Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Reviews: Good Reads for a Cold Winter's Night

A belated Happy New Year to everyone!  The year has certainly gotten off to a better start than December, at least weather-wise.  Temperatures in the 50's over the weekend along with some rain melted all the snow so that I can see green grass again.  But our Illinois winter is far from over, so it's a great time to snuggle under a blanket on a cold winter's evening with a good book.

For gardeners, may I suggest you pick up Sydney Eddison's Gardening for a Lifetime.  As a woman "of a certain age" and one who began gardening later in life, I was intrigued by the title, hoping to find some suggestions to make gardening less labor-intensive and ways to maintain my garden for as long as possible. Eddison offers tips to do just that, but she also tells of her personal journey in gardening over the years.

An award-winning garden writer, lecturer, and teacher, Eddison's acre and a half garden in Connecticut has been featured in magazines and on television.  For years, she kept expanding her garden little by little until she eventually admitted she had created a garden she couldn't possibly keep up with.  Although she often had regular help, she needed even more help, more than she could afford.  She realized that she had to make some changes in order to keep doing what she loved. 

Some of the changes that Eddison suggests:
  • Get rid of fussy plants: "In order to remain in my garden a perennial must be truly perennial and return faithfully every year." 

One of Eddison's favorite low-maintenance perennials is Sedum 'Autumn Joy.'

  • Be thankful for all the shade you have: "Shade-tolerant plants are easier to maintain than sun-lovers."
  • Substitute shrubs for perennials--"they afford more value for less work."

Various shrubs in the Idea Garden provide the "bones" for the borders. 
This is an idea I want to copy in my own garden.

  • And my personal favorite . . . "Accept imperfection."
My Butterfly Garden is the epitome of imperfection, but I love it all the same.
 Eddison is still working in her large garden, but she tells the stories of several friends who decided it was time to move on to smaller places with less maintenance.  Happily, they are still gardening, but on a smaller scale and finding joy in simpler, easy-to-maintain gardens. 

Eddison's clear prose and personal reflections make this an interesting and fast read.  But if you're short of time, you could just read the last two pages of each chapter where she conveniently sums up the main points.  The only criticism I have of  the book is that I wish she had included color photographs of her garden.  The book has some black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout, but when it comes to gardening books I am like a first-grader--the more pictures, the better!  But that is merely my curiosity about her garden; you don't really need photos to understand her philosophy.  While Gardening for a Lifetime would primarily appeal to those of us who are beginning to realize our limitations, it is also a helpful resource for younger gardeners who may be more limited in time than in physical stamina.  It also is a great aid for any age gardener in making long-term plans.  As Eddison says, "Gardens and Gardeners age and change."

Actually, I finished reading Eddison's book well over a month ago.  For the past few days I've been reading a novel that has kept me from reading blogs, not to mention taking down the rest of the Christmas decorations.  The novel that has kept me up reading late into the night is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third in the trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson.  Ellen wrote an excellent review for the September Book Review Club meeting, so I won't be redundant and write another critique here, other than to say these three books are the best thrillers/crime fiction I've read in a long, long time.

I read the first two in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire early this past summer.  But I wanted to wait until this winter when I had plenty of time to read the concluding book--these are books you definitely don't want to put down. A lazy New Year's weekend while Husband watched every bowl game on TV was the perfect opportunity.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is much less violent than the first two--especially Tattoo, which contains some scenes I found very disturbing--but is every bit as detailed and compelling as the earlier books.  If you haven't read any of these novels, don't skip to the last one, however--it would not only be difficult to understand the story line without reading the first two, but you also wouldn't have the empathy for the enigmatic heroine Lisbeth Salander that is developed by reading the earlier novels.  Sadly, Stieg Larsson passed away after handing the manuscripts for this trilogy to his publisher, so there will be no more stories of Blomkvist and Salander.  If there were, I would be lined up at the bookstore the day each one came out!

Disclaimer: No compensation was received for the writing of these reviews:  I checked out Gardening for a Lifetime from my local library, and I purchased my own hardback copy of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

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@Barrie Summy


  1. I have read two other reviews aobut Gardening for a Lifetime. Everyone has liked this book. It will be a must read for me.

    The Girl Who Kicked... is a must read too because I have read the first two. Can't wait to see what develops.

  2. Lovely reviews Rose. I think we could all learn a lot from Sydney Eddison. I've read several of her other books. I've also read the first two of the "The Girl" books. They are disturbing, but great action adventure too.

    Great reviews.~~Dee

  3. Sounds like the philosophy in her garden is the way to go. I like the idea that the garden will not need extra work to maintain.
    Happy reading!!

  4. I will definitely look for this book. I just love advice from lifelong gardeners on what works and doesn't.

  5. I was disappointed. Sydney is a revered local fixture here in Connecticut and I was eager for her written wisdom, as I am no youngster in the garden either. The book was awfully slim, and most points were true, but quite obvious. She talks about all the volunteer help she gets in the garden, and how you need more people helping as you get older. Not realistic for the rest of us! That said, it is charming at points and practical. I too wished there were photos of her famous garden!

  6. I've read the first Larsson book and although I enjoyed it, not enough to read about 1500 pages. Great heroine, so-so plot for me.

  7. I love your new banner image. Wow, a double review – impressive.

    I like the idea of a low fuss, imperfect garden. I agree about the need of color photos in a gardening book. Great review!

    As much as I like Salander as a character, I got turned off by the S&M violence in the first Larsson book so it’s good to hear that was toned down later.

  8. Lovely new image.
    Sedum *Autumn Joy* is a winner, isn't it?
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  9. I've seen a lot of reviews for the series-- a lot of mixed feelings about it. I'm glad you enjoyed it and thanks so much for stopping by.

  10. Ahhh, accepting imperfection. What gardener doesn't have to learn and re-learn that lesson. My garden this time of year could be an object lesson in imperfection.
    Thanks for the book recommendation. I liked your disclaimer about not being paid too. It gives your opinions more weight and credence in my mind.
    Hoping your gardening year if filled with growth and abundance.

  11. Accept imperfection... I like that, and not just in gardening :-)

    Must read those Larsson books, everyone is talking about them.

  12. Hi Rose, First let me say I love that you've reviewed these books without being comped - I skip "reviews" from bloggers who get stuff free, assuming they can't be objective, whatever their intentions. I've seen Sydney speak a couple of times, and she is lovely, but this book was a bit of a disappointment for me - not enough tho chew on, I thought.

  13. Great reviews, Rose! Gardening for Life sounds really interesting, and I really should get around to reading Larsson's trilogy. Happy New Year!

  14. I loved Eddison's book--so many words for the wise!--and loved, loved, LOVED the Larsen novels. Caught me completely off guard, they did. Now I'm diving into some Can Lit for a bit, a break from gardening books. Happy New Year, dear Rose!

  15. I am NOT a gardener, but I think you might have just convinced me to buy a gardening book! We live in a neighborhood of lovely 1/2 acre lots and one of my neighbors once suggested that we consider "beautifying" ours. I know our yard is very plain, but as I keep having children (expecting #3 this spring) I find that I have less time and energy for gardening every year.

    Eddison's book might be just the thing for me!

  16. I have been reading a bunch too. I will look into these novels you reviewed. And my Christmas decor is still up. Yikes. I hope to get it put away today.
    I also like the advice about accepting imperfection in gardening. It makes it seem so much easier that way.

  17. Lisa, "Hornet's Nest" doesn't have as much action as the other two--more scheming and spying than anything, but I thought it was still really good, and I definitely wanted to see some resolution for Lisbeth.

    Dee, I'm at that point where my knees are killing me after a few hours of gardening, so anything to make it easier is much appreciated.

    Janet, I'm all for lower maintenance!

    Tina, Not sure how long Eddison has been gardening, but it must be at least 50 years, so she definitely has some experience.

    Laurrie, I understand your criticism--some of the points like using mulch were obvious. And I definitely can't afford much help in my garden!

  18. Pattinase, Larsson's books aren't for everyone. I had the same feeling about the "Twilight" series--read the first one to see what all the fuss was about, but one was enough for me:)

    Sarah, The first book bothered me, too, but thankfully the second and third ones are not nearly so disturbing. This one has very little violence, in fact.

    Maggie, 'Autumn Joy' is a great plant, and definitely low-maintenance.

    Kaye, The violence in these books would certainly turn off some readers, and they are so detailed which might seem tedious to others. But the detail made it seem much more believable to me. These are not for everyone, for sure!

    Weeping Sore, Thanks for stopping by! My garden would definitely fall into the imperfection category, too, no matter the season:)

    Suburbia, That is a good philosophy in so many ways, isn't it?

    Cyndy, I'd never even heard of Sydney Eddison before, so her experiences in the garden were all new to me. I understand your saying there wasn't enough "meat" to the book--I think there's only so much we can do to keep gardening late in life, anyway. That is, unless we're rich enough to hire a full-time gardener:)

    Rose, The Larsson books are great, but I hope everyone got the warning that there is some disturbing violence, especially in the first one.

    Jodi, Enjoyed your review, too--I've put McKay's book on my reading list.

    Sarahlynn, Congratulations on the new addition-to-be! Don't feel bad--I didn't start gardening until all four of my children were grown, and even more after I retired. Raising a family is more important than gardening!

    Rosey, I've been taking most of the decorations down, but I keep finding something I forgot--like the outdoor wreath that is still lighting up each night:)

  19. I love gardening books, and love gardening...but time and energy are definitely an issue. This sounds like it might have been written for me! Thanks for the review!

    And I'm so glad you liked HORNET'S NEST...I get nervous recommending these books because they're so unsettling, but I just think they're marvelous. And I usually can't read thrillers or horror or any of that stuff. I think it's Lisbeth that does it for me...the perfect character, weird enough to be interesting, but enough like us to be sympathetic.

  20. I love your pictures of the Idea garden and your Butterfly garden. Both are beautiful!

  21. Rose girl you have peaked my interest in the garden book but the points you made from her book make perfect sense don't they ? .. and I am one also one for colour photographs illustrating a garden .. black and white sketches do nothing for my garden brain at all!
    I think I will have to look into easing up on maintainability for my little garden too .. that last injury is still with me and having another disc fused or fussed with is something I dread .. so these ideas are on board with me !
    Thank you !!
    Joy : )

  22. One of these days we will be reviewing a garden book with your name on it, Rose. It will be full of color pics and bits of prairie wisdom you've gathered hither and yon. I'll be sure to travel up to Champaign for the first big book signing!

  23. Happy New Year Rose. It looks like I'm not the only one not blogging much these days.. holidays and now projects. Just think, March is less than 2 months away. ;)

    I relate to Eddison's writing: over the last 4 or 5 years we have gradually replaced groupings of perennials with evergreens, and we do love the structure it has added to the landscape. With just the two of us "of a certain age" it truly is labor intensive, and we can't keep up the pace.

    Rose, I hope your year is filled with good health and many blessings.

    PS: Love the header photo!

  24. Hi, Rose!
    That's a marvelous credo: 'accept imperfection.' I would love to post that as a sign at my place, loud and proud, because it drives me nuts when people look past all of my hard work to point out the one weed that I missed! It's always a joy to visit you, Rose. Are you going to the Seattle Bloggers Fling? Would love to meet up for a cup of tea.

  25. I didn't realise they were thrillers. I'll have to check them out at the library. Thank you for the recommendation, rose.

  26. Happy New Year Rose,
    My gardens are always changing just like me! My knees also will not allow for very much kneeling anymore so I do have lots more shrubs....bird and butterfly habitat and easy. My gardens must be easy growing, low water needs for sure.
    Like my house that is full of stories my gardens are full of stories...they are wabi sabi gardens.
    I love curling up with a great book. I read mostly non fiction and I love color photographs. Picture books with good sound information is my idea of a good book.

  27. So enjoy your reviews, Rose. I too need to get rid of fussy plants; am totally thankful for my shade (my favorite gardens); and am in the process of substituting shrubs (a huge thing for me since I'm away so much during the growing season). This book on my wish list ... accepting imperfection keeps me sane :)

  28. Rose, Sidney Eddison's book is on my Must Read list~I so appreciate your review and summation of the salient points. I am behind on just about everything these days! Unless I can clone myself~I am not sure I can read good books, blog, garden and keep my house habitable! Thank goodness I am learning to accept my imperfections. xxgail

  29. Ellen, I enjoyed your review last fall; I was hoping the third one would be as good as the first two. Like you, I don't like anything too violent, but Lisbeth is such an interesting character. I'm sorry we won't be reading more of her.

    Sweetbay, thanks; the Idea Garden really is a beautiful garden.

    Joy, I am so with you on that--I want to see color photos! Take care of that back.

    W2W, You're too kind. If I ever wrote a gardening book it would have be titled something like "Misadventures in the Garden":)

    Di, The photos you show on your blog are proof of what evergreens and shrubs can add to a garden. Less work is an added bonus! Best wishes for the New Year, too.

    Kate, That's a great idea--I could use a sign like that, too. Yes, I'm hoping if all works out to go to Seattle--would love to meet you! Too bad Bad Dog and Sophie can't come along:)

    Liz, I don't know how to describe these books--the first two are thrillers, the third one is more of a mind game/legal conflict. I hope you like them!

    Sherry, I like the idea of a wabi sabi garden. My knees are also the part of me that gives out first. Protecting and feeding wildlife is another great reason for adding shrubs.

    Joey, I didn't need to read Eddison's book to discover how much easier shade gardening is. Other than dividing plants every few years, it seems to do well on its own, which is fine with me.

    Gail, I'm always looking for ways to make gardening less work, so this book was just what I needed. Winter time is a great time for me to read.


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