is holding a giveaway for the new Dirr book! Details below.*** The internet has removed the need for so many types of book. Between the online nursery descriptions and search engine image searches, you can find basic information on many types of plant, and that’s often good enough. However, things become tricky when you’re trying to compare plants. For example, recently I wanted to plant a Spirea ‘Neon Flash’, but all the nursery had was ‘Anthony Waterer’. Using the internet, the descriptions looked remarkably similar, to the point where I wondered whether I was dealing with the same plant under two different names (this happens a surprising amount in the plant world). This is where a giant, thorough encyclopedia comes in handy. Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs is shipping now, and it is a game-changer. Twice as thick as Dirr’s most famous work, Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, it is crammed full of photos and deliciously blunt descriptions of each of the varieties listed. The book feels like a gift – the essence of Dirr, immortalized – and is clearly going to be the new must-have book for anyone serious about gardening. The benefits of a comprehensive encyclopedia like this are numerous. First, in my Spirea research, I was able to get a clear comparison between ‘Neon Flash’ and ‘Anthony Waterer’. (If you’re curious, ‘Neon Flash’ is slightly shorter, much less wide, and doesn’t have the tendency to develop cream-colored foliage reversions as does ‘Anthony Waterer’ – in short, had I gone with the internet’s advice I would have been pruning dear Anthony off his neighbors for years to come.) Second, I trust Dirr. He’s brutally sarcastic, thoughtful, and has no motive to make a plant sound better than it is (hello, nursery catalogs!). I’ve certainly gotten some nasty surprises over the years through ordering plants that sounded fabulous from nursery descriptions, and then had lackluster coloring or performance. Dirr cuts through all the hype and nonsense, and provides clear comparisons and quick summaries of the benefits or drawbacks of each variety. And the photos! Oh, the photos. There are 2-6 color photographs on every page, which means that I can see for myself what the habit or flower color looks like, without having to guess what “vase-shaped” or “more red than the species” means to him. If you’ve ever tried to look up an unusual plant in any search engine’s image search, you know the extreme limitations of that media. Mislabeled plants, no clear distinction between named varieties, and few photos of the habit of the plant (just flower close-ups) are just some of the issues. Seeing the photos of differing varieties laid out right next to each other has already saved me enormous amounts of time when selecting just the right variety for a spot. It takes a lifetime of travel and dedication to build a photo library as extensive as this one, and it is almost as much of a gift as the text itself. If you’re a gardener and you already know and love the usual Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, then this much-more-comprehensive encyclopedia is going to be on your wishlist this Christmas. I’m keeping my old copy of Dirr’s Hardy, but mostly because it’s so muddy, dog-eared, and highlighted that I feel I’d be getting rid of a personal journal to pass it on now. In the years to come, I expect this new encyclopedia to take on that same well-beloved look. But don’t take my word for it. Read what other garden writers have to say: Our Little Acre Jenny Peterson Garden Design Gossip in the Garden Gardens of the Wild Wild West ***Want to win your very own copy? Timber Press is holding a giveaway of the book over at their blog. Head on over and leave a comment to win!***

The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens


If your winter “gardening” is usually comprised of bulb and perennial catalogs, highlighters, and very little in the way of actual outdoor gardening, then I have a new tool to make your winter plotting that much more exciting.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp has written The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens, which is a beautifully-organized and easy-to-navigate guide to the top garden spots to visit in the US. It’s organized by state, which initially gave me a feeling of overwhelm (hey, California’s pretty big!), until I discovered the clear state-by-state maps in the back which show where each of the gardens is located. Using that guide, I was able to quickly compile a list of gardens within a reasonable distance to me. Because she gives a synopsis of each garden’s specialty, whether it’s a historic garden, conservatory, or native plant garden, I was able to calculate the best times to visit and start coordinating whether any would be in season at the same time as some of the garden shows and tours in the area. The book also has QR codes and website addresses, so it was easy for me to find more info online, and there’s a quick legend of symbols which tells whether the garden has food, events, plant sales, etc. that we might want to check out. Because it’s small enough to pack in one’s luggage, this isn’t a coffee table book with lots of photos. Nor it is exhaustive – there are 42 gardens listed for California and six in Oregon, for example. But if you want to plan out a great garden trip, with a stop at a garden show and a few notable gardens along the way, this is a fantastic reference to get you started. It even has brief listings for Canada and international locations as well. If you want to make the most of your holiday travel by squeezing in a visit to a conservatory, or just enjoy some contented time in winter dreaming of the gardens you’ll visit come spring, then this is an excellent book to get you inspired with all of the possibilities.

Want to win a copy of your own? Cool Springs Press has offered a copy to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on this post and I’ll randomly pick a winner on Friday December 2nd (US only). Good luck!

EDIT: Mike Mindel has won the book. Congrats, Mike!

50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants

Deer-Resistant.jpgEDIT: Patrick is the winner of the giveaway! You all remember my excitement recently to have discovered this lovely new book from Timber Press. Ruth Rogers Clausen shows off 50 top picks for deer-resistant gardens, and gives about two pages of in-depth information about how to design with each plant, what other plants look best with it, and generally how to make a great big success of your deer-resistant garden, even if you’re a beginning gardener. I also loved the big juicy photos of every single plant in the book. It made envisioning her design suggestions so much easier, to see an example of the plant used in the garden. If you want to read more about the book, I’ve profiled it here for the Christian Science Monitor, and also reviewed it here on Amazon. Suffice it to say, if you’re struggling with selecting plants the deer won’t eat, this is a friendly primer that makes gardening with deer hard to screw up. Want to win your very own copy? Timber Press is offering one up to one lucky US reader. Just leave a comment below, and I’ll randomly choose a winner on Wednesday August 31st at noon Pacific time. Good luck! Congrats to Patrick, our lucky winner!

Deer Resistant Gardening Made Easy: a Book Review

photo-courtesy-of-Timber-Press.jpgRuth Rogers Clausen, author of 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants, has some straightforward advice for dealing with deer, and selecting beautiful plants that will go well together in deer country. I share some of her advice for dealing with deer over at the Christian Science Monitor, and give an in-depth review of her new book there as well. If you want to read more about deer, check out these recent articles: Rebecca Sweet has a review up with her take on Clausen’s new book. Debbie Roberts discusses gardening with deer in an environmentally-friendly way. And my two recent posts: Deer on a Diet: Tips for Dealing With Deer Plantings for Deer You Can’t F*** Up

Wicked Bugs: Video Interview with Amy Stewart

wicked-bugs.jpgI am adoring Wicked Bugs, the latest from author Amy Stewart. She’s back with more deliciously morbid musings, this time about the insects, spiders, and squirmy things that have us so outnumbered that for each one of us, there are two hundred million of them. Eeep! While Amy’s a huge fan of bugs, she didn’t focus on their virtues in this book. Instead we’re treated to the gory sexual lives, dietary quirks, and reproductive evils they take part in every day just to survive. Amy’s dry humor is the perfect balance to these horrible happenings, and the tales of zombie cockroaches and filth flies had me alternately laughing and cringing with glee. I did find, however, that my desire to read portions of the book out loud did not go over well at mealtimes. I’m lucky enough to live locally to Amy, and she graciously invited me over to talk with her about the book, and to see some mildly off-putting but thrilling specimens: If you love science, zombies, and tales of wickedness, you’ll definitely dig this book. I’d especially recommend it for gift-giving because the dry wit and short chapters make it easy for people to read bits out loud in a group setting. Plus, it’s one of those lovely hardcovers with a ribbon for a bookmark, and has crazy-detailed etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs (who did the etchings for Wicked Plants). You can check to see if Amy’s speaking in your area soon, and definitely pick up a copy of Wicked Bugs if you haven’t already. I’ve already bought a few as gifts!

More from Amy Stewart:

Buy signed copies of Wicked Bugs from the author Wicked Plants talk at Northtown Books in Arcata Tour of Amy’s Wicked Plants garden of evils