Book Notes

 

Winter Contemplation and Planning

By Debra Knapke

Winter is a good time to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book. For your reading pleasure, I offer a diverse collection of books to add to your personal collection or to borrow from your favorite library.Brilliant Green

In November I attended a lecture on plant “neurobiology” given by Dr. Stefano Mancuso*. The message of his talk: plants are intelligent and we need to understand that intelligence from a plant’s frame-of-reference. After taking four pages of notes, I decided that I needed to purchase his book Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence. Dr. Mancuso’s book is a mix of science and philosophy that is easy to grasp. When explaining how the roots act as the brain of a plant, Mancuso describes how roots make complex decisions for the “good of the plant”: discerning where nutrients and water are; avoiding or neutralizing toxic substances. In 173 pages, this book may change what you thought you knew about plants.

In my November 7, 2012, post I reviewed Daniel Chamovitz’s book What a Plant Knows. If you read it and enjoyed it, the above will continue that reading thread.

For a visual feast, take a look at Ken Druse’s The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Changeken-druse-new-shade-gardenThis is an update of his 1992 book The Natural Shade Garden which has held an honored place on my bookshelf and in my design classes. I find that updates are nice, but they often don’t offer much more than the original. This is not the case with The New Shade Garden. Druse discusses the issues of lawn, chemical use, the slippery classifications of native-local-nonnative plants, and sustainability. His guidance for matching plant combinations to garden conditions is excellent. He states, “The garden of the future will be a shade garden.” Why? Trees and their associated ecosystems are an essential part of our mature forests. Plus, they offer ecological services such as carbon sequestration, modifying temperature around buildings, stormwater control and more.

I have a tough decision to make: to buy or not to buy – my “review copy” is from the library. And if I buy, what do I do with my old friend The Natural Shade Garden?

Permaculture cityAnother library find was Toby Hemenway’s The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban and Town Resilience. You may be familiar with his excellent guide to creating a sustainable home garden: Gaia’s Garden: a Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. In The Permaculture City, Hemenway expands the scope of his first book; starting at the home garden – focusing especially on urban sites, then branching out into the community. His topics range from understanding, using and protecting water sources of the community to creating local money systems that sustain a community. The latter topic offers a different way to think about money and banks. As in Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway offers examples and practical applications of permaculture techniques and concepts.

There are many who believe that it will be our urban and suburban food farms that feed us in the future, and that robust local governance is important for a healthy world.  If you wish to explore these ideas further, this book will be an excellent guide.

Full Disclosure: I was sent The Allergy Fighting Garden: Stop Asthma and Allergies with Smart Landscaping by the author, Thomas Leo Ogren, allergy gardento peruse and review if I felt it was worthy. I enjoyed the author’s previous book Safe Sex in the Garden and Other Propositions for an Allergy-free World (2004) and was curious about his next step. In The Allergy Fighting Garden, Ogren combines and expands his two earlier books:  Allergy Free Gardening (2000) and Safe Sex in the Garden. He offers a concise presentation of his rating scale, OPALS (Ogren Plant Allergy Scale), for allergen producing plants and a comprehensive list of garden plants that are rated for their allergen-producing potential. His rationale for his scale is based on solid plant science and is easy to understand. The scale is 1-10 with 1 being “least allergenic” and 10 being “most allergenic”. For example:  boxwood rates a 7 because the male flowers need to make enough pollen to reach the female flowers, via the wind, that are on separate plants (boxwood is dioecious-having different sexed flowers on separate plants). Ogren also notes that boxwood can cause a dermatitis reaction for sensitive individuals.

While we can’t get rid of all pollen – and we don’t want to – this book offers an allergy-sufferer a way to design a garden that decreases potential allergic reactions.

So begins my season of reading; enjoy yours!

* Dr. Mancuso the director and founder of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Florence, Italy and is also the founder of International Society for Plant Signaling and Behavior.

 

NOTE: On Jan. 10, catch our blog’s favorite author Debra Knapke at the P.L.A.N.T. Seminar presented by the Perennial Plant Association and The Ohio State University Master Gardener Volunteers at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  With her talk “Garden Design Informed by Ecology & Place,” she will join an impressive line-up of speakers including Stephanie Cohen, Kelly Norris, Jason Reeves, Gene Bush and John Friel.

 

Summer Nature Reads: One Light, One Medium, One Heavy

 

By Debra Knapke

After I’ve worked in the garden, I like to brew a cup of tea and sit and read. Depending on my mood, I choose fiction or non-fiction. In the non-fiction world I see books as being light, medium or heavy “reads”.

Big Bad Book of BotanyFor the light read, pick up the The Big, Bad Book of Botany by Michael Largo. This is a selective encyclopedia of plants that define the plant kingdom. While there are some similarities with Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants – many of the plants have poisonous attributes, there is more about how plants have evolved to carry on the business of surviving in all types of environments. I found myself flipping through the book to my favorite plants, like lavender, and then searching out plants that were new to me. I was amazed to learn that rattan, which I think of as a component of outdoor furniture, has been developed into a bone substitute that is not rejected by the human body.

One little nit-picky point: fungi are included, and technically, they are not plants as they reside in their own kingdom. But, the illustrations are intriguing, and Largo’s writing style is easy to digest.

For a medium read and for inspiration, check out Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners by Augustus Jenkins Farmer or “Jenks”. The table of contents exemplifies what this book is offering: Deep Rooted WisdomBuilding Fertile Soils: Encouraging a Healthy Web of Life, Stop the Tilling Cycle: Harnessing the Natural Powers of Worms and Mushrooms, Saving Seeds: Treasuring Heirlooms for Genetics and Nutrients and more. I started with the last chapter first: Finding the Spirit: Telling Stories through Your Garden. In my own garden, I am greeted by stories every time I am in it, and I was curious to see Jenks’ interpretation of this essential part of the garden.

Each chapter showcases two teachers who explain their techniques and where they learned them. Jenks then explains how that wisdom is expressed on his organic farm and nursery. I am not done with this book as it takes time for each chapter to settle into my own gardening philosophy. The pictures are gorgeous, and the text is poetry.

And, now for the heavy read: The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs. I am half-way through… whew.

Age of Sustainable DevIf you want to understand the opportunities and threats to sustainable development from a worldwide perspective, this is the book you need to read. For instance, a nation has an advantage if it has coastal areas, access to freshwater, good medical care, benevolent weather and energy resources. A nation will be disadvantaged, if it is landlocked, water stressed, has a heavy disease burden (e.g. malaria), has natural hazards (e.g. earthquakes, typhoons) and has a lack of energy resources. The maps and charts are an excellent addition to the text. Without them, I’m not sure I would be able to navigate this tome.

The first two books are more personal or local in nature, while the last book offers a global view. This falls right in line with the phrase: Think globally, act locally. Isn’t that what all gardeners do?

‘Wishing you beautiful days in nature…

Book Notes: Plants with Benefits

Plants with benefits

 

Amp Up Your Valentine’s Day with Some Sexy Plants

By Teresa Woodard

Planning a romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day? Well, seek out garden writer Helen Yoest’s intriguing book, Plants with Benefits for some helpful advice and titillating recipes.

From arugula to watermelon, she compiles an uninhibited guide to 45 aphrodisiac plants and cleverly uses this sexy topic and a good dose of humor to share the history and science lessons behind each plant.

After reading her account on lavender, I’ll definitely be planting more of this intoxicating perennial to my landscape. Lav ang. Hidcote Marys garden cropFrom historic days, women like the Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra knew the power of this alluring scent as they doused themselves with this love potion. More recently, Yoest says a food aroma study proved the scent’s seductive power among men. In fact, the fragrance of lavender increased participants’ blood flow by 40 percent compared to pizza (5 percent) or popcorn (9 percent).

While the book’s lavender cookie recipe might make a good addition to a Valentine’s Day menu, I’m thinking I’ll start with a basil pesto spread. Yoest says the herb was used as a love token thousands of years ago in Malaysia, Iran and Egypt, and its aroma still “drives us wild” today.PPA Bowood Farms 2 7-22-09 resize

For the entry, I’ll serve up my husband’s favorite tenderloin steak with a flirtatious side dish of asparagus and morels. Yoest praises asparagus for its suggestive qualities and hormone-boosting power. Morels, once named Phallus exculentus by father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus, is praised for its warming effects much like cayenne and its power-packed nutrients.

And of course, for dessert, chocolate may be the classic choice, but I think I’ll have more luck with a honey treat, like Honey Apple Crisp. Yoest writes how Cupid, the trickster, dipped his arrows in honey before aiming at lovers.

Check out Plants with Benefits for planning your own Valentine’s Day menu and planting a love-filled garden.

“A plant that helps us to love is a plant worth having,” says Yoest.

 

Book Notes: Garden-pedia and The New American Herbal

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.

Garden-pedia

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.

Book Notes: Three Old Favorites

IMG_0863 resizeBy Debra Knapke

November is a time when I revisit books that are old, and sometimes forgotten, friends. We’ve all heard the dire pronouncements: books are becoming obsolete, the web is killing the publishing industry and more. Yet, in this time of early evenings, colder temperatures and even snow, it is a cup of tea and a good book that are my preferred companions at the end of the day.

Adelma Caprilands[1]

Adelma Grenier Simmons

All three of these writers are also my teachers.  Each has given me pieces of wisdom that have become part of my personal and professional ethics. Each has settled into my garden heart.

How do we choose books? Often it is a catchy title that entices. Herb Gardening in Five Seasons by Adelma Grenier Simmons had me at the title. So what is the fifth season? A season that has a feeling all its own: Christmas. Adelma Simmons wrote this book in 1964 when herbs were beloved by gardeners, but they weren’t the mainstay of gardens as they are now. She brought herbs to the attention to many through her books and her extensive gardens, Caprilands, in Coventry, Connecticut. She influenced my herbal education greatly. Adelma died in 1997 at the age of 93, seven years after I read one of the many reprints of her book.

Rosetta_Shear_Clarkson crop

Rosetta Shear Clarkson

Still on my herbal journey, a year and a half later I found another classic, Herbs: Their Culture and Uses. Rosetta Clarkson penned three books. Magic Gardens (1939) and Green Enchantment (1940) preceded Herbs: Their Culture and Uses (1942). Her style of writing is very personal in all three books. While reading her instructions and advice I felt as if she was talking to me. Rosetta gardened just outside of New York City and along the coast of Connecticut. My favorite of her three books was Green Enchantment, but it has disappeared from my bookshelves; probably lent out and never returned.

beston

Henry Beston

In between these two authors I found and fell in love with another author whose poetic prose took me to the places he described. Another east coast writer, Henry Beston wrote Herbs and the Earth (1935) while on his farm in Nobelboro, Maine. He penned one of my favorite quotes –

“A garden is the mirror of the mind. It is a place of life, a mystery of green moving to the pulse of the year, and pressing on and pausing the while to its own inherent rhythms.”

And, I would like to offer you a quote from Adelma as you contemplate (dread?) the approach of winter:

“The quiet aloneness of winter has a special charm for the herb gardener, and I confess this season is my delight. Through the restless, rushing hours of spring, and the long days of summer that begin at dawn and end with weeding in the twilight, I find myself looking back at the peace of winter and forward to the next one. The winter landscape, bare and stringent, reveals a beauty of form and line that is not visible in the spring and summer.”

 

 

 

Spring Countdown: 2 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

In keeping with the green-theme here is another set of books to consider.  From bottom to top:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – I still have the original The Basic Book of Organic Gardening edited by Robert Rodale – a dense paperback that was published in 1971 and purchased by me in 1989 for $3.95.  The pictured book was published in 2002 and has much of the same down-to-Earth information, but with lots of pictures.  We like pictures…

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Farming – This is a book that has become one of the bibles of the sustainable food movement.  Parts are poetic; other parts are packed with process-thinking and science.  If you are considering growing your own food organically, this book will give you a path to follow.

No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening – now for something on the quirky, but very fun, end of the spectrum… Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs travel through the issues of vegetable gardening with humor.  Not everything is cut-and-dry and gardening is not rocket science.

The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet – Joe Lamp’l offers quick, yet informative, lessons on how to garden and how to work with nature.  He stresses that you don’t have to do it all at once, just take one step at a time.  Most topics are 2-3 pages long.

Green Guides Crops in Pots: Growing Vegetables, Fruit & Herbs in Pots, Containers & Baskets – For those of you who do not have the acreage for an in-the-ground garden but want to garden, here’s your book.  The tips are very helpful and the sound-byte facts are thought-provoking; for example, “Did you Know? North America produces nearly 90 percent of the world’s blueberries.”

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden – I do have to take a stand with the word “new”, but the time-honored information is presented in a very attractive and easy to understand format.  If you follow the recommendations, you will be saving energy, money and be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

And lastly, Green, Greener, Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life – This book goes beyond the garden, proposing options that are at different levels of action; your choice.  As I tell my students, there isn’t always a best option, sometimes it boils down to: what is the least-worst?

 

Book Notes: Language of Flowers

language of flowers bookBy Teresa Woodard

Step inside the Victorian language of flowers in this beautiful debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  Here, we meet 18-year-old Victoria Jones on her first day of emancipation from the foster-care system.  In her first job at a florist’s shop, she discovers her gift of flower arranging and uses it to help change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her troubled past.  Drawing on the Victorian language of flowers that she learned as a young girl from her prospective adoptive mother, she tucks messages inside her bouquets and in her exchanges with a secret admirer who shares her passion for flowers.

She eventually creates her own dictionary of flower photos and interpretations of the Victorian definitions, including several of those below.

  • Aster – patience
  • Forsythia – anticipation
  • Jonquil – desire
  • Lavendar – mistrust
  • Marigold – grief
  • Olive – peace
  • Rose, red – love
  • Rose, yellow – infidelity
  • Rose, white – a heart unfamiliar with love
  • Rosemary – remembrance (see Debra Knapke’s post)
  • Stephanotis – happiness in marriage
  • Sunflower – false riches
  • Thistle – misanthropy (The flower Victoria chooses to describe herself.)
  • Tulip – declaration of love

Book Notes: Seed Underground

Seed-Underground1The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food — Janisse Ray, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012.

Reviewed by Teresa Woodard

I am planting seeds today with a renewed appreciation for their diversity, cultural heritage and important role in our food supply – thanks to Janisse Ray’s compelling new book, The Seed Underground. This naturalist, activist and poet author encourages readers to be germinators and not terminators of our country’s seed supply and thus food supply.  She cites a University of Georgia study that found 94 percent of the seeds offered a century ago are no longer available for today’s gardeners and farmers.

In this award-winning book, Ray describes seeds as “the most hopeful thing in the world”. Imagine a small acorn growing into an 80-foot oak or a bucket of seeds producing a bountiful crop to feed a family.  In each chapter, she shares several anecdotes of seed savers – a hand-pollinator of squash, a tomato grower that trials some 1,000 varieties and a Saskatchewan farmer that battled a seed company all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court for alleged corn seed patent violations from “genetic drift”.  Ray also adds how-to chapters on seed saving and personal stories from her garden in Southern Georgia.

 

 

Book Notes: Herb and the Earth

Poetic Prose for Herbal Souls on a Wintery Day 

Herbs and EarthBy Debra Knapke

Here’s my first Book Note for 2013: Herbs and the Earth by Henry Beston, originally published in 1935.

A dear friend gave me the hardback Goodine Publisher edition (1990) in 1991.  This is a book for a snowy day, a roaring fire and your favorite cup of tea.   Henry Beston’s poetic prose draws you into the beauty of herbs and the mystery of life.  When I read it the first time, I felt that I finally understood herbs and by association, the people who grow and love them.  The second time, his words settled gently on my “herbal” soul.  Periodically I pick it up and savor my favorite parts.

For the New Year, I would also like to share with you one of my favorite quotes:

“A garden is the mirror of a mind.  It is a place of life, a mystery of green moving to the pulse of the year, and pressing on and pausing the while to its own inherent rhythms.  In making a garden, there is something to be sought, and something to be found.”

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Book Notes: Energy-Wise

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: a New Approach for your Home and Garden – Sue Reed, New Society Publishers, BC, Canada, 2010.

Reviewed by Debra Knapke

Sustainability, conserving energy and organic are the buzzwords of our time.  And many claims of new techniques and products follow as communicators – writers, marketers, etc. – rush to support these concepts.  While I am skeptical about claims of new approaches, I do appreciate constructive, concrete information on being energy-wise.

If you are creating your first garden or are reworking what you have, this book can guide your every step from designing a landscape to constructing it.  All along the continuum of garden construction to garden maintenance, Sue Reed offers solid advice for the big picture such as constructing new home sites;  and for the details such as construction hints, new products, water use, lighting the landscape and more.  There are numerous sidebars that explain underlying concepts that are sometimes “black holes” in a gardener’s understanding of the many aspects of gardening and garden-making.  I have other books that contain this information, but the focus of this book is loud and clear.  You need to attend to the energy aspect of your home and garden.  It not only conserves the world’s resources,  it’s just plain, good sense.

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