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Entries in book reviews (6)


A Concert of Master Gardeners, Each With Their Own Moving Solo; a book review.

The Roots of my Obsession, Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden, edited by Thomas Cooper, Timber Press.

Under the stewardship of Thomas Cooper, innovative Timber Press collected first hand experiences of distinguished gardeners from around the globe and encapsulated them into a little book whose size belies the grandeur of its contents.

Do not be misled by the title. This is not a collection of cobbled – together, self-congratulatory paeans to horticulture. Instead, consider it a jewelry box filled with personal sketches that touch the heart of those that open its cover. Mr. Cooper himself has written a sublimely crafted introduction that represents garden writing at its best.

Imagine your favorite musicians. Then, think what a concert would sound like if they all assembled to perform at a command performance. Now, envisage this publication; for that’s what this is: - a concert of master gardeners, each with their own moving solo.

The publishers solicited thirty personal recollections from some of the world’s most prominent horticultural voices to find out what motivated them. It is not a coincidence that they are all, in their own right, superb garden writers. Only the splendor of their professional accomplishments surpasses the beautiful skills of communication they display here.

On a personal note, I found this book quite meaningful. As a male gardener, I enjoyed reading the candid, autobiographical pieces submitted by men who, like me, combine the attributes of manhood with the tender wonderment of discovery.

While those of us who work in the horticultural industry experience a satisfying social camaraderie, [we have opportunities to see ourselves reflected in other male colleagues], too many of our gender find gardening to be a lonely activity.

From that perspective, such a collection of personal confidences, wherein half the articles were written by men, makes this book significant for me; it validates the male gardener who sometimes finds himself in print, social media, and in the flowerbeds, vastly outnumbered by his respected and talented female colleagues. However, that personal observation in no way deprecates the rich contributions of the other fifty percent of the contributors - our female rock stars of gardening.

Some of the participants in this book submitted short essays, others have written a short narrative. A large number connect the dots of gardening back to pleasurable childhood experiences. Regardless of the kind of horticultural journey they travelled, all share a love for this passionate hobby.

With a variety of thirty different personal experiences to discover, readers who garden will find themselves reflected in the pages of this book. Those who are considering entering the field, for recreation or vocation, will be even more inspired to do so. As for the already committed, it will feel good to learn about others who are very much like us. Welcome to the personally - rewarding universe of gardening.



The Gardening Shelves of the Public Library in Schroon Lake, New York. summer, my family reunites in the Town of Schroon Lake, in northern New York State. We’ve been vacationing there for over thirty years.  Although this venue is magical even in the rain, one season, after too many overcast days, I decided to spend some time at the local public library.

A few years ago, before donating to that library a copy of a children’s book about mountain climbing that my daughter had written, [“Maxwell’s Mountain” by Shari Becker] I wanted to find out if they already had it on their shelves. There are a few kid-friendly mountains to climb in the area surrounding Schroon Lake.

By going online, I discovered that three public libraries in three different towns were sharing one copy of her book. That information led me to believe that state funding for libraries was an issue.

Nevertheless, when I went there to pass the time, I found a modest but thorough selection of garden books on their shelves -  enough to inspire me to push the creative boundaries of my garden back home.

Years later, I shared with a friend the pleasure that I received from the gardens I created and he, the editor of the internationally read book review site, asked if I would review gardening books for his readers.

After posting my first review, he contacted me to tell me how much he enjoyed my writing and inquired if I had given any thought to creating a blog about gardening.

From my first ever book review; he concluded that I had a writer’s voice. That came as a surprise to me because I had never written before. Nevertheless, his words were complimentary and inspiring. Over time, his encouragement for me to explore my newfound writing skills was unrelenting. Eventually, I created this blog. In addition to posting to Bookpleasures, I made my reviews an integral part of my site.

However, from continuously reading books to review and then keeping them for myself, I ran out of space on my bookshelves and there was no room for additional publications. I thought that I might solve the problem by donating books as fundraisers to garden clubs I addressed. However, I accumulated books faster than I was hired to speak.

The only permanent solution was to clean house. To help me decide what to keep and what to give away, I divided my gardening book collection into two sections. In one pile, I placed those that continue to make me a better gardener and that I wanted to keep, and in the other, I placed those that, once reviewed, I was happy to hand out to others. Unfortunately, not one of my friends, relatives, or neighbors enjoys reading such publications. Sadly, none is into gardening to the extent that I am.

Occasionally, when online blogging colleagues commented that they enjoyed a review that I posted and that they were adding a specific book to their wish list, I was tempted to send them my copy. However, I was forced to curb that enthusiasm because many of my colleagues live in the USA. Sending them parcels from Canada is costly.

Then, I remembered my pleasant summer reading experiences and decided that it was time to pay back, or pay it forward, as the colloquial sayings go.

This summer, I delivered over twenty garden books to the Schroon Lake Public Library. I plan to make this donation an annual activity. If only one person discovers my collection and is inspired to plant a perennial flowerbed, vegetable plot, or terraced container garden, then all the heavy lifting to remove the collection from my home, pack it into the car, and carry it up one flight of stairs to the librarian’s desk, will have been worth the effort. Gardening isn’t only about growing; it’s also about sharing.


Can't Afford a Garden Coach? Read This Book!

Gardening Made Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, John Wiley & Sons.

If a new gardener would ask for my advice, I would recommend this guide in a heartbeat. Don’t let the “Better Homes and Garden” insignia mislead you. This publication may appear to target the mass market but its content is so authoritative and thorough that reading it is almost like hiring a garden coach.

Everything a new gardener needs to know – and more - can be found between the covers of this book. Information is delivered and illustrated in such an idiot-proof sequence, that an alternative title for this publication might be  “Amazing Gardening Results for Dummies”. The editor, Kate Carter Frederick ought to win an award for creating this systematic guide.

The secret to her success is graphic design. Visual presentation, where images tell a story, is the most powerful way to deliver information instantaneously. In many of the demonstrations, simply following the picture sequence will teach the gardener what to do.

Most of the images overflow with vivid colors, flowers, and intense texture. Yes, texture. The touch of the garden has been captured with such intricate close ups of the tactile side of nature that the reader’s eyes can almost feel the grains of soil or the silkiness of petals.

This book leads readers incrementally, into the world of gardening in that kind, generous, and gentle way that all new gardeners imagine they would be. In the opening chapter, the neophyte will be informed what a garden is, what grows there, how one’s geographic location affects what one can plant, the four basic looks of gardens, plans and layouts, allocation of time to garden, thriftiness, information exchange, and plant sharing.

The very detailed parsing of information is repeated in each of the chapters dedicated to a different aspect of gardening. Additional topics covered comprehensively include tools, soil, lawns, flowers and foliage, trees and shrubs, vines and climbers, edibles, propagation, mulch and fertilizer, irrigation, pruning, container gardening, and managing weeds, pest, and diseases.

At the bottom of an occasional page, the reader will notice a colored bar in which the editor asks and answers a question most likely to arise when discussing the chapter’s topic. Another page will display a colored banner providing a relevant gardening tip. Super- imposed on most of the attractive photographs is a text-filled cloud to draw the reader’s attention to an important gardening detail.

All of the ancillary information that a new gardener needs is appended in such an ingenious style that it is impossible for one to become overwhelmed with information. The delivery of detail is placed strategically so that readers may absorb what they can, at their own pace.

Another impressive aspect of this book is the contemporary and professional advice surrounding the technology of gardening. For example, one is instructed how to place an aggressive plant so that its roots do not invade the flowerbed,  a reminder to get a tetanus shot,  the importance of sharpening tools, and the need for compost.

In addition, the reader is instructed to clean up errant fertilizer granules to prevent chemicals from washing into water tables, to choose a single variety of foliage and plant to unify the design of an entire garden, and to select dwarf varieties of flowering shrubs for small properties. The self-taught might have taken years to accumulate this kind of advice, yet now it is available right at the onset of one’s gardening experience. That is invaluable.

This very easy-to-read handbook of expert advice is comprehensive. For every gardening topic, there is a chapter and for every chapter there are wise suggestions for successful results. I wish this book existed when I first began to garden.



Impressionist Painter Claude Monet was a Garden Designer

Monet’s Passion: Ideas Inspiration and Insight from the Painter’s Gardens, by Elizabeth Murray, Pomegranate Artbooks

We are so caught up in the historical and aesthetic significance of the English garden, and its recent American transformation, that we easily forget about the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and his significant contribution to flower garden design. Elizabeth Murray created this jewel of a publication as homage to Monet’s horticultural genius. It is a beautiful, elegant example of the art of publishing at its best.  

Claude Monet, Garden at Giverny, 1900. Musee d'Orsay. ParisAlthough its earlier edition was marketed as an art book, it is indeed a gardener’s delight. I discovered it only recently, when my daughter visited for the holidays and found time to clear out unwanted possessions, left behind from her teenage years at home. She had purchased the book as inspiration for the art classes she once took. Now, it has no value to her and she asked if I could use it. When I picked it up to flip though its pages, I discovered beautiful images of flower beds, some immortalized on canvas by Monet, and others photographed by Ms. Murray. All are suitable inspiration for future generations of flower gardeners.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Waterlilies: Green Reflections. Detail of left side, room 1, east wall, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris. In 1989, a few years before the release of the first edition of the book, fine art photographer, landscape horticulturist, and author Elizabeth Murray assisted with the restoration of Monet’s gardens at his Giverny estate in France. In this best-seller, she reported on the garden’s original development, its maintenance, Monet’s color theories, design elements, and his use of light and shade.

Monet, Bridge at Giverny, also supplied rich photos of the restored gardens in bloom, flowerbeds drawn to scale, aerial diagrams of some of the original flower compositions, as well as translucent annotated blueprints, superimposed on the sketches to assist readers who might wish to recreate the flowerbeds for themselves.

Climbing pink rose tree at Giverny, by Elizabeth Murray.The Giverny estate includes nearly three acres of flowers, an arched tunnel covered with climbing roses, a wide walk carpeted with creeping nasturtium, and a two-acre water lily garden, traversed by a wisteria-covered, Japanese footbridge. Ms. Murray reported that the artist deliberately pondered the placement of every flower that bloomed in his garden in order to create subjects and views waiting to be painted.

Monet's Giverny garden (photo © Elizabeth Murray) to the author, the gardens were designed “using the technique of succession planting. Bulbs and annuals are woven into perennial flower borders to provide color throughout the growing seasons. Scale and borrowed landscapes increase the visual size of the garden. Large blocks of monochromatic colors are used for impact, complementary colors are placed next to each other for intensity, specific color is used to increase the atmospheric effect of mist and sunlight, and the reflection of the sky and landscape on the surface of the water is used as a design feature”. gardening used to be an attraction restricted to a small group of dedicated hobbyists. With the proliferation of the big box garden centers, this passion has become a joyful activity accessible to a much wider population. Even though the book was released over twenty years ago, it has remained a timeless classic that speaks to newer generations of flower gardeners, an audience infinitely larger than the publisher could have ever imagined.

In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of Monet's Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter's Gardens, a revised and enhanced edition was published in 2010. I am happy to have rediscovered this work and share it with my readers.



How to Create Beautiful Gardens in Small Spaces; a book review for

Landscaping Solutions for Small Spaces, 10 Smart Plans for Designing & Planting Small Gardens by Ann-Marie Powell, published by Creative Homeowner

Beautiful gardens can be created in small spaces. The trick is not to stuff all of one’s dreams into a tiny garden. Instead, it is about judiciously selecting those design elements that are critical to ones pleasure, and about paring down a plan to its most important features. By following the author’s advice, satisfying, beautiful gardens, even in cramped quarters, can become a reality.

According to Ms. Powell, with careful design the most awkward space can become a garden. When plants, structures, and furniture are used wisely, a homeowner can transform a confined location not only into a thing of beauty, but also into a multifunctional space, with separate areas for relaxing and entertaining.

Her experience in designing allows the author to summarize a range of garden styles suitable for small spaces. These include - Urban, Edible, Romantic, English, Sun, Low-maintenance, Rustic, Night, Terraced, and Minimalist. A comprehensive chapter, dedicated to each style, includes a full sized, easy to read, and very detailed diagram of the garden, accompanied by an additional full-page blueprint-style planting guide.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.comThe recommended ideas can be adapted by the do-it-yourself homeowner or by qualified landscapers. Creative readers may use these plans as a springboard to building a personalized garden by substituting plants and construction materials that reflect ones aesthetic needs and specific growing zones.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.comThe author’s wise advice includes a suggestion to begin with a master plan. This will help in evaluating the allocation of precious space and budget set aside for the garden. Furthermore, the reader is cautioned not to select a design idea from a larger garden and shrink it down to fit, as wide lawns, deep planting borders and tall trees do not adapt well to tiny spaces.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.comOne feature of the book that truly impressed me is the fact that no construction or planting detail, no matter how minute, is omitted or left to chance. In each chapter, the author includes a list of hardscape materials, a plant-shopping list, and a reminder of miscellaneous garden accessories that are required, such as eye screws for window boxes, wood screws, fence clips, and dumpsters for construction waste.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.comThe information is supplemented with a specific to-do list that includes, for example, a caution to measure the garden carefully before ordering raw materials, and a safety tip to have all outdoor lighting installed by a qualified electrician.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.comAs well, there are guidelines for the handling and execution of paving, furniture selection, decking, boundaries, trellis, and lawn, [if there is space for it], vegetation, the construction process, and planting. Each chapter, for any one style of garden, is completed with a twelve-month maintenance plan to help the homeowner sustain in perpetuity both the hardscapes and the plants.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.comThis is a very impressive manual. Of late, publishers have been tapping into the talents of skilled and creative professionals, so that projects available to do-it–yourselfers are moving away from run-of-the-mill to become extraordinary. Although Ms. Powell’s book is intended as a mass-market publication, it is, in fact, an example of landscape mentoring at its best.

Ann-Marie Powell is a garden designer, TV personality, and writer focusing on innovative landscaping. She runs her own landscaping business, contributes to numerous newspapers and magazines, and is the author of two books. Her garden designed for the world-famous 2010 Chelsea Flower Show won a gold medal. All of the photos included in this review are available on her website.