…in which I tease Amy Stewart about her garden, and get to say “hell” on Kirkus Reviews. I am sure I can die happy now. Read it here: Garden Rant: A Conversation about ‘Understanding Garden Design’
When the Garden Designers Roundtable chose Top Landscape Plants as this month’s topic, I thought to myself, “Hey, no problem, I can write that in my sleep.” I mean, enthusing about plants is kind of my thing, you know? But given that this is book excerpt week here at North Coast Gardening, I thought it’d be fun to hand over the stage to five favorite writers, and let them enthuse for me. While each writer comes to plants from a different perspective, they share a love of gardening and language that makes each a pleasure to read. Without further ado, here are five of my top landscape plants:
Borage (Borago officianalis)From The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler:
“If, while strolling through a garden, you see little blue shooting stars exploding over a fountain of fuzzy leaves, you have stumbled upon borage. The luminous clusters of pinky-purple buds start off pendulous, then rear up and make themselves known with a burst of color. The edible grayish-green fuzzy leaves and stems of borage are a wonderful foil for darker foliage in the garden.”While borage is a rampant self-sower in my climate, the cheerful blue blossoms attract honeybees and a number of other pollinators. This makes it a joy to photograph, since there’s always a bumbling somebody ambling along, ready for their close-up. [Read more...]
Energy-Wise Landscape Design should be a required read for anyone going into the landscaping field. In this book, Sue Reed outlines a number of steps you can take to green your landscape. Some steps are easy and can be done right away; others take more time, energy, thought or care.When I reviewed this book a few months back, I was impressed to see how actionable the information was. This excerpt, about how to reduce or tweak your lawn to be more sustainable, is a prime example of the type of tips and techniques included in the book. Enjoy! [Read more...]
Deadheading Isn’t Just for Rock Concerts“Long before the classic band the Grateful Dead developed a cult following, gardeners removed spent flowers, which is called “deadheading.” Cutting off shriveled flowers can help plants produce more new blossoms and extend their bloom time. This is because plants are always trying to complete their life cycle by going to seed. When dead flowers are removed, the plants refocus their energy on producing blooms, rather than producing seeds. You will find that some dead flowers are easier to pinch off than others. Take the threadleaf coreopsis. I love this plant for its little daisylike blooms atop fine, threadlike foliage. However, it is a nightmare to pinch off every little flower as they shrivel up, one by one. For this type of plant, it is easier to wait until most of the flowers are spent, and then give the whole plant a nice haircut to about half its size. In no time at all, threadleaf coreopsis produces more flowers. And it’s not the only plant that likes a haircut; dianthus is another example. Be creative in finding the best deadheading techniques for your plants, or ask your local nursery friend for help.” (Jayme Jenkins)
The Allergist’s Garden“Until I moved to Nashville, I had no idea how miserable allergies can make you. But after living in “Allergy Central” I now dread spring, especially when juniper pollen is drifting about. And I’m not the only one; it’s estimated thirty-five million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies (not to mention asthma). What I didn’t know until recently is that many landscape plants are male, because the seeds or fruit, aka “litter,” produced by the female plants are not desirable—sweetgum for example. But it’s the male plant that produces pollen. Because plant breeders have learned to propagate plants by cloning only male plants, virtually all of those sold are males. What can you do to create an allergy-free garden? Well, you can plant more female plants, which will “trap” pollen (oh, those old stereotypes never go away), use gravel instead of mulch for paths, don’t let weeds go to seed, keep the lawn mowed (especially if it’s Bermuda), and plant shrubs and flowers that naturally produce less pollen (forsythia, hydrangea, tulip, and azalea, for example). Go online to check out plant options that are best for your area. And Live Free and Breathe Easy!” (Billie Brownell)
Ready to win a copy of your own? Just leave a comment and I’ll pick a lucky winner at random on April 28th. Good luck! Congrats to the winner, Holly!
A couple weeks back, I reviewed this deliciously funny and extremely useful guide to sustainable landscaping by Owen Dell. You can check out my video and written review here. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share an excerpt with you, so you could get a feel for Owen’s writing style, which is useful, practical, and off-the-cuff. Without further ado, here’s:
Ten Projects That Pay You and the Environment Back Big Time (an excerpt from Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies):“In this chapter, I introduce some projects you can tackle right away (for relatively little or no money!) that make a big difference to you and the environment. They’re all easy, and most of them don’t require the use of heavy equipment, chiropractors, or bad language. Enjoy.
Make Your Lawn SmallerMost lawns have parts that are never used for anything other than giving the lawn mower its weekly workout. Do what savvy sustainable landscapers everywhere are doing: Cut that lawn down to size! (Refer to Chapter 19 for the scoop on lawns and lawn alternatives.) Make a lap lawn — a phrase coined by a gardener I once met. Long and narrow, this type of lawn is still perfectly suited to hosting a friendly game of catch or a chase with the family pooch. After its midriff bulge has been whacked away, your svelte new lawn is ready for sustainable action. Consider a maximum size of 20 by 40 feet — a total of 800 square feet. If you can do with less, great. Tip: In making the lawn smaller, you create new borders. Plant these borders with useful, beautiful, climate-appropriate plants that need less care, water, and fertilizer than the original lawn did. Drip-irrigate and mulch the borders to save water. Don’t forget to move your sprinkler heads to the new edges of the lawn to save more water (and money).
Tune Up Your Sprinkler SystemOut-of-whack sprinklers result in water waste and poor lawn performance, so you need to give the system a tune-up every so often. Turn the system on one valve at a time so you can test it and get everything working right. (See Chapter 10 to find out how to maintain your irrigation system.)
Reprogram Your Irrigation ControllerConventional irrigation controllers have no idea how much water your plants need. They’re just timers, faithfully carrying out whatever instructions you gave them the last time you programmed them. Umm, you did adjust your controller at some point, right? If you haven’t, now is the time. Get out the instruction book for your controller so you can make sense of the simple-yet-often-obscure ways of programming these pesky beasts. Then read Chapter 9 of this book to discover how to make seasonal adjustments to your controller. Reprogramming your irrigation controller isn’t terribly difficult, and it saves you a bunch of money. Your plants will thank you, too.
Install a Smart Irrigation ControllerIf you don’t want to reprogram the controller you already have (see the preceding section), yank that old clunker off the wall and put in a smart controller. A smart irrigation controller receives signals from — get this — outer space. These signals reset the controller’s program continuously, based on current meteorological data taken from local weather stations. To install and program a smart controller, you just have to answer simple questions about your soil, plants, and so on. You tweak it a bit over the first few weeks, and when you’re done, you probably never have to touch it again. These units have generated water savings of 25 to 50 percent, which means that your water bill will go down. Even better, you can gloat when the neighbors come over. Sustainability is just the coolest thing. See Chapter 9 for more on smart water management. Tip: Many water districts offer rebates for installing smart controllers.
Axe Your Overgrown PlantsTake note of how many hours per month you spend keeping plants from growing too big for the space they’re in. You could’ve spent that time enjoying a nice, sustainable activity, such as loafing. Plants don’t ask you how big you want them to be. If they’re programmed to get 100 feet tall, they always try to do so. So if you want an 8-foot-tall plant, you need to choose one that grows to 8 feet at maturity. Then you’ll never have to trim it. Plus, it looks better and is healthier when left alone. (And you’ll look so relaxed in that hammock.)
Pull Up Sissy PlantsGo around your yard with a shovel and perhaps a digging bar, swiftly and mercifully eliminating namby-pamby plants of whatever kind. Or at least move them where they’ll perform better, if location is the problem. Probably 80 percent of gardening problems are caused by 20 percent of plants. You know which ones they are. Go get ’em. My favorite sissy plant to weed out is the rose. I know the term may offend some people, but hybrid tea roses aren’t so great at taking care of themselves. It hurts me to ponder the rust, the leaf spot, the bugs, and all the other ills and ailments that plague these pitiable creatures. I consider it a public service to replace them with something a little more durable.
Dump Your Chemical ArsenalExactly what excuse does anyone have for holding onto that noxious-smelling collection of insecticide, weed killer, and fert-’n’-hurt? C’mon — you know you’ll never use that stuff again. You’re a sustainable gardener now! Put your old chemicals in a sealed container and then take them to your local hazardous-waste collection center for safe disposal. Then go home, perform a cleansing ritual or two in your garage, and get on with your life. Feel good knowing that you’ll probably never have to make the trek to the toxic dump again. Warning: Some of this stuff is truly treacherous to your health, so be sure to wear protective gear and be very careful not to spill anything.
Trade Your Power Tools for Hand ToolsShop around for some truly good, lifetime-quality hand tools, and leave the power ones out at the curb for some other fool to struggle with. You’ll be glad you did. Power tools actually don’t save much effort. First, you have to work pretty hard to earn the money to buy them. Then you have to store them somewhere, do tune-ups and repairs, fuel and oil them, wipe them down and sharpen the blades, and adjust the dang carburetor over and over because nobody but the high priests of internal combustion can get it right the first time. Besides all that, think about the number of times you’ve pulled the starter cord with no result. Must be in the thousands, right? You could’ve had the lawn mowed with a simple push mower by the time you regained your composure and got that wheezy old mower running.
Mulch Your BedsNaked beds don’t work. The soil dries out too quickly, root systems suffer heat and cold, weeds come up everywhere, rain washes earth away, beneficial soil microorganisms suffer, drip tubing shows, mud sticks to your boots . . . I could go on and on. In nature, organic material rains down from plants constantly, creating mulch and returning valuable nutrients to the soil. The sustainable landscaper mimics this elegant system by practicing chop and drop pruning (refer to Chapter 20) and by spreading some form of organic mulch on the surface of the soil. For more on mulching, see Chapter 16.
Grow FoodWhat better use can you have for your land than growing your own food? The list of advantages is a mile long (but I won’t bore you with the details). Plant a few crops that are easy to grow in your area and then devote a little time, money, and effort to reap the rewards. Flip to Chapter 18 for more information about sustainable veggie gardening.”
Want to read more from Owen Dell? Check out these recent blog posts:Do Rain Barrels Really Work? Adversarial Horticulture The Attack of the Designosaurs Or, check out Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies on Amazon.com.
Two weeks ago, I reviewed the popular, and deservedly so, Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin. I think of Debra as a real advocate for these plants, because she shows such elegant ways of designing with them that we all want to grow these colorful, varied plants ourselves. And so we should! They’re low-water, low-maintenance, and can be easily divided and given to other gardeners, creating friendships along with year-round garden displays. Debra’s story of how she came to love succulents shows the engaging writing voice she is known for, and reflects the many reasons you might wish to grow succulents as well.
Read on for an excerpt from the preface of Designing with Succulents:[Read more...]
The most mind-bending moment I had with the book was the day I fished a cucumber out of a fermentation tank – about 6 weeks after dropping it in – and bit into it. It was so amazingly pickle-y; exactly as it should have been. But there’s something about fermenting vegetables that makes you expect them to taste… spoiled.Finally! A food-preserving expert who gets it. That is TOTALLY what is stopping me from fermenting, canning, and pickling – I have this irrational fear that I’m going to do something horribly wrong and it’s going to be gross. He went on:
The idea of the book is that you’re thinking it might be a good idea to preserve your own produce but you’ve never tried. So, I give you a lot of good reasons to preserve your own, explain the many methods available, and we get together in my kitchen to try them step-by-step. I also suggest ways you might use the foods we preserve together and share some of my favorite “recipes.”Daniel was kind enough to provide a few excerpts for those of you who might be interested in learning to preserve your own food, including his “how-to” on using frozen blueberries in pancakes (yum!).
Nature’s Preferred Preserves Dehydrated food is incredibly versatile. We use so many dehydrated products that we may not even recognize them as such. For example, you might find some of these dehydrated foods in your pantry: Seasonings Soup mixes Coffee creamers and hot chocolate mixes Pasta Cornmeal Tea leaves Stuffing mixes Fruit roll-ups Jerky Dried fruit (well, yeah!) It may seem contrary to nature to preserve fresh produce by drying it, but dehydration is actually nature’s way of saving food to feed animals in winter. Meadow grasses dry in place, providing hay for foraging mammals. Berries and fruits dry on the branches of bushes and trees to feed birds and rodents throughout the cold months. Imagine the relief our ancestors must have felt in late winter to find desiccated cherries, apples, or grapes still clinging to their respective plants. The prehistoric genius who decided to gather and dry fruits, vegetables, and grains under controlled conditions and then store them away from foraging animals probably commanded the type of respect we reserve today for Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. While you can still rely on prehistoric methods to dehydrate produce for long-term storage, modern methods are more reliable. Dedicated dehydrators maintain a constant temperature while moving air over the food to remove moisture. Even with no previous experience, everyone can succeed with a home dehydrator. You can also dry food in a conventional oven or a toaster oven.
On using rehydrated fruit:
Rehydrated Fruit? Please, No! Is your larder full of dehydrated fruits? Are you pining away for a fruit salad? Well, I hope your freezer is full of frozen fruit, or that there’s at least one shelf of canned fruit in that crowded larder. You can rehydrate fruit and use it to create something very like a fruit salad. And if you imagine the worst, you might be surprised at the result: uncooked, rehydrated fruit tastes amazingly like fresh fruit. Unfortunately, it has a most unpleasant texture; it’s a bit like a soggy sponge that has soaked up a little slime. Rehydrated fruit becomes more palatable when you chop it into small pieces and mix it into products such as cottage cheese or yogurt, but even then, you might do better to simply mix in the dried fruit, without rehydrating it. Rather than rehydrate fruits for salads, use dried fruits for cooked desserts such as cobbler, stewed fruit, and pie filling. Fruits may need to simmer a long time before they resemble their fresh-cooked equivalents.
And his blueberry pancake how-to:
Blueberry Pancakes: His and Hers I freeze about 2 gallons of blueberries each July, which is peak blueberry season in central Pennsylvania. My family goes to a “u-pick” berry farm and returns with 25 to 30 pounds of hand-picked fruit (which is about 25 to 30 quarts of berries). Many of the berries end up in pies, but we love having a bunch of individually frozen blueberries to get us through the rest of the year. How do we use frozen blueberries? Pancakes. His pancakes: Normally, I cook pancakes at a medium-high temperature: 6 on a stove knob that tops out at 9. When I put frozen blueberries in the pancakes, I turn the temperature under the skillet to medium, about 4½ out of 9. The pancakes cook slowly, giving the blueberries time to thaw and the batter around them time to cook completely. Her pancakes: When my wife makes pancakes, she takes a cup or so of blueberries out of the freezer and lets them sit in a bowl for twenty or more minutes before she cooks the pancakes. When she spoons batter into the pan, the blueberries are half-thawed and a bit mushy. Even with the skillet at a medium-high temperature, the pancake batter cooks all the way through. My wife has explained to me repeatedly how I should thaw the blueberries before I use them, but I never seem to learn. On the other hand, my wife has never rejected one of my slow-cooked blueberry pancakes.I was excited to hear on Twitter that Katie Elzer-Peters of The Garden of Words had gone rogue and fermented some collard greens after getting inspired by this book. At first, I was all grossed out, like, who eats fermented collard greens? Then I realized, with some prodding from Daniel and Katie, that fermented collards are like the sauerkraut of the south. I’m German, and I think southerners are adorable, so… I’ll definitely be fermenting some of my own collards once my copy of Daniel’s book arrives! Ready for your own adventures in food preserving? Read more reviews of Yes, You Can! on Amazon Check out Daniel’s website, Small Kitchen Garden Follow Daniel on Twitter
If you want to win your own copy of Yes, You Can!, just leave a comment below! I’ll pick a lucky winner Monday the 25th – US only. EDIT: Nicole won! Congrats, Nicole.
If you often see odd materials at hardware stores, rummage sales, and friends’ garages and have flashes of insight that they could be repurposed for a totally new use, then you are going to love The Revolutionary Yardscape. It’s subtitled: Ideas for repurposing local materials to create containers, pathways, lighting, and more, and it’s all about how exactly you might reimagine differing shapes and materials to use within your garden as fences, trellises, lights, pathways, etc. Levesque has an amazing eye for the type of warm industrial design that is so popular right now. His landscapes rely on foliage colors, spiky forms, and stylish reuse of metal, glass, easily-available stone, wood – even styrofoam! Yes, there’s a stucco-covered styrofoam structure in the book, that looks pleasingly futuristic against a water feature. With each project, he walks us through the materials that originally provided inspiration, the needs of the site, and how he exactly he brought the two together. He doesn’t dumb down the construction how-to, but his instructions have a simplicity to them which makes me feel like I could tackle any project in the book if I had sufficient desire. That’s not to imply that you’re limited by the projects he suggests. Indeed, the whole point of the book is that you’re not going to know what your own projects will be like until you find your own interesting materials to repurpose. Given that, Levesque works hard to share the concepts behind his designs and his construction techniques so that you will be able to create projects that are truly your own. While his style is distinct, there are so many interesting materials and projects shown that even if you don’t connect with his use of color or materials, it would be easy after reading to come up with your own unique ways of styling your materials. This book is like a set of training wheels for those (like me!) who long to build our own garden structures, but aren’t sure where to start. This quote from the end of the book seems to sum up his design philosophy:
Do Touch I am right there with the neighborhood children in many ways. But it is my own “don’t touch” warning that I must avoid. It is my own “you cannot do that” voice which I must openly ignore and blithely brush past as I go about the business of reimagining what a garden can be. In order to truly rethink the garden, I have to get on with rethinking all the boundaries I set for myself – or worse yet, the ones I let be set for me. Boundaries imagined or imposed keep us from improvising. They keep us from slipping past the known into the knowable. We need a few less boundaries in the garden. We need more play, more dead serious play. We need to play with stuff and play really hard. We need to hunt down what is local, used, and readily available, and we need to drag it home and get busy playing with it. There are no lines we must play inside or outside of. In the end, in order to rethink the garden we must rethink the gardener.
Want to read more about the author?SF Gate article featuring his work His website, with his speaking appearances listed Read more reviews of his book on Amazon
Understanding Garden Design by Vanessa Gardner Nagel is billed as the “complete handbook for aspiring designers”, and that’s pretty accurate. Whether you’re a homeowner with a passion for gardening, or an aspiring pro, this book clarifies a number of professional tricks that Nagel uses to great success in her own landscape design business. So many professionals are greedy with their knowledge, afraid to share the unique understanding they have that makes their work great. Yet Nagel is so genuinely enthused about her topic that you can feel her desire to share good design on every page. She shares simple ways of measuring tough sites, rules of thumb for how much square footage you need for different garden elements, and ways of thinking about designing that differentiate her work from that of so many lackluster designers. Now, the kind of knowledge she’s sharing isn’t something you can absorb casually. In fact, I confess when I opened the book, I sighed when I realized that I’d need to buckle down and read every word. I’m used to skimming most garden books; I generally read the most exciting bits and get inspiration from the photos. This book, by contrast, is one of those books where you get out what you put in. That said, Nagel makes all that learning a pleasure with her wry sense of humor and warm guidance. I loved this missive early in the book, where she urges us to stop trying to fit in:
“Gardens can and should be a personal statement. Why would we want to have the same grinning garden gnome as our neighbor when there is so much that is unique to us? Does it make sense to duplicate that garden bauble that is so irresistible if it has nothing to do with our own personal experience and background? We need to get over our fear of doing something original because the design police might come after us. If we follow sound planning practices and tried-and-true design principles, we can be confident that what we create will work. Then give the raspberries to disapproving critics. Creating a garden brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction when it is not only full of a gratifying collection of plants but also enriched with our own philosophy and memories.”I also loved her keen attentiveness to design elements that most people miss. For example, human psychology. On page 59, she says:
“Well-thought-out spaces not only provide for essential physical elements but also consider the psychology of space. How comfortable would you be with your back to a door or gate? Physically the arrangement may work, but our basic human instinct is always to watch our back. It is much easier, and more comfortable for us, to glance up rather than turning around to see who is entering our space.”She also discusses the effects of color, like how we perceive color differently as we age, and how paint colors or different tones of lighting can affect how we experience a space. She gives a compelling grounding in the basics of color before moving on to discuss how to break the rules and have it work. Any well-read designer has seen a lot of info about color theory, but Nagel manages to bring fresh insights to the topic. Then, her discussion of plants, lighting and furnishings clearly show the design talent that has made her so successful. Nagel is not only a skilled designer, but she is thoughtful enough to be able to carefully analyze WHY she selects the materials, plants, and placement she does. Her explanations are clear and to-the-point, and the photographs clearly illustrate the design concepts she’s sharing. Bottom line – Understanding Garden Design is the type of design primer that any aspiring designer, whether professional or homeowner, will want to read thoroughly and understand before embarking on their first project. It’s a thorough, friendly book that will hopefully replace a lot of stuffy texts on the topic in college landscape design classes.
Read more from Vanessa Gardner Nagel:On the APLD group blog Designers on Design On her own blog Garden Chirps Follow her on Twitter
Debra Lee Baldwin’s become the leading advocate for these gorgeous, easy-to-grow plants, and it’s easy to see why. Her photographs are crisp, colorful and modern, and her writing is just infused with enthusiasm and love for her topic. I confess that until a few years ago, I thought of succulents as kind of old-fashioned, because I’d seen them used in such stale ways. However, Baldwin smashes those stereotypes with new ways of combining succulents and using them in the landscape that are fresh, sustainable and fun. Her use of color and textural contrasts blows me away, and I love the keen eye she takes in pairing succulents to their perfect pots. If, like me, you are new to growing succulents and need a primer on their varying textures, colors and care needs, there’s an extensive section on each type of succulent that she recommends for container planting, along with photos and design tips on how to use them effectively. She covers the flower-like Echeverias and Aeoniums, the vining Hoyas and rosary vines, the paddlelike Kalanchoes (pronounced “Kah-lan-KOH-ee” – thanks, Debra!), and the minimalist living stones (Lithops and others). There are also some wonderful tips for which plants pair well with succulents, in terms of having similar water needs and looking good together. I particularly loved the little cheat sheet in the back that provides a fast reference for anyone trying to create their own succulent container design. With categories like “fillers and cascaders”, “succulents for height”, and all the color categories listed, you can quickly flip to the back for ideas in creating your own succulent plantings. I’m mostly an in-the-ground, landscape gardener just because I find it hard to remember to water containers every day. But with the lovely plants she recommends, I’ve even felt confident creating a few container plantings that are low-maintenance and have low water needs. I’m also totally inspired by the holiday decorations, living wreaths, topiaries and other floral-like displays she profiles. Since reading this book, I’ve found that gardening with succulents is one of the easiest ways of making new gardening friends. Succulents divide and root easily, so as soon as you admire someone’s pot of Echeverias, be prepared to be sent home with some snips and divisions for your own garden. Then, of course, you’re waiting impatiently for your own succulents to fill in so you can share the joy with someone else.
Here’s the video trailer for the book:
Want to learn more about designing with succulents?Debra’s part of the blogging team over at Gardening Gone Wild, and has a number of fantastic resources and succulent products (including to-die-for t-shirts!) at her home website. You can buy her books directly from her website, and if you order from Debra, you’ll get a personalized, signed bookplate illustrated with her artwork. Check out a few of my favorite of her blog posts over at Gardening Gone Wild: Sharklike Agaves: Why I’m Fond of Fangs Hearts in the Garden Succulent Centerpieces
Owen Dell is my new landscaping hero. Not only does he have a funny, off-the-cuff writing style, but his landscaping experience goes back to 1971 when he first began his own landscape business. He’s a licensed landscape architect and contractor, and his actual hands-on experience in the field means that his techniques actually function, and aren’t born of the “I-read-it-in-a-book-so-it-must-be-true” echo chamber. But even though he’s been in the business for years, he’s kept up to date on the most recent scientific advancements in the field, so he’s got a perfect blend of real-world experience and the scientific knowledge to back it up. So, you’d think that a book entitled Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies would cover just the basics, and just the tenets of landscaping that we think of as sustainable, like low water use and rain barrels, native and appropriate planting, composting, and using organics effectively. But this book covers so much more than that. I’d almost prefer it to be titled, “Everything You Wish You’d Known About Landscaping Before You Started”, because that’s really what this book is about. [Read more...]