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Entries in gardening advice (14)


The Informed Gardener Blooms Again: Book Review for

The Informed Gardener Blooms Again,                     Linda Chalker-Scott,  University of Washington Press 

Those of us who have learned to garden from the experience of others, have also been the recipients of gardening advice delivered in an oral tradition. If that guidance came from a university-educated horticulturalist, probably the knowledge transmitted is accurate. However, a lot of information, handed down from one gardening generation to another, is folklore that does not stand up to empirical scrutiny.

As a counterbalance to misinformation, we can rely upon the dedication to truth demonstrated by an author who dismisses out rightly the myths that influence our gardening behavior. Linda Chalker-Scott is an Extension Urban Horticulturalist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University. She is the editor and co-author of Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens, Washington State editor of MasterGardener Magazine, author of the online column Horticultural Myths and has a blog,

The author began her plant science career as a theoretical, laboratory-based plant physiologist and evolved into a practical, landscape-oriented urban horticulturalist. Her goal has been to transform relevant scientific information into readily understandable and applicable garden practices. This is her second book in making the science of gardening and landscaping accessible to the non-academic gardening community. The first book, similarly titled The Informed Gardener, was published in 2008.

Readers will be shocked to discover that some of what we hold to be true is either inaccurate or false. Hence, the titles of the chapters in this book begin with the phrase “The Myth of…”.  Each chapter contains an exposition of the myth the author has undertaken to crush, followed by the scientific information available to contradict the myth. This is, in turn, is followed by an exquisitely concise summary of the argument, i.e. what we need to know. Finally, the author includes a reference to scientific papers that support the facts.

One example of a defeated myth hits home. A respectable TV home improvement series, featured an episode on foundation landscaping with rose bushes. The renovator informed the viewing audience of the importance of using Epsom salts to create healthy roses. Not only did I follow that advice but I also passed along that information to all of my clients. The author reports that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Epsom salts make roses grow bushier or more floriferous. Epsom salts, another name for magnesium sulphate, is as good as any other source of magnesium in treating a plant that suffers from leaf chlorosis. Such plants, because they are stressed, are unable to uptake other beneficial nutrients. Relieving the magnesium deficiency will improve chlorophyll production as well as nutrient uptake. However, feeding Epsom salts to plants that do not need magnesium will not make them healthier because plants only uptake the amount of magnesium that they need.

Some of the other topics covered in this book include the danger to humans who brew and apply compost tea because it may contain e-coli bacteria. Other myths dispelled cover garden-related issues such as companion planting, foliar feeding, and the myth of predicted growth that appears on plant labels. Another myth deals with drought tolerant plants used to create xeriscapes. The well-intentioned gardener will plant such perennials with the expectation that they will survive with little rainfall. However, during rainfall, drought tolerant plants absorb more precious water than other plants.

There are more widely held myths dispelled in this publication. I urge the serious gardener to read The Informed Gardener Blooms Again, and its companion The Informed Gardener. At best, we will become better-informed gardeners. At least, we will save a few hundred dollars a season, otherwise spent on nutrients that our gardens do not need. Special mention goes to Ashley Saleeba for the gem-like design of this publication and for the ingenious adaptation of artwork by Sarah Dixon on the book’s cover.



Eating My Words

Some time ago I posted a blog about deer-proofing the garden. I offered suggestions about plants deer would not eat and linked the reader to another website that elaborated on thisThis photo appears in the February 2009 issue of Garden Gate eNotes. Click on the image to read what I argue against. subject. I take it all back! Actually, I’ve deleted that entry.

For those of us that love perennial gardens, having to plant items that deer will avoid is counterproductive. A beautiful garden requires that the gardener decides what to plant, not the deer. Furthermore, no one should be compelled to add deer repellent substances or electronic shock equipment to their property.

Perennial gardening has never been about acquiescing to nature. Historically, it has always been about taking charge. Most of the flowers that we plant are not native to our environment.They were discovered elsewhere and brought first to Europe and then to North America. Beautiful perennial gardens, therefore, are the result of manipulating nature and we should continue to do so until we have created the gardens we desire.To achieve our goals, we need to build a physical barrier to stop the deer from grazing on our land.

There is a high price tag attached to landscaping a property.To that cost, I suggest we add the price of installing a deer-proof fence that will enclose the garden.This extra step will ensure that desired flowers will grow where we want them. One should not have to worry about deer eating up our considerable investment.

For most regions, a fence that is seven feet high is essential to stop deer from leaping into the garden. Ideally, a fence that blocks the deer’s view of the garden is best. Second best would be a wooden fence with repetitive openings large enough to allow the garden admirer to see through but small enough to keep the deer out.

Not every gardener will be happy to install a visible fence. And not every gardener will have the budget for it. Alternatively, one can install a wire fence that is almost invisible. Gardeners that want to maintain a sense of the "wide open spaces" might find this option more attractive. Another advantages of the invisible fence system is that it has been designed so that gardeners can install it themselves. It is lightweight, easy to install, and above all, economical.

In the April 2009 edition of Canadian Gardening Magazine, on page 67, there is a photograph of a perennial garden smack in the middle of moose country.The owner of this property had tried using repellents without success and found a fence to be the only way to keep deer out of her garden. A tall sturdy lattice-type window pane fence surrounds this beautiful perennial garden and allows the visitor to see through the fence to appreciate the rustic meadows beyond. The fence not only protects the garden from deer and moose but also delineates the flower beds by giving them a visual anchor. Wooden structures in gardens are frequently used by landscapers to enhance a garden scene. That is exactly what the fence does for this garden. It blends in with the overall spirit of the garden.

If a visible fence is not to ones liking, or is too costly, in this same issue of the magazine, there is an ad on page 97 for virtually invisible deer fencing, manufactured by Benner's Gardens, that is available both in Canada and the U.S.A.

The virtually invisible fence is being used successfully in the following public places in Canada:The Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington,Ontario,The Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, and Niagara Parks in Niagara Falls,Ontario.


Where Do I Start? Gardening Advice from Fran Sorin

The best advice, for taking the first steps in gardening, is to be found in the book “Digging Deep” by Fran Sorin. With very minor adaptations of my own, here are her suggestions:

1] When the garden plan is final and you are ready to proceed, start with the big items such as patios, pathways and large structures, such as pergolas and trees.

2] Whenever you are unsure about the size or numbers of plants, always go larger and bolder than you originally think.

3] For small gardens, use no less than three of one perennial specimen. For very larger gardens, no less than five.

4] Work in odd numbers when planting perennials. Odd numbered configurations hit the eye better.

5] If the garden is large enough, plant bushes in groups of three or more unless you are using them as an architectural statement.

6] Always know what the spread and mature height of a tree will be before you plant it.

7] Plant in flowing, wavelike lines [not in straight rows, unless it’s a vegetable garden].There are no straight lines in nature.

8] Consider leaf texture, shape, size, and color when deciding which plants to put where.

9] Place largest plants at the back of the borders and garden beds; smaller plants in front.

10] Think ahead - try to incorporate different plants that will give your garden four seasons of growth

11] Always water your plants before putting them into the ground.

Visit Fran Sorin’s website; Buy her book “Digging Deep” at


And Now for Something Different: a Perennial to Knock Your Socks Off!

Cephalaria gigantea or Scabiosa gigantea. As the name suggests, this is a giant perennial with a Scabiosa flower head, only taller. It will grow 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide; so give it lots of room to bloom. Flowers are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and range in color, depending on growing conditions, from creamy white to bright yellow. Its long stems make it a good cut flower.This is a dramatic background perennial for deep gardens with vast perspectives. However, its coarse appearance requires that it be partially camouflaged by other plants. European gardeners have been successfully using this perennial in the back row of their flower beds for quite some time. It is now available in North America, but not yet well-known.This plant requires moist fertile soil that is well drained. It also needs full sun; otherwise it will flop over. Be prepared to stake it with unobtrusive fencing using transparent fishing twine and tall stakes.To prolong blooming, deadhead flowers regularly. After stems are spent, cut them down to the ground and trim foliage for a tidier appearance. Plant is hardy from zones 3a to 9b and is attractive to birds and butterflies.


The Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Book Review for

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide  Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L.Martin, Storey Publishing

The hedgehog that lives in my back yard has let me know, in his own way, that purchasing a compost bin with a ground level opening is not a good idea. He already eats everything tasty in my garden, so access to compostable kitchen scraps will only create a feast for him and a mess for me. The solution would be to invest in a rotary compost bin that prevents animals from climbing inside. Not a good idea! While I would like to do my part to save the planet, spending a lot of money on equipment contradicts the idea of going green.

That is why the arrival of this book on my doorstep was so welcome. It only took the reading of a few pages to realize that there are many ways to compost without spending a lot of money. At first glance, I thought that this publication was targeting the commercial farmer, but on closer inspection, I discovered that this book has so much to offer the recreational gardener as well.

What I like best about this book is the scholarly method with which the subject of composting is introduced and expanded upon, in incremental sub topics, until the totality of the subject has been examined. The essential message in this publication is that anyone’s back yard or farm can easily become a “compost- generating system” by simply following a few steps to create the right environment for organic matter to break down.

The first three chapters discuss the fundamentals by reviewing the science of composting, the tools needed and the materials that are helpful. The book gets really interesting when the various techniques of composting are discussed. In this section we are introduced to four methods of composting. Here is where we personalize the book by selecting the procedure or procedures that best suit our landscape, our skills and our needs. Farmers with large quantities of waste vegetation may opt for one process while the weekend gardener might choose another.

The first method is called “banner batches”. This is composting that takes place in heaps or enclosures. The second method is referred to as “comforter compost and grow heaps” This is a labor saving procedure that requires one to simply pile garden waste in layers, moisten and allow nature to do the rest.The next method discussed is called underground composting. In this procedure, holes in the ground are filled with organic material, covered with earth and allowed to decompose. The last method is called ‘vermicompost” which uses worms to convert waste into compost.

The final section of the book discussed how plants can interact with compost by growing in or near a compost heap. Some plants are enriched by growing close by and some plants enrich the heap itself by growing in it. In all, fifteen plants are recommended, each one being suitable for one of the four composting methods discussed in the book.

While composting is a science, at no point in the book does the writing become technical. The publication is written for the layperson in a friendly and easy-to-read style. It almost makes the reader feel that we are visiting the authors on a farm and learning from them as they go about their work.