Book Notes

From Orchids and Weeds to Succulents

By Debra Knapke

So often you hear books are a thing of the past, but there is no sign of that in my home. Winter – quiescent garden, staying indoors, wearing soft sweaters –  sparks the need to settle into a good book while holding a cup of tea.

Books are not only for the gathering of information. They open a window into someone else’s life and passion. I find that I am drawn to those books that not only tell me about a subject, but also introduce me to or reacquaint me with a friend who happens to be the author.

What I am reading, perusing and enjoying this week:

Orchid Modern: Living and Designing with the World’s Most Elegant Houseplants by Marc Hachadourian offers a broad, yet concise overview of the addictive world of orchids. Beginner to intermediate orchid enthusiasts will find what they need to grow and create an orchid collection. The orchid calendar is the best synopsis I have seen for what needs to happen when with your orchids. The Orchid Projects chapter was a pleasant surprise. It made me think about what I could create with my orchids and the materials I have on hand. Soon I will have an orchid kokedama – the Japanese art of growing plants in moss covered balls – in my living room. Finally, there is a short encyclopedia of species and hybrids that are available and tend to be easier to grow which is followed by a resource list.

I have been growing orchids since 1980. Can’t call myself an expert – there are about 25,000 orchid species and countless hybrids and cultivars, but I’ve grown a few hundred of these beautiful plants. If someone asked me for a book recommendation on orchids, this book is in the top three for accessibility, attractiveness and personality.

Wild about Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants by Jack Wallington proposes a different way to look at the plants that some consider to be weeds or too aggressive to allow into the well-mannered garden. Wallington’s explanation of  why plants can become weeds is on target. Plants that have been transplanted to new places may not have the competition that keeps them in check, and then there is that great garden soil that the gardener has worked so hard to improve. Wallington stresses that what may be weedy in one location can be invasive in another, so check local noxious weed and invasive plant lists before you bring a potential problem into your garden. Most of the book is taken up with plant descriptions and where each species works best within a design framework: sunny gardens, dry and poor soils; shade, containers and more.

Overall this is an attractive book and it does make you consider that one person’s weed may be another person’s favorite plant. I have grown many of the plants listed, but there is one that I could never recommend to anyone, anywhere. (There is always one, isn’t there?). Even with all of the cautions in the book, giant hogweed – Heracleum mantegazzianum – should be avoided. It’s not worth finding out that you are indeed sensitive to the furanocoumarins contained in the plant.

Succulents: choosing, growing and caring for cactuses and other succulents by John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller. Succulents have been hot for years and their allure shows no sign of diminishing. When I first started caring for these architectural plants, most references were primarily monographs on different genera or books with mostly black and white pictures – we are very spoiled with the access we now have to good pictures. The introduction covers the usual cultural information – liberally salted with beautiful pictures – that we have been trained to expect in our plant books. I did find a cool tip for watering: check out page 83 for a low-tech hack for determining soil moisture.

The plant encyclopedia portion covers a wide variety of succulents and the plant information is concise for growing inside, and occasionally, for outside. John Bagnasco lives in San Diego and can grow many of these succulents outside. Please ignore the note of envy you may have picked up there. My only small complaint is that one of my favorite genera – Gasteria – was left out. But I’m sure that the authors had a tough time trying to decide what to leave out of the book.

Now I need to stop writing and continue reading in preparation for my next post of winter reading.

A selection of succulents in my greenhouse from one of my favorite garden destinations — Groovy Plants Ranch.

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