It's that time of year again when, as we go outside to the gardens, we turn inside to the books that offer wisdom for what we do.
It’s that time of year again when, as we go outside to the gardens, we turn inside as well — to the books that offer wisdom for what we do. Here’s a short list to consider:
• Our thoughts may well turn to tropicals as the days grow longer. What other plants create the illusion of summer heat? Learn which bamboos, yuccas, aroids, palms, restios and succulents are likely to do best in our less-than-tropical climate in a new reference book, “Encyclopedia of Exotic Plants for Temperate Climates” (Timber Press, $49.95). Author Will Giles gardens in Norfolk on the east coast of England, a climate no more hospitable to tropicals than our own. The many photos of his lavishly leafy and spiky garden, however, convince us that Giles knows whereof he writes. He includes many reliably hardy plants that merely look exotic, and recommends Mesogeo garden and greenhouse on Bainbridge Island as a source for Mediterranean plants and hardy tropicals (www.mesogeogarden.com).
Whether you long to cultivate a Roussea-like jungle or just want to winter over a tree fern, Giles’ book will educate and inspire. Pre-Giles, I never knew about all the stunning frost-hardy gingers (Hedychium species), a bit of knowledge I feel sure is going to get me into trouble.
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• “Outdoors: The Garden Design Book for the Twenty-First Century” (The Monacelli Press, $60) is a coffee table tome that is itself nearly as big as a coffee table. Brought to you by Terence Conran, a restaurateur and owner of Habitat furniture stores, and Diarmuid Gavin, the Chelsea-award-winning designer and Brit TV star, this is a stunning look at contemporary gardens. While the text is predictable, the book is gorgeous. Generously scaled color photos illustrate Conran and Gavin’s very cool worldwide aesthetic while updating us on international gardening trends from meadows to minimalism. This is a book meant for dreaming, for marveling over materials, designs and locales unlike any you’ve seen.
• “The Informed Gardener” by Washington State University associate professor Linda Chalker-Scott (University of Washington Press, $18.95) is an update on how to garden right here. Ever since I was a librarian at the UW I’ve relied on Chalker-Scott’s common sense and experience to answer nitty-gritty gardening questions. She has often served as a resource for my question-and-answer columns in the Wednesday Seattle Times. In her first book she takes on common garden myths about fertilizer, mulch, transplanting, staking, compost tea, watering and many more potentially confusing topics. She skillfully debunks them with current research as well as her experience in extension horticulture. The book would benefit from illustrations and better quality paper, but UW Press came through with a lovely cover and a thorough index.
• Gardening is really all about covering the ground, and too often that means lawn or gravel. Luckily, Barbara Ellis shows more imagination in a beautifully designed, color-rich new book from Storey Publishing,”Covering Ground: Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping with Colorful, Low-Maintenance Ground Covers” ($19.95). The book is full of charts, photos and plant suggestions; especially useful is the section arranged by dilemma, offering plant palettes for wet soil, dry shade, sunny slopes and even weedy corners.
• In “Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn” (Metropolis Books, $24.95) author Fritz Haeg proposes eating your lawn rather than mowing it. This young Los Angeles architect has launched a project to replace front lawns with edible landscapes. His idea is deliciously subversive, an attack on suburbia. And it earned him an article in The New York Times’ spring ’08 design issue, in which author Susan Morgan visits Haeg at home in his vintage geodesic dome.
In his chapter entitled “Full-Frontal Gardening,” Haeg makes the case for edible landscapes. He exposes lawn’s uselessness while tracing the evolution of his radical call for streetside fruit and veggies. The heart of the book looks at front-yard vegetable gardens around the country, including designs, plant lists, photos and the words of converted gardeners reveling in bean tepees and strawberry edging. Along with contributors Michael Pollan and Rosalind Creasy, Alice Waters adds her voice to the call, “A garden in front of every house can transform a neighborhood, sprouting the seeds not just of zucchini and tomatoes but of biodiversity, sustainability and community.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.