review: The Flower Book

The Flower Book

The Flower Book: Let the beauty of each bloom speak for itself – natural flower arrangements for your home

Fans of flowers will be delighted with the full color photos in this large book. Step by step instructions are provided for creating professional-looking cut flower arrangements and bouquets. Recommended specific flowers are profiled, including a wealth of information in addition to a huge close-up color photo. These flowers are listed individually and then several are used to create a mixed-flower arrangement. Even as someone who appreciates flowers almost exclusively where they grow in the garden, there is a ton of inspiration here – from which flowers might look good together to the facts about the plants themselves.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Grand Rapids Public Library via the MeLCat interlibrary loan 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: New Small Garden

new small garden

New Small Garden: Contemporary Principles, Planting, and Practice by Noel Kingsbury, photos by Maayke de Ridder

My goal is to turn our yard into all garden, but our yard is so large that I’m taking it in small chunks, so I’m thinking about it as a series of small gardens. This will hopefully allow me to get each smaller area established and in a place where it’s relatively self-sufficient so I can move on to the next one and eventually have them all be in that state of self-sufficiency.

Determining how to divide up the space into these smaller gardens is a bit of a challenge, but it’s also fun, and this book is helpful in figuring out how to design the smaller spaces so they feel at least a little bit planned/on purpose. The photographs are beautiful and they’re taken from vantage points that really allow you to feel how it would be to walk through the garden. Of course the gardens pictured are also lovely, developed spaces where the plants are thriving. There are lots of little tips throughout (your garden really also includes any space you can see in any direction, so work with the background or decide to block it out with plantings, etc).

One of the things that I have figured out over the years is that pathways are one of the most important pieces in defining a space, and a wide variety of path surfaces are featured here. Some of these pathways are grass, but the book is very clear in pointing out that if you have lawn, it will almost certainly be the most time-consuming thing to maintain in your garden. This gets back to my plan of eventually getting rid of grass! We have a few spaces where we’ve seeded mini clover and it is just getting established. It only grows to about 4″ high so it can be mowed if you want to, but really doesn’t need to be. I am all in favor of this sort of walk-on-able green plant.

There are a ton of other areas covered in this book that I am certain I’ll be back to refer to. I highly recommend this book!

full disclosure: I checked this book out at my local public library


saving seeds: Cosmos

It’s the time of year where I can start saving seeds and I am super excited about it. While this is probably a tedious task for a lot of folks, I really enjoy it. It’s especially enjoyable with a plant like Cosmos, which has super easy to gather seeds that separate from the chaff with practically no effort.

My usual procedure is to take a pair of household shears and snip the dried seed head off the stem directly into a large envelope.

Front walk flowers

When I’ve gathered all the seed heads I can find, I gently crush the envelope between my hands so most of the seeds fall off the heads. Then I dump it out onto a piece of paper towel (a piece of plain white paper works well, too) and pick out the seeds.

Saving seeds - Cosmos

I place these into a smaller envelope and let them fully dry out (usually they are super dry by this point, but I like to make sure so that there’s no chance they’ll mold). When I’ve got all the seeds out, I dump the chaff into the compost and wait for more seed heads to dry out on the plant. It’s so easy! I’m hoping to plant cosmos in a few different places in the yard next year – they’re lovely by the front walk but they’re SO HUGE and really just a bit big for that area. You can see here that some of them are as tall as I am!

These cosmos have reached Anne height

This is just a bit overwhelming for a front walk, I think. I’m really hoping that these seeds I’m gathering allow me to create more pollinator-friendly areas next year!

Front walk flowers


review: The Rooftop Growing Guide

The Rooftop Growing Guide

The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to Transform Your Roof into a Vegetable Garden or Farm by Annie Novak

Rooftop gardening is not a thing I have a venue for at present, but the concept is very interesting. Perhaps it’s due to all the dystopian media I’m exposed to or maybe just my innate desire for efficiency, but it seems like rooftop growing is a great way to take advantage of area that is otherwise under-utilized. (On that note, hey Walking Dead! Prime opportunity for a walker-free food-growing space. Get on it!)

This book takes you through all the details you need to consider when planning a rooftop growing enterprise, whether it be a small garden or large-scale food growing operation. What kind of climate exists on your rooftop? Do you want open air or a greenhouse? What structural concerns do you need to be aware of? What municipal codes and zoning restrictions will you need to abide by? How will you irrigate? How much money do you have to throw into this project? All of these questions and more are addressed here.

Interspersed throughout the book are examples of actual rooftop gardens, highlighting the methods they use, what they grow, and some history of their project.

Much of the information provided here works specifically for rooftop gardens but is also applicable to other garden settings. Dealing with pests, making and using compost, crop rotation, attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects, and saving seeds are just a few of these concepts useful for many gardeners.

I’d generally recommend this book primarily for those with a rooftop gardening opportunity, but there’s definitely a lot of useful information for all gardeners who might pick it up.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books.


review: The Water-Saving Garden

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water by Pam Penick

The Water-Saving Garden

Though we haven’t experienced much if any actual drought in this area, I’m still always concerned about how much water my garden will require. This is probably 90% out of pure laziness – I want the rain to provide virtually all of what my plants need so I don’t have to do as much work. I also feel like plants that thrive without extra water are stronger than those that rely on me to coddle them. With climate change, though, I do feel that it’s likely that we will have more dry spells and other unpredictable weather, so I want to design my garden with that in mind. This book is a perfect resource for this! It also made me think of my friends who live in California and are faced with actual serious drought conditions on the reg.

This book runs the gamut of topics related to water-saving gardens, including examples of low-water-need gardens, info on xeriscaping, rain barrel how-tos, basics of designing and maintaining a rain garden, how to use landscaping to reduce your water needs (berms, swales, terraces, hardscaping, etc.), using grey water, irrigation options, adding shade and windbreaks, reducing lawns and other water hogs, using native and other well-adapted plants, the best timing for planting to reduce water need, low-water-use container gardening, creating a lush look despite low water use, and a list of 101 plants recommended for water-saving gardens. Whew! There’s a ton of info in less than 250 pages, and that includes clear full-color photographs of many of the materials and techniques described.

There are definitely a bunch of things from this book that I’m going to incorporate into my garden planning for Firefly Cottage. I was already planning on lots of native plants and we added two rain barrels when we had the roof and gutters redone last fall, but there’s so much more to think about. Have you used any water-saving techniques in your yard or garden? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!

Full disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books.


The Allergy-Fighting Garden

The Allergy-Fighting Garden

The title of this book grabbed me right away. A book about gardening, you say? For people with allergies?

give it to me now

The author is a horticulturalist with an agricultural science background and invented the scale by which plants are rated for allergenicness. Seems legit.

I learned quite a few new things reading this book, one of which is that male plants produce more pollen than female plants. THANKS, MEN. Also, back in the 1940s, apparently some (male, I’m guessing) brains at the USDA decided to encourage people to grow male trees rather than a mix of female and male, because female trees produce seeds, seedpods, and fruit, and those are too messy to be convenient in carefully-groomed communities (we’re talking about types of trees where the sexes are separate – which NOT ALL TREES are). Male trees also produce more pollen than trees with both parts in the same flowers, so this preponderance of male trees made for extra beaucoup pollen everywhere. (They, along with cloning, also made for a horribly heterogeneous tree population, so when things like Dutch Elm disease came through, it was way more devastating than it might have been. GREAT.) (Also, birds and butterflies like to eat, you know, fruit, so having no female trees means having a lot fewer beneficial creatures around. SUPER.) Back to the dearth of female trees, which, did you know? actually COLLECT and remove pollen from the air, in addition to not producing it themselves. So not only are these too-numerous male trees dropping buckets of pollen all over the place, there aren’t enough female trees to – what’s new, right? – clean up their mess. Okay, even I’m getting a little tired of talking about this Tree Patriarchy. Let’s acknowledge that most of the time when we decide to mess with an ecosystem, we don’t consider the possible consequences and we end up screwing things up in ways we never imagined. Moving on.

You might say to yourself, but wait – don’t we need pollen so pollinators can do their jobs? Yes, we do. This book is about reducing the most allergenic pollens, not all pollens. We’ve seen what problems an all-or-nothing situation creates, haven’t we? The most allergenic pollens come from trees and shrubs, it seems, so a lot of perennial and annual plants are probably fine for many allergy sufferers. Which is great news! Because pollinators love those smaller plants and we love pollinators. This book goes into detail about how to identify the plants in your landscape as well as giving recommendations for how to choose what to add to your own yard and garden. It also gives suggestions for helping to de-allergen your home space, such as planting an allergy-blocking hedge on the windward side of your property (really the hedge will be collecting the pollen not blocking it). I am all about a property-border hedge, so this makes me even more antsy for us to be in our next home and planning our landscape!

Most of the book is a listing of details about various plants. It includes their allergy rating as well as information about the plant and for some, color photographs. The back of the book includes a glossary of horticultural terms, lists of recommended books and websites, a pollen calendar for common species, and the current USDA plant hardiness zone map.

This is a book I’m certainly going to be using for reference often. It’s got a ton of great information on a wide variety of plants and, especially since we will hopefully be the owners of a new garden/yard soon, we’ll have lots of planning and plant-identifying for which to use it. I love gardening books and I’ve read a lot of them, but none have taught me as much about plant sex as this book. And how many gardening books have you read that contain the phrase, “Feminists, we need you!”

Full disclosure: reviewed from a complimentary copy provided by Blogging for Books.