Book Notes: Garden-pedia and The New American Herbal

One Curl Up with A Good Book . . . Or Two

By Debra Knapke

It’s another cold evening and instead of curling up with a good book, I am writing about two good books that I have had the pleasure to peruse.


We use words to communicate, but one person’s definition may be greatly or ever so slightly different from another’s. And, there may be several meanings for a word. Capturing and documenting the meanings of words and concepts is what drives the creation of dictionaries and encyclopedias. The Ohio team of Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini offers us a lexicon for the modern gardening world in Garden-pedia.

All entries have a concise definition, and most include an expanded explanation of the term or concept. This is the fun part, because here Pam and Maria discuss controversies and variations on a theme. Here is where the book shines. Anyone can write a definition, but it takes years of experience to offer concise, accurate information and advice for the beginner to intermediate gardener. And, that they have in abundance.

For instance, there is a lot of discussion over the definitions of the words/concepts: native plant and nativar. They are, respectively: “a plant that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human intervention” and “a cultivar or hybrid of a native plant”. The definitions seem straightforward, but the “story” behind them isn’t. Nativar is a recently coined word and one that has riled some designers and ecologists who work with native plants. Check out Garden-pedia for the short backstory.

The pictures are excellent and add to the overall attractiveness of the book. This isn’t a book you take out of the library once; it’s a book to own.

The New American Herbal

Another beautiful book is Stephen Orr’s The New American Herbal. A common, but unwarranted, complaint about herbs is that they are not beautiful or colorful. This book counters this with artful pictures of herbs and mouthwatering images of herb-filled food. I can’t wait for late spring when my green garlic is up as it is an essential ingredient for the Socca Pancake on page 190. And in summer I will make the Baked Stuffed Tomatoes with Oregano with fresh, sun-warmed heirloom tomatoes.

The first sixth of the book covers general topics and specialty herb groups. The rest of the book is plant portraits and recipes. The usual species are covered along with a sampling of herbs that less represented in general herbal books like muitle (Justicia spicigera) from Mexico, ngò om (Limnophila aromatica) from Viet Nam and Indian hemp/marijuana (Cannabis sativa). Each herb is categorized as to its basic uses, safety and growing tips. Other content varies with respect to its history, expanded use information and available cultivars.

This book seems to want to be everything herbal. And as much as I enjoyed reading it, I feel that a beginner might be overwhelmed by the amount and organization of the information. And, if you want pictures of the whole plant, you will need to look in another reference or log onto the internet. This book appears to be for the more advanced “herbie”. Although, it could be one of those books that you grow into.

A final thought

Both are references books, both display the voices of the authors and both go well with a cup of tea.

Catch Us If You Can


bloggers pic

Debra Knapke:

On Saturday, tune the radio (WTVN in Columbus or WKRC in Cincinnati) to hear Deb Knapke on In the Garden with Ron WilsonOSU ring She’ll be sharing ideas for planting scarlet and gray gardens in celebration of The Ohio State University’s football championship. Will it be Red Riding Hood tulip and red fernleaf peony with White Nancy lamium?  Maybe royal catchfly and Little Devil ninebark with Silver Brocade Artemisia.  Of perhaps for fall, Fire Spire American hornbeam and lavender and deep red snapdragons. And, of course a red buckeye,too. Go Deb, and go Bucks!!

Michael Leach:

garden show logoMichael Leach is pulling together a stellar line-up of speakers and programs for The Columbus Dispatch Home & Garden Show at the Ohio Expo Center .  For the past several years he has brought in a range of experts to help visitors gain a better understanding of the world of home gardening and landscaping. Educational programs range from sustainable landscaping to fairy gardens. He and Fred Hower, The Ohio Nurseryman, will be leading tours of the show gardens to discuss landscape design basics. The show opens Valentine’s Day and runs through Feb. 22.

Teresa Woodard

Check out Teresa Woodard’s latest article in the newest issue of Country Gardens MagazineCountry gardens 15She shares a story on Tom and Carol Plank’s enchanting conifer garden near German Village and a how-to for growing miniature conifers in containers.  She’s also helping Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers share their stories — from harvesting a vegetable garden at a juvenile detention center to  new landscaping for a human trafficking rescue house.  See the stories on the Ohio Master Gardener’s new website.




Winter Shadows Fire the Imagination

Feb-09 animal tracks resizeFinding ways to celebrate a difficult season

By Michael Leach

Winter sun turns a snowy lawn into a giant geography map. At least it seems so to me. My imagination transforms the shadow of a gnarly old tree into the Nile Delta. On the flip side, it could be the tributaries of the Mississippi River.  Sometimes I imagine the snow is a sea dotted with islands (footprints). Sled tracks suggest railway lines running hither, thither.

Those pale blue shadows of shrubs, poles, fences and more on a brilliant sunny day make an abstract pastel watercolor sliding silently, imperceptibly across the whiteness.

And on a full-moon night comes a jaw-dropping view from the bedroom window upstairs. Deltas, islands, roadways, all faintly visible in the silvery glow.

Is cabin fever getting the best of me? Is it time for a change of scenery? Possibly, but I prefer thinking of this coping tactic as a way of making winter — my least favorite season — a more pleasant time. These and other little mind games help me look forward to more than the rest that dormancy and bitter weather force me to accept. Perhaps you, too, find reasons to welcome winter.

Because winter sun is rare in my part of the Midwest, any appearance is cause for excitement.

Tree leaves, not to mention frequent haze, obscure sunrise and sunset in summer, when the sun is taken for granted and sometimes cursed. In barren winter, things are different. The first sliver of orange disk can be seen through distant trees as I gaze from that bedroom window, a mug of steaming coffee in hand.

Some evenings, depending on weather, I walk in a nearby park, one on the edge of open farm fields. The sun reverses itself. Sliding silently behind bare trees on the horizon, the sun ripens into an ever-larger orange oval. For a moment or two, the distant woods seem to be aflame. Then only an ebbing campfire burns before the sky darkens.20150120_072356_LLS

Because cloudy skies are the norm, I decided to “celebrate” winter a few years ago by stringing white Christmas lights on a volunteer cedar I see from the kitchen sink window. Suddenly winter sparkled with a festive air. The little tree is especially handsome mantled with snow. A greeting card I send to myself.

Trendspotting: Bright forecast for 2015

Winter sunrise (640x427)By Teresa Woodard

Welcome to the new year and what’s promising to be a bright one for gardeners!

According to the Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 State of the Industry Survey, 71 percent of growers report 2014 sales increases over 2013, and that sales growth is spurring optimism for 2015, with 73 percent of growers saying they expect to increase production volume for the coming season.

The positive outlook is dittoed in the Garden Media Group’s 2015 Garden Trend Report. Check out this handful of interesting trends:

·         New gardening faces: The garden industry is welcoming two growing population segments – the Millennials (ages 18-35 years) and Hispanics. kale Robinson herb garden Cornell 6-19-07 resize crop Young men especially are outspending other garden consumers by more than $100 each year.

·         Healthful motives: Gardeners are no longer planting just for beauty. Today, they’re gardening for the stress-relief benefits and nutrient-packed crops like blueberries and kale.

·     IMG_2884    Garden-Tainment: Homeowners are expected to spend $7 billion on outdoor décor as they enjoy cooking, dining and entertaining in their outdoor spaces.

·         Compact gardening:  Gardeners are investing in jewel-box gardens as they select high-quality plants for their increasingly smaller spaces. In addition, container gardens remain strong as smart solutions for tight spaces and their portability.front view of gardens

·         Bed head style: Purposefully unstyled landscapes are gaining popularity as gardeners welcome a more naturalistic approach.

·         RebelHoods: Residents are campaigning to reverse ordinances to transform their neighborhoods to more sustainable agri-hoods – complete with urban chickens, bee houses and lawn-less landscapes.



Favorite Flora: Aesculus glabra


Go Buckeyes!

Catch Us If You Can

cents showThis week, Columbus hosts one of the country’s biggest Landscape Industry Trade Shows — CENTS 2015 — on January 7-9th.  Debra Knapke will be presenting on two topics: Edible Ornamentals and Complementary Design: Embracing Nature Inside and Out.  In the second one, she will share the stage with her daughter, Sarah Arevalo, an interior designer with Trinity Group in Westerville.  Debra and Sarah will be weaving together the interior landscape and exterior landscape.  For more information on registration and other presentations, check out the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association’s (ONLA) conference website.      OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Twelve Days of Christmas: #12

Twelve Drummers Drumming

By Anita Van HalPipe Down to Hear What a Garden Has to Say

By Michael Leach

A dozen piping pipers could be fine in some gardens, but for most of us,IMG_3166 wind chimes and fountains are the only tolerable decibels.

Unless bluejays squawk about a lack of peanuts, the wind roars through frantic tree tops, or a riding mower pretends to be a biker-gang Harley, sound rarely breaks into our consciousness in a garden. That’s largely due to gardens being places traditionally sought for their quiet. Yet a garden can be “noisy.”

The garden’s gentle, subtle tongue speaks in the rustle of leaves. It whispers with the warm breath of breezes caressing our skin. It hums startlingly when a hummingbird whirs past in zigzag swoops.

Colibri-thalassinus-001-editThe garden talks, too, in the silence of fireflies dancing in twilight.

I take for granted some of this “chatter” or worse, block it with a mind too concerned about weeding, watering and countless other chores. We may even ignore our gardens’ soothing comments because we are too busy listing their deficiencies.

A garden blesses all our senses. It wants to be our personal spa and use invisible “hands” to restore our beings as surely as a masseuse eases physical aches. For the garden to heal us, we must let go; then listen to and follow nature’s command.

The garden’s message comes from the Creator who made the first garden, the one we keep trying to recreate. Ours will never be the perfection of Eden, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the story of paradise. Gardens still speak that same language.

Twelve Days of Christmas: #11

Eleven Pipers Piping

By Anita Van HalThe Grass Connection with Woodwinds

By Debra Knapke

I have memories of high school friends sucking on their reeds for their clarinets, oboes and bassoons before a rehearsal or concert. The reeds needed to be pliable, or we would hear the ear-splitting shriek of a squeezed-out note. Little did I know that the little piece of reed would reappear in my life in the form of a large grass that I teach in my plant classes.Arundo donax with Rudbeckia Biltmore 98 resize

Arundo donax or giant reed grass is an impressive specimen in the garden at 10 to 15 feet tall and easily spreading five to six feet wide. I describe it as a “corn plant on steroids”. If you like the look of this structural plant, but don’t have the room, consider using the variegated variety: A. donax var. versicolor, pictured below in a beautiful combination with our native black-eyed Susan. 2 Arundo donax plant Niagara Bot 01 resize

There is a dark side to this plant. In warmer states, there is a clone of giant reed that is invasive. Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia and the southern region of Illinois comprise the northern border of its invasive march. In these states, giant reed has a long enough season in which to produce seed.  For now, Ohio does not have any stands of the invasive genotype, but that will change as global climate change progresses.  Another reason to use the variegated plant: for now, it does not produce seed.

‘Wishing you melodious Christmas music.



Twelve Days of Christmas: #10


Ten Lords A Leaping

By Anita Van Hal


Reach for the sky — to create garden excitement

 By Michael Leach

“Leaping” conjures images of Johnny-Jump-Up doing his jack-in-the-box imitation,  perhaps inspired by a prod from mischievous red-hot pokers. All the while Lord Baltimore the hibiscus looks on in glee and ignites the sky with Fireworks goldenrod and blazing stars.

P1030075Punning aside, “leaping” draws the eye upward. Such vertical elements are must-haves in the landscape, whether we’re talking window boxes or estates. Verticals come in many forms and serve as exclamation points. Like exclamation points, they are used only with utmost care or they lose their punch.

A series of verticals becomes the rhythm of trees in an allee or pillars of a long pergola. Shadows of such verticals transform pavement or lawn into a giant page of notebook paper.

Literally leaping — Water jets, a la Versailles, leap.  Same goes for the humbler fountains in city parks and college campuses.P1030113 But few of us have the means or staff to keep gallons by the gazillions pumping into the air. A pity, for the effect is magical, especially so when illuminated at night.

IMG_3887 Visual leaps also come from accessories, such as arbors, sun dials, tuteurs, sculptures and columnar plants.

A favorite “recipe” — One of the most comforting and soothing combinations for me is a porch swing  hanging from the sturdy limb of a capacious shade tree — the meatloaf of landscaping. The vertical trunk and pair of ramrod chains play a harmonious counterpart to the wide, welcoming horizontality of the seat. Few better places exist for spending a summer afternoon.


Twelve Days of Christmas: #9

Nine Ladies Dancing

By Anita Van Hal


Honoring the Mother Mary

By Debra Knapke

It seems appropriate for this season that we celebrate plants that reference the Mother Mary.

If you see Lady as part of the common name, it is probable that this is a plant that was precious to the Mother Mary.  There are many stories that combine Mary’s love of plants and how they figured in different moments of her life.

Other common names that relate to Mary include virgin and, of course, the eponymous: Mary. In 2004 I was one of many Ohio authors at a book signing event in Cleveland.  We were at tables in alphabetical order.  My table partner was Vincenzia Krymow, author of Mary’s Flowers: Gardens, Legends, and Meditations: Living Legends of Our Lady. We had a delightful time discussing plants, philosophy and life as we waited for someone, anyone, to buy our books.

The plants loved by Mary are beautiful and many are herbal. If you decide that you would like to create a garden that honors Mary, consider these nine plants:

  • Lady’s mantle – Alchemilla mollis -
  • (Our) Lady’s thimble – Campanula rotundifolia
  • Virgin’s bower – Clematis vitalba
  • (Our) Lady’s slipper – Cypripedium calceolus
  • Christmas rose; rose de Noel – Helleborus niger
  • Mary’s dying plant – Lavandula officinalis (L. angustifolia is the valid name)
  • Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Marigold – Tagetes sps. and cultivars
  • Costmary – Tanacetum balsamita

‘Wishing you remembrance and love for this season.

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