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


review: Happy Home Outside

Happy Home Outside

Happy Home Outside: Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life by Charlotte Hedeman Gueniau

The focus here is on bringing the comforts of the indoors to the outdoors with a very colorful, cozy aesthetic. The DIY projects mostly reuse found objects and range from quite simple to a bit more involved. A number of recipes are scattered throughout along with ideas for gatherings and parties. I was annoyed to see a tipi and racist terminology in the accompanying text, which pretty much ruined this book for me. Not recommended.

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


review: Planting Design for Dry Gardens

Planting Design for Dry Gardens

Planting Design for Dry Gardens: Beautiful, resilient groundcovers for terraces, paved areas, gravel and other alternatives to the lawn by Olivier Filippi

Filippi starts off with a history of lawns, concluding with a look at the relatively recent movement toward ecological meadows and other alternatives. Then he moves on to a look at groundcover plants as they grow in the wild all over the world. The next section details a variety of groundcover gardens including those that are walkable, for an alternative that is quite similar to a lawn but without the water or mowing requirements. Many of these groundcovers bloom once a year, so they actually have an added beauty that a lawn does not. Filippi also explores other variations, such as a grassland that features cultivated weeds, flowering steppes, gravel gardens, green plants used to enhance stone surfaces, flowering meadows, and more. The second half of the book provides instructions for preparing the soil, planting, and maintaining these gardens (with a particular focus on reducing the amount of maintenance required as time goes on), followed by a listing of groundcover plants for dry gardens. Color photographs illustrate throughout.

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


review: New Wild Garden

New Wild Garden

New Wild Garden: Natural-style planting and practicalities by Ian Hodgson

Just as I like to use native plants, I also like to create gardens that fit together naturally, and this book is all about doing that. This type of garden – inspired by those that exist naturally without human intervention – provide such robust habitats for insects and other small wildlife. The large color photographs used here offer a great look at what different plant combinations will look like. I find this especially useful since not everything will be blooming at the same time, so it’s nice to see a garden where some things are blooming, others have already bloomed, and some have not bloomed yet. Hodgson also covers planning and planting how-tos throughout, for a variety of types of sites and plants. There is even a section here on how to use these philosophies in container gardens. Finally, a gallery showcases ideal annuals, biennials, perennials, grasses, sedges, rushes, bulbs, climbers, trees, shrubs, water plants, and bog plants.

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


review: Grow Native

Grow Native

Grow Native: Bringing Natural Beauty to Your Garden by Lynn M. Steiner

I’m already on board for using native plants in the garden – they tend to be lower maintenance, thrive with little attention, sustain habitat for butterflies and birds, and fit into my cottage garden aesthetic. Besides, they belong here, right? This book focuses on identifying plant communities that would have existed in your area before it was developed and recreating them in your gardens. A several page chart offers ‘instead of that, plant this’ suggestions to avoid weedy and invasive flowers, groundcovers, grasses, shrubs, vines, and trees. Throughout the book, color photographs show both individual plants and gardens with a combination of plants, providing lots of inspiration. About half the book is instructive and the other half provides one-page entries for a variety of recommended plants. This is one that I may purchase for myself because it has such a wealth of information and ideas that I know I’ll want to refer back to it.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Fenton Branch of the Genesee District Library through the awesome MeLCat ILL system


review: All the Presidents’ Gardens

All the Presidents' Gardens

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses – How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America by Marta McDowell

This book traces the role gardens have played at the White House from the 1790s to 2015. Color images are included throughout the book: paintings, drawings, plans, and photographs of the grounds, gardens, greenhouses, statues, seed catalog and magazine pages, and more. There is a short section with paragraph biographies of the fourteen men (yes, all men, BOO) who have served as First Gardener and another listing all the plants known to have been planted at the White House. I found it interesting to learn more about which presidents and first ladies were super into the garden being a vital part of the White House Grounds and how this changed over time in light of different political events.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Baldwin Public Library through the MeLCat ILL system


review: The Art of Gardening

The Art of Gardening

The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer by R. William Thomas et al.

Chanticleer is a renowned public garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania. It strives to be a pleasure garden, a place where people can enjoy themselves in nature without a strict purpose beyond enjoyment and perhaps inspiration. It is made up of a series of garden rooms devoted to various garden styles and purposes, created using the buildings on the site, specific plantings, and taking advantage of microclimates. The variety of garden rooms means gardeners with all sorts of conditions in their own gardens will find useful information and inspiration here. The romantically but descriptively named rooms, defined here as being enclosed in some way (most by plantings but a few by walls), include the Bog by the Ponds, the Gravel Garden, the Moss Walk, the Sun Porch, the Ruin, the Pond Arbor, the Teacup Garden, the Overlook, the Fiddlehead Path, and many others. There are many specific plants named and pictured, but one of the most useful elements here may be the examples provided of layered planting combinations which give each space life and interest throughout the growing season. All in all, this book exemplifies the attention and devotion that the caregivers of Chanticleer give to their gardens.

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


review: Forgotten Ways for Modern Days

 photo forgotten ways_zpswywsnbnh.jpeg

Forgotten Ways for Modern Days: Kitchen Cures and Household Lore for a Natural Home and Garden by Rachelle Blondel

This is one of those books that is totally practical but for me personally remains aspirational. I just never seem to find the time to gather the necessary ingredients for these types of projects – I might remember to buy the glycerin and essential oil that I wouldn’t have on hand to make wood wipes, but will I take the time to actually make the wipes before I want to use them? Probably not. This is purely my own lack of effort, though, and I’m sure that many other folks will appreciate the limited ingredient lists required to make most of these items. For cleaning and other chores, I just don’t spend any more time on them than I have to, so preparing in advance is unlikely to actually happen. Recipes are included for cleaning, laundry, kitchen, household, and garden items, as well as those used for health and beauty. The book is lovely to hold and look at and most of the recipes only require half a dozen ingredients, making them pretty reasonable in terms of preparation and cost. The paper it is printed on and the design all lend themselves to a natural feel that jibes with the book’s intent.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Hart Area Public Library using the awesome MeLCat interlibrary loan system