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.

Book Notes: What a Plant Knows

What a Plant Knows: a Field Guide for the Senses – Daniel  Chamovitz, Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 2012.

Reviewed by Debra Knapke

I am teaching a new course – for me – at Columbus State Community College.  Its official title is Plant Sciences, but I have told my students that it is 15 weeks of: how do plants survive while rooted in one place and why do they die?  As I was collecting material for the course, I found Daniel Chamovitz’s  book: What a Plant Knows, and began a delightful journey into plant physiology from a different point-of-view.

Chamovitz draws parallels between plant and human senses which is emphasized by the names of the chapters: What a Plant Sees, What a Plant Smells, What a Plant Feels, How a Plant Knows Where It Is, and so forth.  He states that he is not saying that plants experience the world as humans do; plants are not “just like us”.  But, by using a framework of the animal senses we are challenged to think of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and proprioception -where we are in space- in a different way.  A way that may allow us to understand ourselves … in a different way.

I had a lot of “oh, wow” moments as my understanding of plants and their processes shifted with the author’s premise.  It is a slim volume, but it took me time to read the text and follow up with the chapter notes.  The references are varied and numerous and I plan to look up quite a few.

This book may not be everyone’s idea of a good read, but I found it fascinating.  Hope you will give it a try.

Book Notes: Edible Front Yard

The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-less, Grow-more Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden  by Ivette Soler, 2011, Timber Press.  Retail:  $19.95

Reviewed by Debra Knapke

Front lawn perfection has been an obsession of American homeowners since the late 1940s, but a revolution has begun as gardeners explore options for the front yard.  The Edible Front Yard is a reworking of the ages old idea of growing one’s food.  If you think that food-based gardens are ugly, the pictures in this book will change your mind.  It’s time to be bold!  Proudly display your vegetables and fruits out front.  Don’t hide them behind the house.

The majority of the pictures are from warmer climes – Southern California, Texas and Seattle – but nearly all of the plants listed in the Front Yard Plant Palette are grown in Midwest edible gardens. This slim volume is overflowing with “how-to” information ranging from design to plant selection to implementation of your edible garden, and it is general enough to be applicable to most of the United States.  One caveat is that edible gardens are not low maintenance.  The time spent with maintaining it, and harvesting and processing the bounty may surprise gardeners who are unfamiliar with this garden style.  But what could be better than growing some of your food?

Beginner gardeners will be inspired to jump in and just “do it”, while more advanced gardeners will enjoy exploring a different way of thinking about the front yard.

Book Notes: Decoding Gardening Advice

ImageDecoding Gardening Advice: the Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations – Jeff Gillman and Maleah Maynard, Timber Press, 2012.

Reviewed by Debra Knapke

Gardening is a blend of art and science.  Art is in the eye of the beholder – and gardener.  Science is based on experimentation, observation and outcomes.  And, there are a lot of outcomes in the garden from chlorosis to chomped leaves to patchy lawns to blossom end-rot on your tomatoes.

There are times when the amount of information on how-to-garden is overwhelming.  Just when you are ready to give up, a reference appears that presents a rational way to evaluate old wives tales, “common” knowledge and scientific “fact”.   Jeff Gillman and Maleah Maynard offer three ways to look at garden advice that you have read or heard: good advice, debatable advice and advice that is just wrong.  Gillman’s and Maynard’s responses show that the authors have done the research and also have personal garden experience.

One of my soapbox topics is the way we use and misuse mulch in the landscape.  On this topic, Gillman and Maynard state:

Good AdviceKeep mulch away from the crowns of ornamental plants and the bases of trees

Debatable AdviceUse landscape fabric to control weeds

Advice that is Just Wrong Always add extra nitrogen to the soil when wood mulch is used

Read the book to find out the reasoning behind the categorization of these common recommendations and many others.

This book is the third for Jeff Gillman that looks at the way we garden and how to understand the science of gardening.  His first two:  The Truth About Organic Gardening and The Truth About Garden Remedies, set the stage for Decoding Garden Advice.  Much of gardening can be intuitive, especially when you observe nature and seek to understand natural processes in the environment.  But when you are confronted by several conventional, organic or home remedies for a problem in the garden, it’s nice to be able to understand the cause of the problem and to wisely select a solution.  Gillman’s earlier books are excellent references that are valuable for both novice and experienced gardeners.

And, did I mention, all this serious information is mellowed with humor?  It will be difficult not to smile or chuckle as you explore gardening information and techniques through the pens of Gillman and Maynard.

Book Notes: Gardener’s Weather Bible

ImageThe Gardener’s Weather Bible: How to Predict and Prepare for Garden Success in Any Kind of Weather – Sally Roth, Rodale Press, 2003

Reviewed by Debra Knapke

Winter, what we had of it, is now a memory.  In an effort to figure out how to deal with a too early Spring that has temperatures spiking into the 80’s and 90’s, I went back to an older book on my bookshelf by Sally Roth.  The Gardener’s Weather Bible is a wonderful blend of understanding natural weather phenomena and what to do in the garden when rain, hail, wind, snow, and more, grace or threaten your garden.  The first half of the book is all about weather and how it is predictable if you know the signs, yet unpredictable because, well, it’s the weather!  As the old adage says: “if you don’t like the weather, wait a moment and it will change;” a sentiment Midwesterners are all too familiar with!

Various garden techniques and planting schemes are nestled into the sections on developing your weather-sense and nature-sense.  Learn how to identify cloud types and what they indicate.  For example: in cloudy weather divide and transplant perennials to reduce the transplant shock.  And, set out slug traps as slugs are much more active on a cloudy day than on a sunny one.  Discover how much snow equals 1” of water – hint: it depends on the type of snow.  Find out how you can predict whether or not frost will descend upon your garden in the spring and fall and save yourself some time and effort.

Every chapter combines the folklore your grandparents knew, with sound gardening advice.  After reading this book, you will be less reliant on the six o’clock news and more comfortable with planning your gardening tasks.

And, one last thought: “Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation.”
― Kim Hubbard

Book Notes: The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual

The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual: Essential Gardening Know-How for Keeping (Not Killing) More Than 160 Indoor Plants By Barbara Pleasant,2005, Storey Publications.  Retail: $24.95

Review by Debra Knapke

I can’t count how many times I’m asked, “What is wrong with my houseplant?” I counter with a series of questions to try and diagnose the problem. Usually the problem starts with not knowing how a particular plant should be grown, not recognizing early signs of problems, or — horrors — the grower doesn’t know what the plant is.

Enter The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, which starts with plant-specific information and finishes with general information on the care of houseplants.  The range of plant species and hybrids is well matched with what is available at garden centers. A handy key assists you in identifying the plant you bought in case you have misplaced the tag or there wasn’t one to begin with.  Each plant profile contains pictures that are clear and eye-catching — many are luscious.

You’ll learn a lot about the plant you have decided to harbor in your home: background information, specific light, fertilizer and watering needs, and most importantly, what to do when leaves yellow, spots and bugs appear or the entire plant droops.  The troubleshooting guidelines and remedies alone are worth the price of the book!

If you can’t keep a houseplant alive, don’t wait to ask me. Check out this comprehensive houseplant guide.

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