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Entries in Storey Publishing (3)


Designing Private Spaces in the Backyard; a book review 

Shady Retreats, 20 plans for colorful, private spaces in your backyard,  Barbara W. Ellis, Storey Publishing, 

“Let me show you my private get-away”, said the prospective client when she answered the door. Then, she led me into her back yard, overgrown with wild vegetation, and pointed to a clearing in its center, where slabs of antiquated patio stones paved the ground in the middle of the wild garden. There, she had placed an equally old, glass-topped, black, wrought iron table, with matching chairs. “This is where I eat my breakfast in the morning and sip martinis with friends in the late afternoon”, she explained. “I love the sound of the birds chirping and the rustling of the wild foliage when the wind blows”.

At very little cost, this homeowner created for herself a shady garden retreat, a secluded, private, destination. Whenever she visits that part of her property, she leaves behind her usual routine, enters a soothing oasis, and for the brief time that she spends there, readjusts the pace of her life. Here, she is at peace with herself, at one with nature, and ready to engage in any activity, relaxing or exciting, that brings her pleasure.

A shady retreat is in the range of possibility for most homeowners. All that is required is a bit of imagination and the guidance that this versatile publication supplies. With the help of the book’s author Barbara W. Ellis, the architectural plans of Julie Burns, and the exquisite painted garden illustrations of Gary Palmer, any part of one’s exterior home, no matter how small or large, can be transformed to serve as a retreat. Even a small porch or deck, will do.

To help the reader navigate the subject and select a retreat that best suits one’s property and budget, the author presents twenty different plans. Each is elaborated in detail over several pages, starting with an awesome, painted rendition of the retreat at its completion. These illustrations give the book a dual purpose: It is both a versatile garden publication and an art book.

The illustrations for each plan are enriched with architectural drawings, complete with numerical references that indicate where specific plants and garden furnishings should be placed. A recommendation for suitable plants follows, along with ideas to enhance the basic design. For example, in the first plan, the author explains how a small retreat can be transformed  to feel more interesting, deeper, and farther away, by winding a short path out of sight, behind shrubbery and trees.

Among the twenty potential areas around one’s home that the author identifies for the creation of shady retreats are:- woodland edges, the terrace, a gazebo, a deck in the woods, a pool house, arbor, pergola, pavilion, seating area, a clearing in the woods, and a tree perch.

The book rounds out with an appendix listing plants that are appropriate for these projects. Each is described according to its contribution to overall garden design. Where useful, a list of preferred cultivars is included, as well as a short note on the special uses of each plant; some make effective ground cover, while others show at their best when they are grouped in drifts.

Storey Publishing prides itself on supplying the public with practical information that encourages independence, in harmony with the environment. This book is a successful realization of that goal. It has been a great pleasure to take this journey into shady garden retreats with the author.

From Storey Press: Barbara W. Ellis is a freelance writer, editor, and lifelong gardener. She is the author of many gardening books, including The Veggie Gardener’s Answer Book, Deckscaping, Shady Retreats, and Covering Ground. She holds a B.S. in horticulture from the Ohio State University, Columbus, and a B.A. from Kenyon College. She has worked as managing editor at Rodale Press and as publications director for the American Horticultural Society and is affiliated with the Hardy Plant Society Mid-Atlantic Group, the Garden Writers Association, and the Perennial Plant Association. She lives and gardens in Kent County, Maryland, where her organically-managed garden is wildlife-friendly.

This book review also appears at



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.



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.