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Entries in Stephanie Cohen (3)


There are no Rules in Cool School of Gardening

I was scrolling through a fellow gardener’s blog when I came upon a photo of her front yard. Protruding out of the lawn were several rocks and I admired how much they added character to the landscape. Another colleague noticed the same photo and was unimpressed. Her opinion was that the rocks had to be removed. It was then that I realized I was participating in a clash between old school and cool school.

There are rules and habits that some traditional gardeners follow that will cause younger, busy people to turn away from horticulture. Old school gardeners tend to venerate old masters whose experience and advice they admire. Cool school gardeners consider these sages to be stale and anachronistic. Another source of concern is the newbie gardener who has managed to memorize all there is to know about gardening from a recently read book, even if that book is outdated. Sometimes garden books become outdated; a few by virtue of their style of writing and a few by the laborious methods that they recommend to busy, impatient readers.

Advancing technologies increasingly shape the kind of world we live in. As a result, we have experienced significant changes in lifestyles, values, priorities, and the way we transmit and collect useful information. Nature, of course, does not change but the manner and perspective that we bring to dealing with nature does. Some of us have little time to garden or to research botanical information due to many obligations we cultivate at home, in community and in the workplace. Because all converge to place severe demands on time available, a short cut to accomplishing anything is often appreciated.

In the last fifteen years, we have experienced an exponential growth in the numbers of people who have discovered the pleasures of gardening. Among the new adherents are independent thinkers who are unencumbered by other peoples’ rules. They bring to their new-found passion either irreverence for tradition or a desire for the immediacy usually found in technology. These new gardeners reflect the fact  that North America is a continent of innovative people. Many look for newer, more efficient ways to accomplish traditional goals. This population worships the future, more than it venerates the past. Its members are legitimate representatives of a forward-looking society. That perspective has allowed some of them to conclude, about gardening, that there are few absolute truths and hardly any sacred rules. Welcome to the new, cool school of gardening.

 Here are a few aspects of the changing attitudes about gardening:-

  • Tom Fischer, horticulturalist, garden writer and publishing editor has this to say about color in the garden: anyone who claims that there is a theoretically correct way to approach color is full of hooey…..  the biggest fiction of all is the color wheel, that tired, utterly artificial arrangement that gets trotted out in book after book to “prove” various assertions about which colors “go” together.
  • Horticulturalist, educator and author, Linda Chalker-Scott has warned that some types of compost teas, thought to improve the health of plants, might be breeding grounds for e coli bacteria and salmonella. This author has been busting myths about many more widely held but erroneous horticultural lore.
  • Some gardeners ignore the zones of hardiness printed on plant tags.
  • Gardeners have begun experimenting with natural looks for their properties by allowing lawns, once though to be essential, to be converted into meadowland that they imagine, rightly or wrongly, the original settlers found in North America many years ago.
  • Some adventurous gardeners ignore the type of soil in their gardens; they plant whatever they please and are prepared to live with the consequences.
  • Carefree gardeners allow nature alone to irrigate their established flowerbed, regardless of the kind of perennials they’ve planted.
  • The eminent American garden writer, Stephanie Cohen, has boldly declared that the original, authentic English garden has no home in North America. Finally somebody has said it emphatically! Here is her opinion as quoted by Sally Cunnigham in the Garden Rant blog titled “Dishing With The Diva” on June 22, 2010:- On English gardens and English garden books: "The light is different, the soil is different, the climate is different…. People read these books, they see a picture, decide that’s what they want, and then drive everybody crazy. Buy a book written by and for Americans. We have heat, humidity—our sun, come summer, is so strong that some of the plants they talk about would crisp in one minute."
  • Tilling poor soil in order to amend it is now considered back breaking work. Instead, we are encouraged to layer additional nutrients onto the original soil using the “lasagna” method.
  • Some gardeners no longer cut down their perennials in autumn, preferring instead to allow the dried plant stalks to provide textural winter interest and food for birds.
  • Some homeowners prefer to leave natural occurring rocks protruding from their lawns in order to preserve a wild look.
  • Impatient gardeners are discovering that it is more efficient and exciting to invest in mature plants, that deliver instant pleasure, than to watch and wait as a seedling plant matures.

The way to a beautiful garden may be a never-ending journey but the path we choose is a personal one. Some of my fellow bloggers prefer to perpetuate traditional gardening techniques either because they experience a kind of spirituality in the older, patient methods or because they are more comfortable with the true and tried. On the other hand, some newer weekend botanists, harried by their lifestyle, look for quick fixes in order to create instant flowerbeds. Both approaches bring their respective adherents enormous pleasure. That is why gardeners should never be admonished for the choices they make. For this blogger to write such words is a veritable reversal of position. I am the one who warned his readers to consider the neighbors by never gardening in poor taste. Now I consider it more important to respect colleagues who choose to garden without restrictions. In a society, unfettered by social convention, we garden as we please.


The Nonstop Garden Offers Four Seasons of Pleasure: Book Review for

The Nonstop Garden, Stephanie Cohen & Jennifer Benner, Timber Press

Over the past few years, several books have been published offering advice for creating beautiful and interesting gardens, in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of fuss. These manuals allow the harried and the multi-taskers to circumvent the fascinating garden journey of trial, error, and discovery in order to experience almost instant success in gardening. Gardening manuals, that are clear and easy to read and that are neither encyclopedic nor all-encompassing in scope, are helping to create unique horticultural experiences for busy people. The Nonstop Gardener is such a book. The authors make it possible to work with recommended plants to quickly create attractive all season gardens that are almost the equal of those developed by experienced gardeners through years of experimentation.

Some of my gardenwriter colleagues, who are traditional in their approach to gardening, are dismayed. They are disappointed that the new gardener will not experience the thrill of the hunt, the thrill of discovery and the fascination of watching a plant develop its personality. They insist that the essence of gardening will be lost and that a rich and rewarding hobby will become a hollow activity. I understand their concerns. However, I also understand the very real needs of the new gardener. Why should multi tasking people, whose time is precious, not be able to create a beautiful garden without fuss and without burdensome background information? In a world that can given us frozen pizza that tastes like delivery, a successful instant garden should be accessible to those that need them.

Some of us choose to experience a rich quantity of life. Immersing ourselves in that style of living leaves little room to enjoy most journeys because we are in a rush to get to the destinations. This book is about one specific destination - a garden that it is beautiful and interesting all year long. Such a garden includes trees, shrubs, and perennials, “the main attractions’. These are followed by “the supporting cast” namely, bulbs, annuals, tropicals, edibles and vines. The authors round out their recommendations with “the finishing touches” which include ornamentation, containers, structures and seasonal interest.

The essence of this book is that a non stop garden is better because it requires less maintenance, provides continual beauty, allows more creativity, and encourages diversity. To further simplify the process, the authors include the names of no less than forty seven sites that sell plants suitable for such gardens. Newbie gardeners often become overwhelmed by all of the information that they need to process in order to garden successfully. Not any more; The Nonstop Garden is part of a collection of intelligent and creative garden manuals that strip away the mystique to reveal the beautiful.



The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer: Book Review for  

The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer            Stephanie Cohen & Nancy J. Ondra, Storey Publishing     

If this book had been available when I first started gardening, I would have saved both time and money and might have avoided frustration and disappointments. This publication allows the perennial gardener to skip past the trial and error stages of gardening and move directly into planting and growing pleasurable perennial gardens.

Whether one is a novice attempting a first-ever flower bed or a seasoned gardener re-configuring or enlarging a pre existing one, there is ample advice and encouragement to accomplish ones goals with confidence and satisfaction. The artistry of this book is that it is not necessary to read it from cover to cover in order to learn. Reader may select only those chapters that reflect the existing physical conditions of their gardening space or may chose to read about a specific style of garden they want to create.

One can find advice about a shade or a sun garden, a dry or a soggy location, a small flower bed or a meadow of wildflowers, a perfectly manicured border or a minimal maintenance garden. Whatever the readers’ choice, the authors offer guidance for plant site, bed preparation, flower selection and plant combination. Within each clearly defined type of garden there is a suggested list of very specific plants that have a proven track record for converting perennial gardeners’ dreams into reality.

There is an interesting rhythm to this book. Each author gardens according to her particular tastes and needs and writes about them with conviction. By juxtaposing two different yet respected points of view, the authors have created a primer with a double purpose. It emboldens the reader to embrace one’s own gardening style while at the same time offers more than one reliable path to perennial gardening success.