review: Rock Gardening

Rock Gardening

Rock Gardening: Reimagining a classic style – gardens – techniques – plants by Joseph Tychonievich

Reducing water use is an increasingly popular topic as relates to gardening and landscaping. Though this author lives in Michigan, he traveled to a variety of locations in the United State and United Kingdom to explore rock gardens in a variety of climates. Many of these featured gardens are quite large and contain both rock and traditional gardens, but the focus here is on the former. Color photographs highlight both wide shots and close-ups of particular plantings. The second section focuses on techniques including constructing rock gardens in various styles, preparing and maintaining the soil, choosing containers, knowing your climate, and obtaining and propagating plants. The third and final portion of the book is a list of types and genii that are generally suited to rock gardens, such as cacti, campanulas, dianthus, sempervivums, and more. Several pages of description and color photographs are provided for each.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Genesee District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


Firefly Cottage garden update

Whew! Time has gotten away from me a bit in terms of updating! I’ve been busy in the gardens, though, and we’re seeing new things blooming.

Firefly Cottage Panorama

Check out this panorama K. took! Pretty cool! Note that we live on a corner, so the two sidewalks on either side are actually perpendicular to one another. You can see that we’ve not had much rain lately by the state of the lawn – the parts where it gets green is where we have clover growing instead of grass. Someday the rest of the grass will be gone. You can also see that we have a lot of wee trees that are about 2′ tall – these are the fruit trees which I’ve pruned per Grow a Little Fruit Tree (and other sources). They’ll take some time to get larger but they should become lovely, manageable fruit trees that don’t take over a huge amount of space each. You can also see, to the right of the center walkway, the remains of the Burning Bush. I’ve been talking about getting rid of it and we finally did it. The city was doing a one-time-only brush chipping, so we took the branches off so they could get chipped with the lowest branches of the big conifer and the other branches we’ve gathered over the winter. After this photo was taken, we pulled out the root ball (thank goodness for the reciprocating saw! There were a couple of sizable roots that required it), which the chipping program would not take, and which is now drying out next to the garage until we figure out how to get rid of it.

Firefly Cottage views from upstairs #FireflyCottage

There’s the view from upstairs, where you can see the dirt circle where the Burning Bush was. You can also see that I finally started my dream of a hedge! There are three shrubs on each side of the front walkway: two on each side are Boxwood ‘Green Velvet’ and between those, Juniper ‘Grey Owl.’ I stopped out at Green Scene on Memorial Day weekend and got these along with a pretty-much perfect customer service experience. They don’t look like much at the moment, but we planted them spaced out to accommodate the size they will eventually be and they’ll take awhile to reach that size. Also barely visible in that photo are a bunch of seedlings growing on either side of the walkway. I scattered a bunch of seeds out there and they’re growing, but slowly. This year I sowed a bunch of things that should be shorter than last year’s monster Cosmos and Zinnias.

Firefly Cottage views from upstairs #FireflyCottage

Here’s some evidence of that lovely green clover! This was taken the same day as the photo above – you can really tell the difference in color between the clover compared with the grass.

Firefly Cottage gardens #FireflyCottage

You can see more clover on the far side of the walkways here – lots of blossoms mean we’re keeping the pollinators happy. The area surrounding the garage is also looking fairly decent.

Garage-surrounding garden

The Salvia ‘Lyrical Blues’ is looking gorgeous, and the Yarrow is about ready to bloom any day.


The Penstemon up against the garage is blooming and looks awesome.

This Spirea is trying to take over

This Spirea is out of control! I meant to move it before it bloomed this year but missed the window. It will have to be split pretty soon, though. Anyone want some?

House - surrounding garden

In the front, we have Blanket Flower, Nigella, Sweet William, and now the shrub rose is starting to bloom. There are some things in there that I’m pretty sure are weeds but I haven’t decided for sure yet.

Raised bed sprouts

The raised bed is also sprouting! I am doing a semi-decent job of remembering to turn the sprinkler on it, so here’s hoping that continues. I need to thin these, too. So things are going well so far! I’m hoping that we get the predicted rain this week.


review: Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks

Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks

Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks by Tim Richardson

This book contains sketches, landscape plans, and photos of 3D models of 37 gardens all over the world. A brief overview provides background about the garden and its planning process. The plans and sketches use a variety of media and are presented in relatively large format (the book is oversize) – it feels like an art book combined with a high-end designer’s sketchbook. It is gorgeous to look through and the only thing I wish it had included were photos of the completed gardens to compare with the designs. One bonus: this book is essentially a list of gardens that one might want to visit.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the James White Library at Andrews University through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Growing Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit

Growing Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit

Growing Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit: A step-by-step guide to kitchen and allotment gardening with 1400 photographs by Richard Bird & Jessica Houdret

This hefty (over 500 pages) guide to growing your own food goes from the history of food gardens all the way through everything a gardener needs to know. It is filled with full-color photos on glossy paper, providing inspiration along with information. Though the design sections are not super lengthy, they provide creative ideas for different ways to set up your gardens, illustrated with photos and hand-drawn diagrams. Directories of vegetables, fruit, and herbs are also provided and include a wide variety of plants (the herb directory especially takes a broad definition of the term and includes a lot more than just the typical kitchen garden herbs).

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Herrick District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by Michael VanderBrug

This book strives to be a start-to-finish guide to growing veggies in the Midwest (defined pretty broadly here as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). It has basic gardening instruction, planning information, a schedule of what to do January-December, a list of recommended plants, and tables of conversions, hardiness zones, and planting schedules. Printed on matte paper and with line drawing illustrations, this book has a homespun feel that will appeal to many gardeners.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Ann Arbor District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Gardening with Less Water

Gardening with Less Water

Gardening with Less Water: Low-tech, low-cost techniques * use up to 90% less water in your garden by David A. Bainbridge

We do not live in an area of the country that is frequently in a drought (YET), but I still try to use less water whenever possible. Especially with opportunist capitalist fatcats Nestle trying to take even more of our water (and sell it for a profit, naturally) here in mid-Michigan, it seems prudent to look for ways to reduce our water needs. It also makes sense from a lazy person’s perspective – the fewer times I need to haul the hose and sprinkler around the yard, the better. Ideally I’d like to only need to water when I’ve just transplanted or seeded, so everything can be self-sufficient the rest of the time. This book provides techniques and tips for minimizing water use by making sure that the plants get the water they need just as it is needed and with little to no loss due to evaporation or runoff. The super-efficient irrigation techniques detailed here include buried clay pots, porous capsules, deep pipes, wicks, porous house, buried clay pipe, and tree shelters. There are also a number of other techniques and actions described, as well as instructions for developing your own water-wise plan.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the West Bloomfield Township Public Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Paradise and Plenty

Paradise and Plenty

Paradise and Plenty: A Rothschild Family Garden by Mary Keen

This garden is part of the Rothschild family estate at Waddesdon in England, and this book focuses on various aspects that make this garden special. Historical information about and photos of the family are included, but most of the book is dedicated to the gardens at present. Details are provided about the various sections of the garden and to the plants in each of those sections. Soil preparation, staking, and other techniques are also outlined and everything is accompanied by large detailed photos (most in color but some in greyscale where it’s useful). Several gatefold double-page spread photos are included to provide wider views of some garden spaces. This book is unusual in that it provides both practical step-by-step instructions for techniques like propagation as well as large, beautiful photographs at home in a coffee table book. Appendixes provide complete lists of the plants featured here.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Grosse Pointe Public Library through the awesome MeLCat ILL system


review: Cultivating Chaos

Cultivating Chaos

Cultivating Chaos: How to enrich landscapes with self-seeding plants by Jonas Reif and Christian Kress

As ever, I’m always looking for low-maintenance plants for the garden. Self-seeders definitely fit the bill and there are a ton of great options detailed here. The authors’ philosophy is to integrate planning and maintenance into one process, which sounds to me like an ideal way to do things. In addition to great information, this book also offers large color photographs of self-seeded gardens and plants (photos by Jurgen Becker) which offer inspiration for various types and styles of planting. The authors feature several specific environments which contain self-seeding plantings in a natural setting with photos and info of both the larger environments and individual plants. Specific techniques such as soil preparation and adjustment are outlined, maintenance for specific plants is recommended, and individual plant profiles are listed.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Ann Arbor District Library through the MeLCat ILL system


early spring garden walkthrough

This weekend I took a walk through the gardens to see how things look at the beginning of our spring growing season. There’s not a huge amount happening, but there are signs of life returning!

The lilacs are looking good after we did the really big prune last year:

Lilac really doing just fine after hard prune last year

White Lilac rebounding after deep prune last year

I’ll be picking up more fruit trees from the Conservation District later this week, so I need to pick up some more mulch to go around them and get ready to dig some holes. I ordered probably too many trees, but as our goal is to have the yard be completely gardens (except the fenced in area where Coraline runs around, which will just be clover without much else), I’m pretty much fine with having a ton of petite fruit trees throughout.

Lots more pics on Flickr.


review: Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The easy and treatment-free way to attract and keep healthy bees by Rob and Chelsea McFarland

This approach to beekeeping is based on understanding bees and working with them in as many ways as possible (as opposed to putting the human’s needs/wants first). For a first-time beekeeper, this book recommends three crucial elements: community, education, and equipment. Of these, equipment will be the most expensive in terms of dollars – a basic first year’s worth of equipment will run approximately $500. Lots of detail is provided about the equipment and options available with special attention to why the authors recommend particular choices. All the phases of beekeeping are outlined, from planning all the way through to harvesting honey and maintaining healthy hives. I aspire to keep bees someday and this book is a great place to start.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Shiawassee District Library through the MeLCat ILL system