Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review Club: Three Books for Gardeners

It's time for another meeting of the Book Review Club, and this month I'm going to depart from the novels I usually write about.  Instead, I am thinking of the gardeners like myself who are tired of looking at gardens of brown mush or those piled high with snowdrifts.  We may not be able to play in the dirt right now, but we can dream about the spring days ahead.  If you are planning to make some changes in your garden this coming season, here are three books to help you get started:

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by my blogging friend Dee Nash is the perfect book for a beginning gardener.  Designed for a novice with little time to garden, the book covers a multitude of topics from starting seeds indoors to composting to building garden paths.

Dee recommends starting small with container gardens then shows how to build and use raised beds, and finally how to design a larger garden.  Although she focuses primarily on edible plants early in the book, she also includes later sections on ornamentals, especially ones that delight the senses and attract pollinators, and even how to add some artistic touches to the garden.

Here is what I especially like about this book:
  •  Concise but thorough explanations of a variety of topics--all you really need to get started gardening!
  •  When I pick up a gardening book, I don't want to read a novel.   Besides full-color photos on nearly every page, colorful graphics with lots of headings make it easy to quickly find what you want to read about.  You could learn about the difference--and advantages/disadvantages--of hybrids vs. heirloom plants while brewing your morning cup of coffee, for example.
  •  Dee's encouraging tone: "No one is born with a brown thumb, or a green one for that matter.  Gardening is a skill learned by trial and error."  She remembers what it was like to be a busy professional raising small children and focuses on what a young gardener can do in a short amount of time.
That's Dee exploring the garden at Floramagoria in Portland, Oregon, this summer.

I waited to purchase this book until this past summer, knowing I would see Dee at the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Portland and could ask her to sign it.  I fully intended to give it to my daughter, but I think this signed copy may stay in my collection instead.  When my 20-30 something daughters finally get the gardening bug, I will buy them another copy. Here's a little secret: you don't have to be in your 20's or 30's to find this book helpful--I certainly wish I had had it when I started gardening in earnest in my 50's!

Are you tired of mowing that strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street?  Or maybe pulling weeds from this area all the time?  If so, then Hellstrip Gardening is the book you need for turning this neglected spot, commonly known as a hellstrip, into a lovely garden that welcomes visitors and makes passersby slow down and take notice.

Author Evelyn Hadden explains that curbside plantings are more than just a way of increasing your garden space--though there's nothing wrong with that--or showing off your gardening skills.  They are important, too, to everyone who views them, even as they drive by.  "Natural scenes, even minutely glimpsed in passing, distract us from worry and interrupt negative psychological cycles."

The book includes everything you need to get started from soil preparation to choosing the most suitable plants to dealing with the challenges unique to these areas like foot traffic, animals,  homeowners' association rules, and piles of snow left by snowplows (a big concern here in the Midwest).  Every chapter is filled with colorful photos to inspire you and give you ideas to copy in your own planting.

I had the opportunity of meeting Evelyn in person at the Portland Fling
while touring Timber Press.  I wish I had had my copy of her book with me for her to sign then!
I won a copy of Hellstrip Gardening through a giveaway last summer on the blog Commonweeder--thanks, Pat!  I must admit I felt a little guilty at the time, because living in the country, I don't even have a hellstrip.  I thought about passing it along to someone living in the city or suburbs who would be more likely to use it, until I started reading the book and realized there are ideas and inspiration here for many areas besides the curbside.  I have a small area I call my roadside garden, which even though it isn't right next to the road, is visible to passersby and definitely could use some sprucing up, as well as some other problem areas that would benefit from Evelyn's suggestions. Besides the inspiration, there is a glossary of tough plants, complete with photos, that is a great reference for choosing new plants.  My copy of Hellstrip Gardening is going on my book shelf after all, where I know I will be consulting it often.

For anyone who wants to encourage more pollinators to their garden, Taming Wildflowers by Miriam Goldberger is just the book for you. Goldberger, who with her husband operates Wildflower Farm in Canada, explains in the introduction how her love affair with wildflowers began and later goes on to explain their importance.   "Wildflowers are without exaggeration, the unsung heroes of the planet; they are a powerful force that truly sustains a complex web of interdependent creatures."

This is a beautifully illustrated book that you could enjoy just thumbing through for the visual delight of the photos alone.  (Can you tell that pictures in a gardening book are important to me?)  But the information in the book will draw you in as well: everything from "making babies"--starting wildflowers from seeds and how to transplant them in the garden--to designing with wildflowers, including how to create arrangements and bouquets for a wildflower wedding.

One of my favorite natives, the purple coneflower, is not only pretty and easy to care for,
 but is sure to attract all sorts of pollinators.

The book describes 60 of Goldberger's favorite wildflowers and native grasses, organized by bloom time, especially helpful for planning a garden through the seasons for pollinators.  One chapter is also devoted to her favorite non-native "must-haves."  I was happy to see one of my personal favorites in this list--zinnias, which always attract the butterflies in my garden late in the summer.

Each plant is described with the usual info about height, light requirement, bloom time, etc. But here is the exciting part--besides a colorful photo of each native in bloom, there is a photo of the seedling of this plant.  Do you know how long I have searched for something like this?? I know that I have often dug up wildflowers I planted the year before, just because I mistakenly thought they were weeds.  Taming Wildflowers isn't going to just sit on my nightstand--it is going out to the garden with me this spring!

If I had gotten my act together in time, I would have posted this for the December meeting, because any one of these books would make a great Christmas gift for the gardener on your list.  However, it's not too early to start thinking of next Christmas--or, even better, treat yourself  with one or all of these helpful books!

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer:  As usual, I have received no compensation of any kind for these reviews.  And even though I met two of the authors, I was not coerced, nudged, or even hinted to in any way about reviewing their books.  If they weren't all great gardening books, I wouldn't be reviewing them!


  1. Sounds like three very interesting and useful books for gardeners. Nice reviews.

  2. They all sound most interesting!~

  3. Rose, thank you so much for your review. I loved it. Concise and so kind. I hope my books helps everyone love gardening just a little bit more.

    BTW, your comment on my latest post really made me smile. Thank you.~~Dee

  4. Hi Rose,
    I've been looking at Hellstrip Gardening for a while. I've got places in my yard that qualify. Thanks for reminding me. This cold winter day might be the perfect time to take your advise and order it.

  5. These sound like good books for the garden. The Hellstrip one made me chuckle. I tend to mistake invasives for wildflowers, but I'm a lazy weeder at best. I like how you distinguish between what makes a good gardening book vs a novel.

  6. These books sound fantastic! I think I should start with Dee's book for beginners. Even though I've been gardening for years, I'm haphazard at best. Although, honestly, all three books have much to offer. Thanks for reviewing!

  7. Three wonderful books....I should get Hellstrip....definitely great for gifts. I gave Dee's book to my 27 yr old niece.

  8. Excellent! I have a very good friend who is a burgeoning gardener and would love to read these... I think you've solved a birthday gift conundrum!

  9. Dorothy, Thanks; I usually check out gardening books from the library rather than buy copies. But two of the three were ones I just had to have in my collection.

    Tina, Thanks; I think all three of them are great additions for any gardener.

    Dee, I really was hoping to give this book to my daughter, but with a new baby, I don't think she's going to get busy gardening any time soon:) I really did enjoy reading this!

  10. Marnie, So good to hear from you again! As I said, I thought "Hellstrip" wouldn't be anything I could use, but I was so wrong. Lots of great info in it for anyone.

    Sarah, There are so many great gardening books out there, but I really don't have the patience to read pages and pages of detailed information. Now give me a good novel with lots of description and I'll read all night!

    Barrie, Dee's book is perfect for any beginning gardener, but even a more experienced gardener can find some useful tips. I found some sections that I'm going to read more carefully myself--there's always something new to learn!

    Donna, I really meant to give Dee's book as a gift, too--it's perfect for anyone just starting out.

    Cloudbuster, Glad I could give you a gift idea!

  11. I consider my front garden a hellstrip. I should order that one. I love the 20-30 somethings. I have read that one too. I can never get enough of wildflowers. All good choices. I love picture books too. Especially this time of year when it is so darned cold and snowy.

  12. I had never heard of that strip of roadside land called a Hellstrip, but it's certainly a good description. I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI, and whenever I return to visit family I'm so amazed by the gardens that exist on those strips through the old west side of the town. It's rare to see that strip gardened where I live now.

  13. Three interesting books. I took a side trip and just now put Taming Wildflowers on request at the local library. Hellstrip Gardening also sounds like a book I might want to check out. I don't have a boulevard, but the plants on the far side of the picket fence are in a similar hell. It's exposed to extremes, and whenever we have a snow storm, the sidewalk plow pelts the area with salt.

  14. Now that we're in a "new" place (old house but new-to-me landscape), I need to totally revise my gardening strategies. Maybe some new gardening books are just the thing to help me do that. I like the idea of the Hellstrip garden. We live in town now and have many passersby on the sidewalk as well as the street. Judging from the tense expressions I see on most faces, a lovely garden view may be just what the neighbors (and I!) need to think "heavenly" thoughts:)

  15. Excellent books! I'd love a hellstrip garden but our HOA would freak out. But wouldn't that be fun to watch? ;o)

  16. Dee's book is a great help to the busy professional. Having little time from work or having a growing family does make finding time for personal enjoyment in a garden difficult without time saving tips to lessen garden chores. Often in design, a landscape professional has to address these concerns. We often are asked for a no maintenance garden/landscape, but as any gardener knows, that just does not happen if one has to do the work for themselves. I am sure her book is a great success. Nice reviews all around, Rose

  17. Oh those sound like great books! I love gardening books that have lots of great pictures. I've been thinking about getting that Hellstrip Gardening book, as I have two very long hellstrips that I am slowly trying to convert to garden. I haven't heard of the lat book before, but a book that shows what the seedlings look like? So very helpful! I need that!

  18. Sounds like three great books - I really need to get that Hellstrip book.

  19. Wonderful choice Rose.
    I'd love to have a book about wildflowers and native grasses in Northern Europe to plant some of them in my garden.

  20. These books sound delightful! I will have to look into them. I always enjoy reading your reviews. They are so well written and informative.

  21. I don't think I mentioned it but I just love your headder! In answer to the note you left on my blog. When you set up your trays and grow lights, I hope you will consider doing a blog about them. I haven't used lights and need some instruction on setting up. I'm looking at seeds now and trying to visualize how they will look in the garden.

  22. I love book reviews. the 20-30 something garden guide is great and so is Hellstrip gardening. I will have to get Miriam's book. I am hoping that our move To Town will net me a hellstrip so I can use some of that advice.

  23. Lisa, The Hellstrip book has lots of great ideas for any front garden. Winter is the time I check out lots of gardening books and dream:)

    Cassi, I don't see a lot of hellstrip gardens around here either, but when I do, I certainly take notice. They really do make you slow down and pause to enjoy.

    Jennifer, I have the same problem with the snow, not next to the road but next to the driveway where my husband plows it out. Last year there were some words exchanged after he got to close to this garden and nearly killed some shrubs--fortunately, they survived or I still wouldn't be talking to him:) You'll love the Wildflowers book.

  24. Walk2write, So glad to have you back! Gardening books have given me lots of great ideas every time I start a new garden area. Yes, I think we all could use a little beauty to ease the tension around us.

    Casa, I wondered about Homeowners' Associations. I don't remember what Evelyn's book said about getting around these restrictions, but I'm sure she has some ideas. That's one benefit to living in the country--if I wanted to grow a patch of weeds, no one would say anything:)

    Donna, I'm not a landscaper, but I've helped both my daughter and daughter-in-law a little, and yes, no-maintenance is their number one requirement:)

    Indie, Sounds like Hellstrip would be a great help to you. The wildflower book has color photos of the seedlings, which is just what I've been wanting for a long time!

  25. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for commenting on my blog. The header is a view from my front door - the day was gloomy, but you can clearly see that it's winter!

    How nice that your 3 eldest got to hold an alligator at Disney! Not something you'd do on an everyday basis. LOL. And yes, I can imagine they remember that.

    I am slowly healing. It will be 5 years this July. Cannot imagine where the time has gone and how I've lived all this time without my sweetie. But, as you can see from my blog posts (though they are far and few), the grands keep me happy and busy.

    Dee's book sounds intriguing and I will certainly order a copy. I think it's important to support fellow bloggers!

    The Hellstrip gardening book sounds like something I read on Houzz - an on-line house and garden site. I like Evelyn's quote about "Natural scenes……distracting us from negative thoughts." She's so right!

    Taming Wildflowers sounds like a keeper as well! I'll have to check it out. I've always loved wildflowers and like her analogy of "wildflower weddings" and "making babies" (I very properly put the wedding first. LOL)

    Thank you for such a well thought out Book Review. I am definitely looking forward to reading 2 of these (don't have a hellstrip either) and with so much info at our fingertips on the net, it's nice to see and hold and "old fashioned" book. Something to keep on our bookshelf and lend out as well.

    Never mind about the timing, Rose - everything happens when it's meant to.
    p.s. - I like your header too!!

  26. Jason, Evelyn's book would be perfect for you!

    Nadezda, I am seeing more and more books about native plants here, which is a good thing.

    Marnie, I'm not sure I will do a post about seed starting, but I have always used grow lights. What I found is important is that they are close enough to the trays--I can't remember if it's 4 inches or six, but I'll look it up.

    Pat, You would definitely enjoy Miriam's book. You are moving?? I must have missed this post.

  27. Wendy, It's hard to believe it has been five years already since you lost David. I am glad that the pain of his loss has lessened somewhat, but I know that he will continue to live on in your heart. There's nothing like grandkids to remind us of the joy in life! Thanks for taking the time to read my reviews and for your kind comments. I don't read many gardening books during the busy season, other than as a reference to find out when to prune or how to deal with pests. But I do love looking through them in the winter and dreaming, as always, of creating the "perfect" garden:)

  28. You write such lovely reviews. You have a real knack for reviewing I think. My style is more 'this is good,' and that's that!


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