31 December 2009

Foliar Fireworks for Festive Frolicking in the New Year

Continuing with my sort-of-maybe-retrospective on this past year, I thought I'd offer up a celebratory outburst of foliage to bring in the new year. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of foliage colour and texture as a way to keep the garden always lively and interesting. Although most of the plants included in this retrospective are either perennials or deciduous shrubs/trees, I've waxed lyrical about conifers fairly recently. Well, okay, maybe not quite lyrical. But I did jabber happily on about them.

Because we're all getting ready for New Year's levity (well, some of us are, I'm planning on reading a good book!) I put together a couple of collections of foliage favourites from my garden.
Clockwise from top left:
'Coppertina' ninebark: Luminous copper colour in spring, held well through the summer, deepening to burgundy in autumn. I hugely love ninebarks, as I've mentioned before.
'Frosted Violet' Heuchera: This is one of those no-fuss heucheras, seemingly oblivious to the vagaries of a Fundy winter. Where some of the fancier ones, especially in the orange/gold/scarlet spectrum falter, I find the purple and green-purple combinations do just fine.
Copper Beech. I should have planted my copper beech about twenty years before I was born, because it's going to take it a long while to reach any size. But I love looking out my office window at its rich colour all through the year. Beeches are prone to marcescence, or holding onto their leaves through much of the winter, but I enjoy seeing those dry, bronze-paper leaves even in the wildest of snowstorms.
'Autumn Beauty' fern: Oh, I hope this comes through the winter, because it's a beautiful, beautiful thing! I think it will, but I just planted it early this summer, so it hasn't had a year here yet.
Barberry 'Royal Cloak': I'm deeply besotted with barberries as four-season shrubs, and so are the bees. That's a good enough reason for me.
Lamiastrum 'Herman's Pride': I like lamiums and lamiastrums, even though some are inclined to wander a bit too vigourously for small gardens. 'Herman's Pride' forms a polite clump and has no inclinations for world domination.
'Diabolo' ninebark: Rich purple foliage, dainty flowers, cool bark in winter...ninebarks are awesome here. We don't have real hot summers so ours hold their colour very well.
'Chocolate Wings' rodgersia: Everything about this plant pleases me; it's tolerant of wet soil, it has marvelously textured and shaped leaves that are tinted milk-chocolate, its flowers are cool...I think it's underused and underappreciated.
'Blue and Gold' tradescantia: My first alma mater (The Nova Scotia Agricultural College) has blue and gold as its school colours. Enough said.
Centre: 'Bonfire' euphorbia: There will be many bonfires this evening, celebrating in the New Year. This one, however, will be sleeping until spring. I love euphorbias and have a nice collection of them.

Just a few more foliage collections or plants with which to celebrate the variety of plants:
Clockwise from top left:
A host of young conifers from Baldwin Nurseries in Falmouth
Hardy kiwi vine boasting fresh new foliage
'Aztec Gold' veronica with double grape muscari popping up in the middle.
'Black Negligee' black cohosh (Actaea/Cimicifuga) is an allstar all summer long, flowering late in August.
A variety of flower colours and foliage textures celebrate together
'Nugget' ninebark holds its colour fairly well here.
Centre photo: a Japanese painted fern and an all-green hosta brighten up a shady nook.

It's been quite a year for all of us bloggers, better for some than for others. I'm grateful for the friendships made across the miles, for the comments left by others, for the wisdom and humour and photography and tips that are shared around the world. Here's hoping for a peaceful, happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to each of you. See you in 2010!

30 December 2009

Red & Blue & Delicate Green...

It's funny what snippets of verse will hang on in our minds for seemingly ever. When I was a child, I used to get these small bi-weekly (I think) magazines during the summer, with stories and games to occupy the elementary schoolchild's mind. I don't remember the name of the magazine, or the name of the story from which this snippet of verse came, but it's hung on forever in my noggin:
"Red and blue and delicate green, the king can't catch it, neither can the queen
The rain and sun will make one soon, answer this riddle by tomorrow noon!"

So it was that I was entranced by our beloved photographer David Perry's latest photography assignment, only he referred to Red, Green and Blue. The assignment was to just play with the three colours; to let our inner kid go. Good enough!

The trick for me was finding something red I wanted to play with. Red isn't my favourite colour by a long shot, except I do love it in the garden. And curiously, I have a number of red fleece pullovers for wearing outdoors through the fall and winter, as part of my 'Push against the winter blahs' prescription. So I used one of those as a backdrop for the things I photographed, including this curious section of a many-pointed star made out of metallic foil and paper. It looks like a flower when you look at it from one angle, like a star when you set it up on a table. It's actually sort of like the Moravian glass stars that Anna used in her assignment.
There's a very cool tea room down in Melvern Square, near Kingston, NS, which sells fairly traded items from nations such as Thailand and India. This bracelet is made of glass beads in a rainbow of blues from turquoise to cobalt, and is one of my favourite things though it cost very little. Set it on a favourite silk scarf, added a deep blue filter to really bring out the blue, and voila: an explosion of cool, rich, soothing blue.

I have a lot of green in my house; my office walls are green, lots of plant leaves, etc, etc. But I wanted something rich and emerald green to play with for this project. I found what I was looking for in a drawer; a string of Mardi-gras beads given to me last year to promote the Acadian festival in Clare. Dropped onto a rich green tablecloth, they suited my purposes perfectly.

This was so much fun, I actually did more photos, most with several items in each shot, and then made up collages of them. But I think we'll save those for the next post, just to keep with the purity of this project. Thanks to David for creating this assignment, and for the thoughts he shared in encouraging us.

29 December 2009

The cranky gardener creates her own sunlight

Although the sun put in an appearance for a while on Monday, it was the first time in about a week, and well...it wasn't nearly enough. Not for a person who doesn't handle lack of light real well. I can compensate indoors by having bright colours and lots of lights around me, but sometimes we need a little visual boost that goes a little further than that.

Since I was going through folders looking for plant photos to use in my Year-in-Review-Sort-of posts, a couple of photos caught my eye because they were soothingly, blissfully filled with yellow flowers. Or else they had just one flower but it was a feast of yellow richness. Or else the foliage was golden. You get the point.
Above collage, clockwise from top left:
Rosa 'Golden Wings'
Inula (elecampane)
Yellow centaurea (Centaurea macrocephala)
Evening Primrose, Sundrops (Oenothera)
Rosa 'Topaz Jewel'
Hypericum shrub, species unknown
Hyacinth 'City of Haarlem'
Centre: Magnolia 'Yellow Bird'

I know that yellow is not to everyone's tastes, and where the brassy, almost-orange yellows are concerned, I tend to use fewer of them, or to cool them with something blue or purple or white. But the soft and rich yellows suit me to a tee; they're like a sunny day even when the weather is frowny cloudy. Or, as it is tonight...snowing again.
Top column: Honeysuckle 'Graham Thomas'; Clematis tangutica; Echinacea 'Sunrise
Middle column: Lamiastrum (yellow archangel); Rosa 'Harison's Yellow'; Berberis 'Nana Aurea'
Bottom column: Hemerocallis 'May May'; Yellow impatiens (anyone think this is 'Fusion Glow'?) and Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora).

I hope this post has brought some sun into your day. Probably can't help with the snow shoveling/deicing, though.

27 December 2009

The year in review, sort of: faves from spring

Okay, we're probably all sated with turkey and other holiday delights, have had a day or so of slothdom to recuperate, nap, read and relax. Time to return to conversing about plants, at least for me. Since it's the end of the year and there are plenty of retrospectives happening just about anywhere you read, I thought I'd add my own retrospective, with a twist.

It's no secret that I'm very fond of plants. Most of them, anyway. Don't get me started on aegopodium (goutweed), but for the most part, I'm plant crazy. It doesn't matter if they're heritage or heirloom plants, or newfangled hybrids. Not everything grows real well for me, but I experiment, adapt conditions where possible, and when something doesn't work after several tries, it's on to others, either tried and true, or more new experiments. It's like that amusing sign that hangs in my (soon to be renovated) greenhouse: "There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments." I offer up to you some of my favourites from the past gardening year, favourites old and new. We'll start with spring, of course, although my spring garden experiences were truncated by that temporary employment experiment away from home that was not-so-much a good one. Onward and upward.

I have chattered on in the past about Hamamelis or witch hazels, and really encourage others to embrace these wonderful shrubs. Above, catching some spring light, is Hamamelis 'Diane', one of my favourites for her flower colour, but also for her vigourous, no-problem growth habit. I love these shrubs/small trees for their ease of growing, their oh-so-early flowering, their fall foliage.

Thanks to the help and encouragement of Frances, who provided some great advice on getting hellebores through late winter/early spring, I can now claim pride of place in a well established clump of 'Ivory Prince' hellebore, actually planted UNDER 'Diane' hamamelis. Hellebores are just so cool; the flowers may fade, but the bracts stay intact for a long time. This is a plant I need to get to know much more about, so I'm glad to have found the website Hellebores.org. Next year, hopefully, I will add a couple more species or cultivars to my hellebore-friendly area.

Oh, my katsura tree. I love my Cercidiphyllum so much, and this photo is a good explanation for that love. Look at those new leaves, that colour, the heart shape of the foliage. The fall colour is equally exquisite, with brilliant shades of carmine, gold and pink. My tree is going on four years here in our garden, and has had no problems establishing and growing on. Since it likes moist soil and falters in dry conditions, it's in the perfect situation in the soggy clay of my back garden.

If I have a favourite colour of flower, it would have to be true-blue, though there's a place for almost every colour in my garden-scheme of colours. Scilla erupt in mid-spring with this outburst of blue, and gradually spread themselves into larger and larger clumps. Some plant them with daffodils for a nice yellow/blue contrast, but I just let them go where they will.

You gotta love the enthusiasm of pulmonarias. At least in my garden, they are barely out of the ground before their flowers open. But even if they didn't flower in their various shades of blue, rose, 'red' or white, I'd have them for their foliage, which is generally splashed, spangled, spotted or painted entirely with silver or paler green accents. Pulmonarias light up a shady area, take sun with good composure so long as there's moisture for them, and are well behaved, clump formers. Some do self-seed, which is fun because you never know what the seedlings are going to look like.The bees are very glad to see pulmonaria start to bloom, which is probably why one of its nicknames is 'bee bread'. Borage is also sometimes referred to as bee bread. This is why we learn botanical names, even if we can't always spell or say them correctly (that would be me. Am okay with that.)

I love corydalis. Everyone should grow these amazing plants, which are relatives of poppies and bleeding hearts. Somewhere, I read a description of their flowers as being guppy-like in shape, and that amused me but is also true. The plants are fabulous, with lacy, fern-like foliage, and in some cases, such as with this 'Blackberry Wine', the flowers are fragrant. The longest-blooming perennial in my garden, hands down, is the unassuming little C. lutea, which begins blooming in May and goes until snow or a real heavy frost does it in. Then there's the amazing blue beauty of C. elata, but we'll get to that another time.

Viburnums are just awesome, although there's such an array of them that it sometimes gets confusing as to which one is which unless you have a good number and have them labeled. I have a mixture of native and non-native planted around here, and this is one of the best of the fragrant viburnums, 'Juddii.' It likes well drained soil, so it won't fare well in some parts of our property, but we do have areas where I put the plants that don't tolerate long periods of wet wet wet cold clay.

If you can get your hands on 'Vestal' anemone (A. nemorosa 'Vestal') do so as soon as possible, especially if you have a shade garden. Unlike some anemones that tend to go a bit boisterous, 'Vestal' sits politely in her clump, producing these simply-gorgeous, double, white blossoms. I just got my hands on one last spring, and raved about it then, and continue to do so.

Did I mention that I really, really, REALLY love plants? Stay tuned for more favourites.

23 December 2009

Christmas wishes in red, white and green...

Today is my birthday, and it's been a very pleasant one, with phone calls and cards, emails and visits with friends and family. Having enjoyed the awesome tourtiere made by my Long Suffering Spouse, I decided to digest it and wind out the day with one more pre-Christmas post.

Green and red have long been colours associated with Christmas, although if you're into cultural anthropology, you know that colours can mean very different things in different cultures, faiths, countries. I don't propose to delve into those various meanings, but just offer up my own interpretation as a kind of benevolent wish to all my blogging friends and non-blogging readers around the gardening world.

Green is my favourite of the three colours most used at this time of year, because it means green growing things: or as poet e. e. cummings wrote so exquisitely in one of my favourite poems, "for the leaping greenly spirits of trees." Yes.

White means tranquility to me, even when winter winds blast gales of snow in off the irritable Bay of Fundy. The purity of white flowers calms and sooths, and snow falling gently on dogwoods and willows, stone and wood, just erases the blemishes and mistakes (humanmade, not of nature). We have a blank palette on which to dream and create for the future.

And then there's red. I used to not like red, for a whole lot of reasons, but I've embraced it as a colour of brilliance and life and good fortune. There's a lot of exuberant energy in the colour red, and of course it's used in the flags of many countries, including mine, our good neighbours to the south the USA, Britain and France and Italy and many more, around the world. So I like to think these three colours tie us all together as one great big gardening family, no matter where we live, no matter what hardiness zone we garden in.

So as we move into the season of Christmas, of Solstice, of celebrating family and friends and joy and hope (whatever your faith or reason for celebrating), I hope that each of you will have moments of introspection and thankfulness, giddiness and peacefulness. The coming months (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) will be time of rest and rejuvenating for gardens and gardeners alike. May you never lose that sense of excitement that comes with watching tiny seeds sprout into baby plants and grow steadily into "leaping greenly spirits" of trees, vegetables, flowers and fruit.

Happy Christmas, friends.

21 December 2009

For Winter Solstice, a little flamboyant colour

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of long nights and short days, with the exception of one particular Long Night. I take great delight in chasing the darkness away with flowering plants, lush foliage, and lots of colour around my office to help lighten the days.

A trip to Den Haan's Greenhouses in Middleton on Saturday led me on a magical tour of brilliant colours, in African violets, in phalaenopsis orchids, in hibiscus and poinsettias and kalanchoes. I'd never seen colours quite like those in the saintpaulias/African violets, top photo. And those are really accurate colours, because I changed the setting on my compact digital and got quite good. The china blue in those blue-and-white ones! I resisted the urge to bring home more of them, at least this week.

I think even more than African violets, I could become a collector of phalaenopsis orchids just for the incredible flower colours and patterns they have. I have three at the moment: a green one, a deep magenta/marbled one and the green one with magenta striping, seen in the above collage. They are exquisite, and so easy to grow--they take my less than ideal conditions with no problem at all, and flower for literally months on end.

My trip to Den Haan's was to get poinsettias and to look for Christmas ornaments, two of which I found, as you saw in my previous post. I was really delighted with the health of the poinsettias at the nursery, as well as with the colours. There were no blue or orange or spangle-painted monstrosities, just a couple of naturally bred oddities; the yellowish one in the lower lefthand corner, and a red one dusted/mottled with white. They had them in all sizes, but I bought four small ones, one in each of four colours, and am very pleased with them.

As I mentioned above, there's only one Long Night I like, even love: the song 'Long Night' by Newfoundland group Rawlins Cross. The song was written in honour of two late Newfoundland musicians, fiddler Emile Benoit and the founding member of Figgy Duff, Noel Dinn. It has a driving, hypnotic beat to it and is perfect for celebrating Solstice and the longest night of the year. If you watch the video, hang 'er down if you don't like the first minute or so; it's an amazing song and well worth five minutes of time. It's introspective, broody and yet positive, just like this longest night--and as of tomorrow, the days start getting longer.

Between good music and happy plants, I'm gonna get through winter just fine. Remind me of that, please, when we hit the dreaded Farch, okay?

19 December 2009

An open letter to Carol, President for Life, SPPOTGWLS

To: Most esteemed, venerable, and herbaceous Carol
President of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore & Superstition
(hereafter referred to as "The Society")

From: The blogger also known as bloomingwriter

Subject: Gardeners' Christmas Ornaments
Dear Carol:

As you know, the festive season of the Gardeners is upon us, and gardeners everywhere are festooning their homes with decorations of the season. I have long lamented that I didn't have any garden-themed Christmas ornaments, so I felt that I could not join the Society's annual Christmas revelry.

I realized today that I was mistaken in this regard, and herewith present my proof of botanical and horticultural ornaments, in the hopes that I too will be welcome to join in the fun of the Society's meetings. (click for larger photos). From miniature greenhouses to iridescent glass grapes, garden forks to acorns, I actually have quite a variety.

Today on my poinsettia-purchasing adventure, I came upon two delightful ornaments that spoke to me, so that I had to bring them home. They are in the above photo: The festive-coloured Hot Pepper, and the not-very-juicy looking pear.

In keeping with my fondness for both pollinators and evergreens, many of my ornaments are either dragonflies or evergreen cones, and quite a few of them are handmade, such as the lacy doily festooned with baby's breath and the beaded poinsettia in the above photo.

I would beg the President's pardon and favour with this last set, because it includes two lobsters, which are not usually found in the garden. However, I include them as a tribute to my esteemed LongSuffering Spouse (LSS), who is a retired lobster fisherman; and also note that lobster shells are a useful and effective addition to the garden as fertilizer.

This photo set also includes two very special pewter ornaments; the Magnolia in the right-hand side is from Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, and was given to me during the Magnolia Festival last spring. The pewter wreath in the middle, Madame President-For-Eternity, is composed of trailing arbutus flowers, (Epigaea repens), better known as Mayflowers, which are the provincial flower of Nova Scotia, and created in a 'wreath of hope' by Amos Pewterers of Mahone Bay, NS.

I have other ornaments of a garden-theme motif, including a number of birds (not including my penguins, which are my favourites), but having just learned the art of making a collage with Picasa thanks to my dear friend and fellow blogger Joey of The Village Voice, I thought I'd quit while I'm ahead and wait to hear the Society's deliberations on my application for membership.

Thanking you for your considerations and looking forward to a happy reply, I remain yours most coniferously,

jodi (bloomingwriter)

17 December 2009

Meet Minerva...

Yesterday was one of those days where the mercury dropped from well above freezing to considerably below in a matter of hours, and the wind that had gone on brief hiatus came back with a vengeance. Naturally, it brought along some of those 'flurries where winds blow onshore...' which as we know have been known to create a LOT of inches of accumulation.

Didn't matter to me. The first of the amaryllis had decided it was time.
"Is that Sydney?" My longsuffering spouse asked me.
"Mmm...nope. That's Minerva." I replied, scrutinizing the box tops that I had saved in my office after forgetting to match containers to bulb names when I planted these all.

As you can see, that curious vase I bought nearly five years ago is doing its job, holding Minerva's two stems of blooms and buds upright quite nicely. I've grown this one a number of times and never tire of her festive colours. Part of the reason I grow her is that I have an aunt by the same name, who sadly is lost in the fog of Alzheimer's disease, just like her brother--my father--was. So when I look at this magnificent, exquisite flower, I think of my vigourous, capable aunt as she was in happier days.

Since I've yet to bring home any poinsettias and two of my Christmas cacti are actually planning to bloom AT Christmas, judging on their bud sizes, I thought we should move Minerva into the living room for several reasons. One, it's much cooler in there, away from the heat of the woodstove in the kitchen, so her lovely flowers will last longer. Two, she adds a definite presence to the living room's Christmas decor, which is still a work in progress. And three, I moved the slowest-growing bulb into the kitchen to give it a boost.

There are still two more bulbs upstairs in the reading room that need to come downstairs, as one is probably going to blossom next week. We won't know who is who (other than Minerva) until they have all put in a floral appearance, of course. But it's fun to watch them slowly, glamourously reveal their beauty. I think next to orchids, amaryllis are some of the best show-stopping flowers there are. Don't you agree?

15 December 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day--in the bleak late autumn!

It's been months--well over a year, actually--since I participated in one of Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Days, and I thought in keeping with rejuvenating myself and my blog, I'd join back in the fun, because it IS all about having fun with plants. Especially in December, where we've gone from sub-arctic temperatures to rain, fog and drizzle. Too soggy for me to venture outside but I know from being out yesterday, putting up lights, that there's nuthin' bloomin' outside, so we need to adjourn to seeking out indoor blooms.

To keep me from becoming an irritable writer and spouse, I keep fresh flowers around the house as much as possible during the dreary months of late autumn and fall. I realized yet again today, though, that one of my favourite cheer-me-up colour ranges of the spectrum, however, doesn't necessarily photograph as well as I'd like with a digital camera. The hot pinks, magentas and fuchsias of the floral spectrum tend to blow out quite a bit unless you use a filter, and I don't have one to fit the particular lens on my camera at the moment.

I have done one round of experimenting with David Perry's Mason Jar Master Class, but my wide-mouthed mason jars have a textured pattern in the glass, and aren't as tall as I'd like. That being said, I did like the light play on the paperwhite flowers that I dropped into the jar the other day for a trial run.

Before frost hit, I remembered to rescue a couple of my outdoor pelargoniums and bring them inside. This salmon-coloured one is happily adjusting to life in a not-so-sunny-but-warm kitchen, and putting up lots of new blooms.

This is one of those 'colour not done justice' photos. This fantastic pelargonium has flowers that are bicolour, red and hot fuchsia, but it's hard to see that no matter how often I experiment with photographing it.

That's okay about the colour blur, though, because the flower shape is just so striking on this one, I wouldn't really care what colour the blossoms are.

My cyclamen are still doing very nicely in the coolness of the office, although I feel the need to add a couple more colours to the collection. When I venture out tomorrow for appointments and errands, who knows what will follow me home?

The last phalaenopsis flower is still hanging on tenaciously, and I think this particular orchid is considering putting up one more shoot of buds. The other two are resting, spent after a long flowering fiesta.

My friend Neville MacKay gave me a bouquet containing these dendrobium orchids more than 6 weeks ago, and there are still three stems producing flowers. Another week or so and they'll be done, but what joy they've given me!

Meanwhile, that first Amaryllis is being coy about opening her flowers, but I find once they start to show colour, they unfurl fairly quickly. Going to watch closely for the next day or so and see what happens.

One of my favourite cut flowers are the curious Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis. These have been hanging out with a bundle of fuchsia dianthus for well over a week, and show no signs of really faltering. I love their somewhat-alien appearance, and find they have a faint but fresh, minty scent. The green bracts tend to dry to a tan colour, and the flowers themselves are pretty insignificant at the centre of those 'bells.'

I'm in the process of decorating our Christmas tree, but it's no wheres near finished. And I have a confession that's somewhat scandalous. I don't have a lot of Christmas ornaments that are plant-themed. I tend to collect penguins rather than plants in ornaments, but I do have half a dozen of these wonderful handmade ribbon pinecones scattered around the tree.

And for giggles, a sparkly branch of pomegranates and berries festoons a pot already occupied by two whimsical pottery mushrooms and a somewhat-chewed blue plumbago plant. Hmmm. Who might have chewed on that plant?

Surely not Spunky, here looking annoyed because I woke him up to take his photo! Well, yes, actually he is the chief plant-nibbler. Happily, he never dines on anything toxic, and he tends to look both innocent and annoyed when caught in the act. He's very tired right now, a morning's naughtiness having worn him out. So I think I'll take the hint and join him in a nap.

This concludes our Bloom day tour! Don't forget to visit around the blogosphere and see what's blooming in other gardens or homes, and thanks as always to Carol for having continued this fun monthly event for us to enjoy.

14 December 2009

More musings on books: Planting and planning

How is a plant obsession born? Do we wake up one day and decide arbitrarily that we're hooked on hostas, or delirious about daylilies, or excited about echinaceas? I don't know the answer to that except from a personal perspective. I like plants that do well in my climate, are easy to care for, strikingly beautiful in flowers or foliage or winter interest, are unusual, or native, or new...okay, I admit it, I'm a plant collector. And I'm all right with that.

I do find that the longer I garden, the more I develop an appreciation for various genera and species of plants. Take viburnums, for example. There's been a highbush cranberry (V. trilobum) in our garden since before we came here. It's a handsome, energetic shrub, with lovely lacy flowers followed by luscious-looking red fruit beloved by birds. I've long been acquainted with witherod, or wild raisin (V. cassinoides), also native to our area, and planted several here in our garden. Then I got to know the fragrant viburnums and something clicked in my brain. I wanted more of them, and wanted to know more about them. So I was very glad that Michael Dirr, horticulturist par excellence, shared my passion and kindly wrote a book about these lovely, versatile shrubs. For those who have the woody bible, Dirr's Manual of Woody Plants, his Viburnums book (Timber Press) is much more conversational and far less of a reference textbook. I think viburnums are like potato chips and you can't have just one. Or two. (I'm up to six different species, I think, and counting).

Let it never be thought that I'm a plant expert. Plant addict, yes, but I soak up information about plants like a sponge, and there is always a stack of books beside my desk, for me to consult with when I'm writing about plants and gardening. One of the volumes that hasn't strayed back to the bookcase since I got it is Tomasz Anisko's When Perennials Bloom. (Timber Press) Subtitled An Almanac for Planning and Planting, it's a hugely valuable reference for gardeners of all skill levels. Want to know when Astrantia (masterwort) will flower? How to plant it? The book profiles well over 400 perennial species, giving their bloom periods based on calculations and averages made around the world. So this is a useful book whether you live on the windswept Fundy, on the exuberant prairies of the midwest, or in Europe and beyond.

We are blessed with an abundance of space on our property--seven acres, much of it pasture, but a good chunk of it planted out by me with help from my longsuffering spouse. So we have room for big plants, and we grow a number of them. If you like plants with oomph-impact, then you'll love Tall Perennials, by Roger Turner (Timber Press). You don't HAVE to have an expansive acreage to carry off a few impressive-sized plants, either; Turner gives useful tips on how to garden effectively with tall- or wide-growing perennials, as well as a substantial list of recommended plants (noting caveats where necessary).

Turner gets the distinction of having a second book in this list, also published by Timber Press, a slightly older volume (2005) called Design in the Plant Collector's Garden. It's subtitled 'From Chaos to Beauty', and it's helping me to create a little more beauty and a little less chaos in my ongoing experimentation with plants. I just got my hands on this book a little earlier in the fall, so I haven't yet put what I'm learning into practice. Ask me next summer how I'm doing mixing the trialing of plants with creating a nice-looking garden rather than a hodgepodge. It's a work in progress, always.

Finally, here's my must-have recommendation for this year, for those who are into growing perennials: Our own Nancy Ondra's Perennial Care Manual (Storey). Actually, I recommend any book by Nan that you can get your hands on, because she is THE quintessence of a good garden writer: informative yet encouraging. (I have her Fallscaping and Perennial Gardener's Design Primer and love them both). This latest offering tells you everything you need to know about creating a good perennial garden and Nan profiles dozens of perennials, providing information on how to grow the plants, what problems exist (and how to cope with them)...or as the subtitle says, 'What to do and when to do it." I know other bloggers have recommended this book as well, and I'd just like to add my voice to that chorus of positive reviews. If you're a perennial plant lover, you will need to have this book in your library.

And probably you'll need more bookshelves too. I remind my spouse that my three bad habits are plants, cats and books, and that he should be thankful. I think he is, except for when one of the cats knocks over a plant and then sends books cascading onto the floor too.

12 December 2009

The Gardener's Bookshelf, Part the First: Books for Plant Lovers

We are currently in the middle of a frigid gale, one that's impressive even for those of us who are regularly scoured by gale-force winds. The house has stood here for over 100 years and withstood worse, but it does moan, grumble and shudder by times when a particularly virulent blast comes in off the Bay.

This makes it more than a little hard to concentrate, to sleep, to work...so I'm quasi-working by attempting to reorganize my bookshelves, and then getting distracted by titles and falling into them. I have a lot of books, both from my days at university (where I majored in Can Lit and minored in Can History and biology) and from my life as a bibliophile in general and plant/gardening nut in particular.

Since we're heading towards Christmas at a speed even faster than those galeforce winds, I thought I'd post some of my favourite books, both new and old. I do book reviews for the provincial newspaper, including garden books whenever possible, but there are a lot of books that don't get the attention they deserve. Perhaps they're a couple of years old, or more. Perhaps they're caught up in the deluge of books that are published every year, and get lost in the shuffle. Or maybe they're just so good that I think everyone should have them.

So while the house shakes, Bruce Springsteen croons on my speakers, and I amuse myself by checking in with Twitter every little while (yes, I capitulated, finally. You may now laugh), I offer you the first of several lists of books I think every plantlover should have. We're starting off with books about plants: not so much about how to garden, but merely about the awesomeness of plants AS plants.

My friend Kylee also wrote about Planthropology at her book-blog, Gardening By the Book, and she also loves it. I keep it at my bedside so I can peruse a section or two and ogle the photographs and just be glad of authors like Ken Druse, who writes deliciously about the plants of his life. Last year in my garden roundup column for the paper, I wrote "If you add only one gardening book to your library this year, Planthropology should be that book."

What's the must-have book for this year, in my opinion? Come back to the next post to find out.

I simply HAD to have the two volumes of The Botanical Garden when they came out a few years ago. (Actually, I just checked. It was seven years ago. Gleep!) They are two of my most cherished books, and if you have any books by Phillips and Rix, you know why. They developed an innovative and stunning way of photographing plants, showing individual structures and not just the whole plant.

What I especially like about books like the two Botanical Garden volumes is that they introduce me to plants from around the world that I would otherwise never see, unless in passing mention on someone's blog or in a book. The plants are divided up into families, so it's very cool to see what all is in the Ericaceae (heath) family, or the Caryophyllaceae (pink) family along with the standards that I know.

Though this may seem sacrilege to many Canadian readers, I'm not a big fan of Marjorie Harris. I do, however, love this book, which is a wonderful course in the native plants of North America. There are wonderful stories of the plants' places in history, in their uses past and present, far beyond just as mere garden ornamentals.
I get sent a lot of books in the run of a year by publishers, some that I've requested, others that just arrive here in hopes I'll review them. This one, Flora Miriabilis, I ordered myself after seeing it on a few lists and seeing Kylee's review of it. I use the Missouri Botanical Garden's website as a source of great information on a regular basis (and hope to get to MoBot some day--I did go to Powell Gardens last year when I was in Kansas City, but MoBot is in St. Louis). So knowing that people from MoBot were involved in this book, and that National Geographic published it...I ordered it promptly. It just arrived today, and by the time you read this post, I'll be in bed, heating pad on my feet, reading away at it. But just a half-hour browse through the book showed it was well worth purchasing. My library is happier for its arrival. So am I.

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