Archive for the ‘Garden Books’ Category

If you read a lot of gardening books and magazines you’re probably familiar with the term mixed border. If not, don’t despair, it’s simply a term used to describe an elongated plot of land filled with flowering plants mixed with shrubs, possibly grasses and maybe small trees.

The issue of Fine Gardening magazine published several years ago featured the article Design a Border with Strong Plant Shapes by Sydney Eddison, that I think does a nice job explaining the visual impact of combining these plants and how one might begin go about putting together a mixed border.

The interspersing of shrubs and grasses among the flowers adds more than texture and color. Shrubs come in a variety of interesting shapes – cones, globes, mounds, spikes and fountains that add substance, depth and structure to the garden.

A before photo of the author’s garden depicts a sea of daylilies in full bloom. Though the area is awash with color, the garden lacks definition. And what will that space look like a month later when the lilies have bloomed out?

The after photos show a far more interesting scene, a garden packed with glorious blooming flowers framed with fountains of grasses, mounds and pillars of purple foliaged shrubs and a variety of interesting shaped evergreens. The added contrast of these strong shapes and lines turned a pretty garden into a fabulous garden that will carry the landscape through the four seasons

As I looked over the plant list Sydney Eddison provided I realized that, as is often the case, some of the recommended varieties will not work in many Michigan landscapes.

The gorgeous thread leaf Japanese Maple that thrives in Eddison’s Long Island, New York full sun border, that provides a large and graceful mound of mahogany colored foliage, could not handle that kind of exposure here in Michigan. And even if it could, it’s far too large for most yards. Flower lovers tight on space are not about to give up large chunks of plantable land to a tree, no matter how lovely it is.

But all is not lost. With a little detective work it’s not hard to come up with substitutes, downsized shrubs that are hardy and offer a stunning array of shapes, textures and colors for use in mixed borders.

For instance, let’s just take a look at some possibilities for globe and mound shaped shrubs.

When we think of globes, Arborvitaes quickly come to mind. But common varieties burgeon to 5 to 6 feet in but a few years. However, Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica is a true dwarf Arb that grows to only ten to fifteen-inches in height. ‘Golden Glove’, with its soft yellow foliage will stay within the 2 to 3-foot range and is hardy to a frigid zone 3.

Boxwoods are another classic choice for evergreen globes and they are on the list of deer resistant shrubs. Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ at 2 to 3-feet in height won’t require shearing to keep it from overtaking the garden.

Repetition of shape and color provide continuity that helps tie the mixed border together. And there are many deciduous shrubs that will not only repeat the globe or mound shapes, while adding season long color and interesting texture as well. The deer resistant Barberry ‘Rose Glow” with its lovely rose and pink mottled foliage that matures to a deep purple, is a colorful choice that might be used like book ends to anchor at the ends of the border. If you prefer green go with the 3 to 4-foot ‘Lime Glow’ Barberry. Burgundy colored Barberry ‘Crimson Pigmy’ will only rise to 18 to 24-inches. At the rear of the border repeat that globe shape and color with deep purple-leafed Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’. As a bonus, this stunner will produce oodles of intense rosy-pink flowers in June and flower sporadically on current season’s growth. At maturity ‘Wine and Roses’ will reach 4 to 5-feet in height, but it can be easily pruned to reduce its size after the initial blooming. And those prunings make fabulous foliage fillers for your cut flower arrangements. If you’ve a passion for purple, repeat that shape and yummy color in the front of the border with the low growing Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’.

Shrub roses also fall into the roundy moundy category. Conard-Pyle’s brilliant red ‘Kockout’ will flower non-stop from June through frost and make a stunning companion to those burgundy leafed plants.  The dainty pink polyanthus ‘Fairy’ rose is another possibility.

If bright lights turn you on, the glowing golden thread like foliage of Chamaecyparis ‘Sungold’ at a mature height of about 3-feet will give the garden a year-around shot of color. Bright yellow C. ‘Vintage Gold’ that holds to a height of 18 to 30 inches is another little treasure that will color up a full sun or part-sun border.

If you think of Spireas only in terms of the brilliant yellow harbingers of spring, get thee to a good garden center. ‘Dakota Goldcharm’ is a 12 to 15-inch dwarf gold leaf with bronze tips and pink flowers. ‘Pink Parasol’, topping out at 3-feet combines blue green leaves with big fluffy pink umbrella-like blossoms. Than there’s the vivid red 3-foot Spiraea ‘Neon Flash’. Keep these pretties dead headed and they too should re-bloom sporadically through out the summer.

When planning your new scheme, be sure to leave room for the vertical shapes in the form of grasses and shrubs.


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It’s been almost 30 years since gardening guru Mel Bartholomew first published his best-selling book “Square Foot Gardening.” But he hasn’t been sitting on his laurels. In 2005 he came out with the “All New Square Foot Gardening” (Cool Springs Press, $19.95), and last year he published his companion book “All New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook” (Cools Springs Press, $19.95). His 135 fresh-from-the-garden recipes are quick, easy to prepare and look to be quite tasty. Included in each section are tips on harvesting and storing the fresh produce you grow.

Using Bartholomew’s raised-bed intensive method of gardening, gardeners can harvest hundreds of pounds vegetables in a minimum of space, laboring only 10-15 minutes a week, once the garden bed or beds have been set up and planted.

To see the creative ways other gardeners have integrated square-foot gardens into their landscapes, go to www.squarefootgardening.com.

The biggest change in Bartholomew’s method is the use of a custom-blended soil mix made up of Canadian sphagnum peat moss, a variety of commercial bagged composts and vermiculite.

Bartholomew stresses that when purchasing compost, buy several different brands and mix them together. He combines manure-based composts, reed sedge or Michigan peat composts along with composts made from yard waste and worm castings. Homemade compost is also on the list.

According to Bartholomew, mixing all these formulas together assures the square-foot soil mix is enriched with soil microbes, lots of humic acid and natural fertilizer containing all the macro and micro elements plants need. Using this mix, he says, meets all plants need for nutrients so there is no need to fertilize.

Of great value in the “Square Foot” gardening book are the formulas for deciphering how many bags of the stuff to buy. Those on a tight budget can look for money-saving options on the Web site.

Square-foot gardening is not just for growing veggies. Herbs and flowers flourish in them, too. I want to put a flower border along both sides of my front walk but I don’t have a lot of time to care for them, so I’m going to use the square-foot gardening method and build long, narrow 2- by 12-foot gardening boxes that will flank each side of the walk.

You may think it’s a little early to plan the garden, but many garden centers put potting soils and amendments on sale early in the season to entice folks to into their stores, so now is the time to get started.

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Back in the ’70s when I was first getting interested in gardening, I read a book titled “The Findhorn Garden” by the Findhorn Community (Perennial). It was an extraordinary tale of 10 people living for three or four years in a very remote and barren part of Scotland, mostly rocks and sand.

They started a vegetable garden and (stay with me here) they were able to communicate with the garden plants through spirits they called devas. Being able to learn what each plant needed, they grew incredibly large and very tasty vegetables every year — plants so large that no scientist who visited them could explain the phenomenon. After 30 years, I am not ready to disbelieve the Findhorn Garden story as weird and implausible as it sounds.

Because in the last 25 years scientists have confirmed that plants of the same species are able to communicate with each other. In one research project the researchers were able to take note when the first gypsy moth larva landed on a mature oak tree in a grove of other oaks. By analyzing the chemistry of the first oak tree’s leaves they were able to determine that within a very short period of time the tree had a bitter tannin to all of its leaves, making it an unattractive lunch for gypsy moth larvae. What was astounding was that all the other oak trees in the grove changed the chemistry of their leaves making all of the trees unappetizing to the attacking pest.

It took a few years for the scientists to determine just how the trees in the rest of grove got the word that the gypsy moth larvae were in town. Those trees did not communicate through their roots. They released a special gas or pheromone to warn their neighbors of the danger. Since then there have been studies to confirm similar behavior among walnut trees and willow trees. The assumption is that all species of trees can communicate with each other in this fashion.

Another shocker: trees have been found to communicate not only for defense, but also to time their blooming. In fact, blooming at the same time can also be a defense mechanism, as the destructive pest insects will not have enough time to eat too many flowers, as it would happen if trees bloomed one after another.

It gets better: Some varieties of corn defend themselves against the root worm by emitting a pheromone that attracts microscopic beneficial nematode worms that kill the root worms.

Finally, it has been proven that plants that are in stress of any kind release some kind of gas and that gas is how the pest insects find the weakest plants.

I assume we have just touched the surface of all the biological magic that occurs in and among plants in our home landscape. Read “The Findhorn Garden.” It’s a perfect read for a snowy winter day.

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Nothing staves off the winter blues like a stack of seed catalogs. Here’s a peek at my pile.

D. Landreth Seed Company: (800) 654-2407, www.landrethseeds.com. Their commemorative 2010 catalog is an historical treasure that took five years to assemble. Included is a unique African-American heritage seed collection of heirloom vegetables carried by enslaved people from Africa and the Caribbean that became staples of the African-American family. The illustrations throughout, along with the gardening history and advice, came from the collection of antique Landreth catalogs. This one is a collector’s item as well as a current catalog.

Burpee: (800) 888-1447, www.burpee.com. Find seeds and transplants of flowers, herbs and veggies, and my favorite tomato, the Burpee “Fourth of July.” They have 30 new varieties to tempt me.

Cook’s Garden: (800) 457-9703, www.cooksgarden.com. Find seeds and plants for gourmet gardeners, and yummy recipes, too.


Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: (417) 924-8917, www.rareseeds.com. Check out the seeds of hundreds of heirloom veggies and flowers in a full-color publication that looks more like a magazine than a catalog. Order today, they run out early.

Nichols Garden Nursery: (800) 422-3985, www.nicholsgardennursery.com. Nichols is celebrating 60 years of seeds and plants for herbs, veggies and flowers. It offers a fascinating treasure hunt for the unusual.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds : (877) 564-6697, www.johnnyseeds.com. Find cold-tolerant vegetables, flowers and herbs that are flavorful, disease-resistant and good producers. A favorite of market gardeners and home growers. Good growing information.

Thompson & Morgan: (800)274-7333; www.thompson-morgan.com. Their world-famous 200-page seed catalog features hundreds of full-color photos, making it a great reference if you’re into flower power.

Peaceful Valley Organics: (888) 784-1722, www.groworganic.com. A huge assortment of heirloom and organic seeds including Seeds of Change, Renee’s Garden Seeds and bio-dynamically grown herb seeds from Turtle Tree Seeds. Good selection of fruit and nut trees and shrubs.

Pinetree Garden Seeds: (207) 926-3400, www.superseeds.com. Enjoy great prices for those who don’t need scads of seeds and want to start simple.

Seed Savers Exchange: (563) 382-5990, www.seedsavers.org. Enjoy an extensive collection of heirloom seeds, books and gifts. Check out the Web site for information about membership and benefits of joining the Seed Savers Exchange, the largest nongovernment seed bank in the United States.

All these catalogs are available online, and most Web sites include additional items that become available after the catalogs go to press.

Many seed houses publish online newsletters that provide growing tips, alerts of seasonal sales and special events.

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Timely Tip:

Poinsettias make long-lasting cut flowers, so consider adding them to your fresh flower arrangements.

About Those Leftover Bulbs

While rummaging in the basement looking for Christmas decorations I happened upon a bag of spring flowering bulbs that got stuck away by a mistake. I’m not alone here.  All winter I get emails from readers asking if there is any way they can plant their overlooked treasures, short of using a blow torch to thaw the frozen ground.

First I recommend checking to see if the bulbs are in good condition. No use toiling over bulbs that are over the bend. Healthy bulbs will be firm to the touch, like a bulb of fresh Some may have already begun to sprout, but lack of green does not indicate they are doomed.

“Don’t let a bit of frozen crust on the surface of the soil deter you from planting,” says

Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, purveyors of antique flowering bulbs. As long as the soil is not frozen at the final planting depth they can still be planted.  We often plant spring flowering bulbs in our demonstration gardens in December. Kunst says the larger bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils do just fine.  However, crocus and some of the other small bulbs need to have their roots established before the ground freezes so they may fail to flower when planted out late in the season.

Brent Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (website and Facebook page) suggest potting up theselittle guys and giving them some transition time in a cool corner of the basement or an unheated attached garage where the temperatures range between 40 and 60 degrees. After about three weeks the bulbs should have developed a nice root structure and the cell walls will have made the chemical changes needed to withstand freezing temperatures. At this point bulbs stored in the basement can be moved to the garage.  As added insurance the potted bulbs stored in the garage can be packed up of Styrofoam coolers or cardboard boxes filled with foam peanuts. The insulation will protect them from swings in the temperatures.

If you choose to move them outdoors place the pots on the ground in a protected area and cover them with 8 to 12 inches of mulch. Shredded leaves, pine needles or wood chips all work well. Covering the pile with a tarp or sheet of plastic netting will keep the mulch from becoming airborne in stormy weather.

Tulips need between 12 to 16 weeks in the cold in order to bloom. Most daffodil cultivars require 14 to 16 weeks.  In spring the bulbs can be transplanted in containers for use outdoors or indoors.

This method will work for the gardener who only has a few bulbs to contend with, but what about the poor souls like my friend Darby who cornered the market on bulbs early in the season and never got the chance to plant them. Digging in frozen soil or potting up are not good options when you have seven hundred bulbs to plant.” she cried.

So I suggested she might try the quickie planting method used by another friend Rick Wray of Pennsylvania. He received a gift crate of bulbs the third week in December 2002, just two days before he was to leave on a cruise. With no time to plant them he simply tossed the bulbs on the ground and covered them with several inches of mulch. The following spring he was greeted with an incredible display of color.

Don’t worry if the bulbs land upside down or on their sides.  They know which way is up.

The only hitch may be the weather. Ray’s neck of the woods is located in  Zone 6a to 7 and Darlin Darby digs in Zone 5. Brent Heath thinks there is a good chance that tulips and daffs can survive being dumped out in the cold and thought mulching the bulbs was worth a try in this colder zone.

Heath was more concerned about critters than the cold. Bulbs that have not been buried in the soil are vulnerable to animal damage so it’s a good idea to take precautions. In their books Tulips for North American Gardens (Bright Sky Press $24.95) and Daffodils for American Gardens ($24.95) Brent and Becky Heath recommend spraying the bulbs with an animal repellant such as Ropel.  In addition, scattering a thin layer of Milorganite (website and facebook page), a slow release fertilizer made of sewage sludge, around the perimeter and over the surface of the mulch bed will also help to deter animals. If you’re planting well away from the house in a naturalized location where you don’t plan to establish a garden, used kitty litter from the cat’s pan scattered about will also help to repel little 4-legged creatures such as voles that love to dine on bulbs. Granular PlantSkydd isformulated to repel all 4 legged creatures.

Planting spring bulbs in heavy clay soil laced with roots and stones is a backbreaking job so my dream of installing a river of daffodils in my meadow and at the edge of the forest that surrounds my patch, was a long way off. But when a huge dump truck got stuck in my meadow leaving deep ruts, I took advantage of the situation and filled the depressions with daffs.

With the green ash borer disaster, wood chips should be free for the asking for the next several years.  I covered the bulbs is several inches of woodchips.  I than sprinkled the surface of the chips with

Daffodil Patch

Milorganite. While  deterring critters, it also replaced any nitrogen that may have depleted as the wood chips decomposed.  When life gives you lemons make lemonade. I am happy to report the daffodils thrived and have multiplied to the point they need to be divided after blooming this spring. .

For More Information About All Flower Bulbs

Go to the bulb section of our website www.yardener.com.

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If you’re looking for Christmas gifts or if you are a gardener digging for good winter reading, the Timber Press Web site, www.timberpress.com, is a great place to treasure-hunt. And the good news is it’s offering a 30 percent discount on all books through Dec. 31, to folks on their e-mail newsletter list.

To qualify, just click on the e-mail offer on the home page and sign up, and they will send you the offer online. Timber offers great sales, including occasional 50 percent-off items throughout the year, so it’s well worth the effort. With an inventory of more than 3,000 titles on nature, gardening, plants and trees, there’s something there for everyone.

Here are some of the books I’ll be reading this winter.

• “The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn” by John Greenlee, photography by Saxon Holt (Timber Press, $34.95) is the gold standard when it comes to meadow gardening.

I’ve read several books and endless articles on meadow gardening, and none have given me the depth of information — the whys and hows — that made me feel confident this would not be a maintenance nightmare. John Greenly spends an entire chapter explaining how to make a meadow and an additional chapter on establishment and maintenance. His dictionary of meadow plants and grasses includes spacing and is laced with planting tips that only a gardener with extensive hands-on experience, such as Greenlee would know. Saxon Holt illustrates the author’s writings with stunning photographs that bring the words to life.

Visit my Web site, nancysgarden.wordpress.com and check out my meadow garden photo at the top of the home page, taken on a frosty morning in November.

“Teaming with Microbes: A Gardeners Guide to the Soil Food Web” by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis (Timber Press, $24.95) is a must read for any gardener looking to create a sustainable, healthy garden and landscape without chemicals. In the first half, Lowenfels and Lewis take you on a fascinating underground tour and introduce you to the critters that make our world green. In the second half, they explain how to cultivate the life in the soil using compost, mulches and compost tea.

• Most of the 75 plants included in the book “Black Plants” by Paul Bonine (Timber Press, $14.95) actually produce very dark purple leaves or flowers that appear black from a distance. Nonetheless, the addition of these striking shrubs, perennials and annuals will add depth and drama to the landscape and gardens and are worth searching out.

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My friend Darby called on Black Friday to see if I wanted to do some power shopping. I told her sorry, I was knee deep in work. I didn’t tell her I was snuggled up on the couch under a fuzzy throw with a cup of hot tea, my cat and a stack of brand new gardening books. It was a blustery twenty degrees out and the wind was whipping snow around the yard. When those North winds blow, like most gardeners there is no place I would rather be than curled up on the sofa with a good read. So here are some books I think will make great gifts for the gardeners on your Christmas list.

There was a time when growing orchids was a hobby limited to the rich and richer. But thanks to modern growing techniques and technology, today growing orchids has gone mainstream. On any given day savvy shoppers find real bargains on orchids at big boxes and superstores as well as garden centers and nurseries.  If you have a gardener on your shopping list who is “into orchids,” Flora’s Orchids ($59.95,) the stunning new encyclopedia from Timber Press (www.timberpress.com) is an awesome gift.

Lavishly illustrated with 1300 gorgeous color photos, the work covers 1500 orchids including rarely seen species in the wild along with popular cultivated varieties. In addition to a fascinating history – taxonomy, cultivation, propagation and problem solving are covered in very readable prose. Beautifully bound, this stunning work is coffee table quality but will undoubtedly spend most of its time in its owner’s lap.

Anyone who has ever visited the gardens of England will tell you Clematis is an underused plant in American gardens. Magazines depict them showering over mailboxes and smothering the slats of trellises. Pretty to be sure, but there are so many more ways to use them, and Gardening with Clematis: Design and Cultivation by Linda Beutler (Timber Press $34.95 is dedicated to showing and telling both beginning and experienced gardeners how to do it successfully.

To begin with, this is the first major book about clematis written by a North American for North American gardeners And better yet, it’s written by a dirt gardener with a passion for flowers who’s wisdom is gleaned not from other books but hands on experience. Currently Linda Beutler cultivates over 275 clematis on a city lot measuring 50 x 100 feet. They fill pots and scramble over shrubs, up trees, across fences and dance along the ground.  Buetler’s conversational style of writing is light and easy, making it a fun read.  Interspersed through out the book are color photos that illustrate her prose.

Want to find out how to prune clematis to extend their bloom or how to use them as companions to annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs? It’s all here and it’s a must read for any gardener who wants to pretty up their patch.

My passion for silver plants began more then a dozen years ago when I discovered Helichrysum petiolare, better know as the licorice plant, gilding the gardens in the Cotswold district of England. After two years of searching I finally found the plant in the stall of an herb grower at the Lapeer Farmer’s Market. Today, marketed as an annual, licorice plant is a staple in container plantings. But to my mind it put use of silver plants on American Gardener’s radar screen. And the book, Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden by Jo Ann Gardner and Karen Bussolini ($34.95 Timber Press) is a treasure trove for those of us who love their subtle glow.

Whether choosing to use them as a unifier to tie the garden together or as bold statements in the border, Bussolini and Gardner walk you through the process.  Annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, it’s a lot to cover in a single book, but this duo does a creditable job.

Gardener and Bussolini write in a readable style that provides information that can only garnered from hands on experience growing the plants.  The photos are crisp and clear and bring the message to life. Everyone needs some elegant silvers in their garden.

For those looking for inspiration and fresh eyes when designing a garden, Garden Design by Noel Kingsbury ($34.95 Timber Press) is a perfect place to start.  In this work Noel Kingsbury surveys some of the worlds leading garden designers for expert advice. Better yet you have the chance to view personal gardens of cutting edge designers such as Piet Oudolf, James Van Sweden, and Julie Mois Messervy.  The photos in this coffee table format are stunning and the accompanying advice worth reading.





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