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.


Spring Countdown: 2 days


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?


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