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Entries in garden coaching (4)


Fine Foliage for Flowerbeds and Container Gardening, a book review

Fine Foliage, Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz,       St. Lynn’s Press

Sometimes, a gardener will return from the nursery with a car full of annuals and perennials, place them in flowerbeds or containers according to the guidelines of good garden design, and yet, the resulting plant arrangements still look wanting.

Perhaps the gardener forgot about foliage. Foliage is to garden design what fashion accessories are to clothing. Without the addition of the interesting leaves of perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, annuals, and trees, a garden never seems to be complete.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comFoliage works as a facilitator. It allows otherwise unintegratable plants to combine successfully with others. It also serves as a proscenium, helping to make a perennial or a combination of perennials and shrubs appear more beautiful. Foliage may also supplies direction, volume, color, texture, visual excitement, movement, and mystery.

However, foliage has another role to play; and that is the theme of this book. When plants that are defined by their leaves rather than by their flowers or berries, are combined with other foliage plants, they provide unusual and spiritual visual drama.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comThe premise of Ms. Chapman and Ms. Salwitz’s beautiful and delightful little book is that it is possible to create successful, eye-catching plant combinations using foliage alone for flowerbed and container gardening. The publication showcases more than sixty inspired foliage-plant partnerships that illustrate this successful style of garden design, while, at the same time, revealing the authors’ immense talent in that field.

Each combination is given a two-page spread with full-color, exquisite, high quality photographs of the individual plants within. So that readers might achieve similar results in their own garden beds and containers, descriptive directions accompany each grouping. Attention is also paid to important details such as sun or shade requirements, seasons, growing zones, soil preference, plant characteristics and care.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comHowever, what sets apart this book from other garden design manuals is the focus on helping the gardener… get to “beautiful”. The authors take the time to explain why each of their sixty foliage combinations is successful. This information allows readers to gain a designer’s perspective. That outlook, in turn, will enable them to make better choices; it also encourages gardeners to take risks - all in the hope of creating unique personal landscapes and container gardens.

This richly illustrated guide is full of easy-to-use advice. Gardeners of all skill levels will be able to adapt  instructions to create elegant, stylish, flowerbeds for their gardens and breathtaking, designer-looking, containers for their patios.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comBoth authors are hands-on gardeners. Karen Chapman is a garden coach, horticulturist, garden writer and owner of a container design company. Christina Salwitz  is a garden coach and garden writer who specializes in garden and container design. The authors live with their respective families in the Seattle area of the State of Washington, in the USA.



How to Grow Food and Flowers on a Balcony: a book review

Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruit, Flowers, Foliage & Herbs, Fern Richardson, Timber Press.

One doesn’t need a yard in order to garden. In the equal-opportunity world that many of us inhabit, anyone who wishes to grow plants ought to be able to do so, no matter where they reside. The fact that so many apartment-dwellers and condo-owners choose gardening as their passion, speaks not only to the ingenuity and zeal of the individual hobbyist, but also to the versatility and adaptability of most plants to container gardening.

Master Gardener, Fern Richardson writes about small-space gardening with an authentic voice. She lives in an apartment with minimal outdoor living area, yet manages to grow food, flowers, and plants with only a balcony and front porch as her garden. Her book is filled with ingenious ways to convert tiny areas into outdoor oases, complete with plant vegetation and small-scale furniture so that anyone’s balcony, porch, or tiny patio may become a multi-purpose outdoor living area.

The book is divided into nine easy, comprehensive lessons. Chapter One overarches the main elements of a small garden, namely the colors, shapes, sizes, and textures of plants and containers, appropriate furniture, and the option of lighting. Chapter Two discusses the pivotal role that weather and climate play in affecting the productivity, hardiness, and health of container-grown plants. The third chapter offers suggestions for attracting wildlife and the fourth is about growing food - yes, one can grow food in containers. Read the book to discover how it can be done.

The author grows, figs, peaches nectarines, and blueberries on her balcony in Southern California, and offers suggestions for successfully growing vegetables, not only in her warm climate but also in colder areas where, due to shorter growing seasons, seeds must germinate quickly. Readers who garden in northern locations will be pleased that the author has paid attention to their climate needs.

Chapter Five includes a photo essay on designing with succulents and aromas. The theme of the sixth chapter is about building privacy, while the seventh introduces lushness and verticality in the form of wall gardens and vertical plants that draw the eye upward to relieve a feeling of claustrophobia that sometimes occurs in small spaces.

The eighth chapter is aptly titled Green Thumb Crash Course, Learning the Essentials for Success. Here, the author writes about the importance of using high quality potting soil, essential details for container planting, repotting root bound plants, the role of fertilizer and irrigation, bulb forcing, whether or not to deadhead, and pruning technique. The last chapter is devoted to troubleshooting pests and diseases. In this fascinating segment, we learn how some companion plants help to control such uninvited guests. Even readers who do not garden in containers might find reasons to include these beneficial plants in their growing beds.

It must be mentioned that the photography sourced for this book is outstanding. To illustrate Ms. Richardson’s text, the works of over thirty illustrious garden photographers were tapped. For example, the cover image by Marie Viljoen that is repeated on page 72 is a masterpiece of narrative photography and composition.

All of the stunning visuals enhance the reader’s understanding of the advice offered by Fern Richardson, who, by the way, is an extraordinarily effective communicator. Add to this recipe, Timber Press’ hallmark, avant-garde graphic design, and the result is a publication that raises the artistic bar for all future gardening manuals. This is a beautiful and inspiring book to own.



How to Deal with Contradictory or Mythical Garden Advice; a book review for


Decoding Gardening Advice; the science behind the 100 most common recommendations, Jeff Gillman & Meleah Maynard, Timber Press

The benefit of this book to gardeners is that it takes advice out of the realm of folklore, and places it under the spotlight of horticultural and botanical science.

The authors maintain that the most serious drawback to successful and effective gardening is that people are ill informed. They believe that a lot of gardening advice is confusing, dubious, or bad.  Some well meaning gardeners unknowingly twist the facts, others are ignorant of them, and still others innocently hold on to stale-dated knowledge that no longer stands up to contemporary scientific scrutiny.

Is it possible that unsuspecting gardeners, confused when they are bombarded with contradictory advice, consider gardening a joyless activity? The authors believe so; and that has been their impetus to write this book.

Eight major gardening subjects are covered in an examination of the one hundred most commonly received  garden recommendations. The topics are related to soil, water, pest, disease, and weed control, mulch, annuals, perennials and bulbs, trees and shrubs, vegetables and fruit, and lawn care.

In order to evaluate the usefulness and worthiness of the most often-received guidance, the authors classify conventional gardening information into three categories: - advice that is good, advice that is debatable and advice that is just wrong. The reader will be amazed to learn how much erroneous information has been perpetuated as garden gospel, the amount of information that cannnot be substantiated as either true or false, and how much folklore is considered wise garden advice.

In the chapter on soil, an example of good advice is - Create an environment that is favorable to earth-worms. Earthworms are nature’s tilling machines. They do a great job of making nutrients, air, and water available to plants.

In that same chapter, debatable advice is to fertilize perennials and shrubs every year. We do not see a reason to fertilize perennials more than once every few years if the soil is good, meaning you add compost or other organic material on a regular basis.

Closing the chapter on soil is advice that is considered just wrong: add sand to clay to improve drainage. …when sand and clay are mixed together they blend in such a way that they create a dense, heavy mess – one with a consistency akin to wet concrete.

Advice that is good is confirmed with scholarship and research. Advice that is debatable, because science and experience can neither confirm nor refute it, is treated as a grey area for which there is no right or wrong answer. In such situations, choosing one way or another is a matter of personal preference. Advice is deemed bad when it is contradicted by science, or research, or fact-based experience.

For each one hundred recommendations, the authors explain every practice, the consequences of following the advice under scrutiny, how they believe the garden task ought to be executed, and a summary opinion or recommendation.

There is a new generation of gardeners, who do not wish to toil in their back yards; nor do they  wish to spend a lifetime exploring and testing conventional advice in order to determine the correct way to do anything. These contemporary hobbyists find no pleasure in discovery. They are the antithesis of the traditional gardener who finds joy in trial and error. Members of this non-traditional generation want to do it only once; and they need get it right the first time.

This manual, therefore, will provide accurate information to help them make wise gardening decisions. As well, it will be clarifying to those who have been bamboozled with botanical folklore that is closer to fiction than the truth. The authors were prescient in choosing to write this book.  We should be grateful.

Jeff Gillman, associate professor of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota, lectures and conducts research on woody ornamental plants and the abuse of pesticides. His scholarly public-ations cover a broad range of topics, including spider mite control, soil amendments, and treating plant diseases using organic means.

Meleah Maynard, master gardener, journalist, editor, speaker, and garden columnist, writes regularly for regional and national magazines.






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.