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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in Timber Press (12)


Does Your Garden's Design Make You Feel Good? 

The Pattern Garden: The Essential Elements of Garden Making, Valerie Easton, Timber Press

What makes a garden successful? Is it the accolades heaped upon it by one’s colleagues? Is it the fame it garners for it originality? Is a garden successful because it makes the homeowner and visitor feel good? American garden writer, Valerie Easton, has chosen the latter and has made it the theme of her book.

There is a delightful abstract quality to this publication. In it, the author takes good garden design to a higher, more spiritual level. Instead of discussing the aesthetic and scientific elements of design, as so many traditional garden design books do, she focuses on the role played in garden design by archetypal ideas - a.k.a. patterns - that reference the longings of human beings. These pleasure and comfort-rooted ideas are those that inspire designers to create gardens that are satisfying beyond their beauty.

Ms. Easton believes that a garden should be more than an outdoor living area or plant display. A successful garden should encourage us to enter, to explore, to be surprised, and to linger. A garden should make us feel good.

The inspiration to consider garden design from this perspective came to the author from two diverse but complementary sources. First, was the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, or natural transitions, and secondly was Christopher Alexander’s collection of universally appealing patterns of urban design. Ms. Easton has distilled Mr. Alexander’s patterns down to 14 garden-specific ones that are essential to bringing people comfort and contentment outdoors.

Properly adapted to our personal needs, these patterns help create environments that satisfy us at our deepest levels. They explain why one garden is successful while another garden is not. In a successful garden, we should be able to feel ourselves moving through and experiencing the outdoor space on many sensory and emotional levels. By comparison, the author holds that an unsuccessful garden is worth admiring only from a distance because it engages one’s eyes and intellect and nothing more.

To help us appreciate the essence of a satisfying garden, she reacquaints us with its contextual and changing habits, as reinterpreted through the concepts of the Alexander patterns. For example, the reader will learn

  • How weather, soil, topography, and views create a unique garden site,
  • How the relationship of the garden’s scale to the house affects our overall impression of an outdoor space
  • How outdoor rooms, pathways, bridges and gates create a personal journey filled with anticipation
  • How enclosures and exposures provide shelter and borders to influence our levels of comfort  
  • How patios, sheds and focal points create desirable garden destinations
  • The soothing role played by water's sound and reflection
  • How ornamentation and containers provide garden art that pleases the eye
  • The contribution of organic and manmade materials in influencing our visual-tactile experience       

In addition to the refreshing approach that the author has taken to the topic of garden design, Timber Press also assigned a team of talented artist-photographers to illustrate Ms. Easton’s inspiring words. Special mention must go to Jacqueline Koch and her associates, Richard Hartlage and Allan Mandell.

Valerie Easton blgs at


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.



Is Your Garden a Cafeteria for Deer? - a book review for


50 Beautiful Deer- Resistant Plants, Ruth Rogers Clausen, photos: Alan L. Detrick, Timber Press,

Gardeners who live in deer country have a serious layer of complexity to work through when planning their landscapes: - Hungry deer will ultimately eat much of what they plant. Some are prepared to invest in fences that protect their plants from becoming Bambi brunch, while many prefer not to spend funds on such structures, or to invest in the necessary time to install them. As well, applying environmentally friendly products with deer-deterring odors can be both costly and labor-intensive because rain will wash away such products thus requiring repeated applications.

From time to time, many garden writers will publish articles about plants that deer avoid, however that information is usually insufficient. Knowing what deer will or will not eat, might ensure that a garden will not become a cafeteria, but that knowledge is incomplete when it does not address beauty and the elements of garden design.

It’s no secret that planning a beautiful deer-resistant garden is tedious work. Every time we select a plant or include our favorite perennial, we are obliged first to do research to determine if it is deer-candy. How exciting that now we have a list of beautiful, deer-resistant plants, conveniently tucked into a sumptuously illustrated handbook, [Mr. Detrick’s photographs are awesome]. As the subtitle suggests, this publication is about the prettiest annuals, perennials, bulbs, and shrubs. That list also includes herbs, ferns, and ornamental grasses. Think of all of the time liberated by not having to research our preferences before we plan our garden.

Some of the very wise suggestions that the author has also incorporated into this book are

-       the planting of natural barriers that are unpalatable to deer,  

-       how berms and terraces create a physically unwelcome-to-deer environment ,

-        cultural techniques that make otherwise tasty deer food unappetizing, 

-        a list of plants that deer love that must be excluded from the garden .

Since this is a book essentially about beauty, the author supplies design tips that enhance the appearance of the recommended plants. That is precisely the information we need to create attractive gardens with a restricted collection of perennials, shrubs and trees. This knowledge helps us to distinguish between the planting of a perfunctory landscape and the creation of a beautiful garden.

Again, because this is a book about beauty, it is worth mentioning that the graphic design for this publication is a work of art that reinforces the tactile and visual pleasures associated with handling the hard copy of a “real” book. Thanks, Timber Press. You’ve done it again.



A Blue Delphinium Will Make me High.

Blue is my favorite color in the garden and anywhere else. Most of my dress shirts, T shirts and polo style shirts are all in varying shades of light blue. It appears prominently in the paintings on our walls and as accents in our living and dining rooms. We also use it as a background for our dishes when we set the table. Today, it is hard to find light blue tablecloths or placemats to replace the older ones; my wife and I never stop searching for them.

Blue is the most powerful drug that I take. Although few scientists will agree that medication consumed visually will have any health benefits, I stick to my story. That color, especially in a flower, is a narcotic. It sooths, it hypnotizes, it is euphoric, and it makes me high.

This morning, fellow garden writer, Tom Fisher, of Timber Press, posted an article about delphiniums and illustrated the post with the photo above. I am not certain if the picture belongs to Timber Press or to Dowdeswell’s, the New Zealand grower of extraordinary delphiniums featured and linked to in the article. For that reason, I am unable to accredit it properly. Instead, please enjoy the image. Mr. Fisher and I agree that no flower delivers a blue fix as effectively as delphiniums do, even if they require a lot of work. Read the entire Timber Press blog here.


Botany for Gardeners: Book Review for

Botany for Gardeners,  Brian Capon, Timber Press

This book was born in the classroom. It began as a general botany course for non-science majors who were compelled to take a science course. Its success in reaching out to students inspired the transformation of the author’s lecture notes into a book.

Gardeners who are curious about how plants work will be pleased by the author's crystal-clear presentation. Readers will discover what happens inside a seed after it is planted, how plants use each other –and animals- to survive, how they reproduce and how they transform nutrients into growth.

The publication is divided into five easy-to read sections. The first deals with plant growth, cells, and roots. The second section is about plant organization- the inner components of stems, roots, and leaves. Third is a section on how plants adapt to their environment in order to fulfill the basic needs of survival and propagation. The fourth section discusses the influence of light, gravity, temperature, water and nutrients and the effect that they have on growth and development. Finally, the fifth section deals with reproduction and heredity.

Here are some outstanding features in this publication: Look for clear photos comparing a fibrous root system with a taproot and comparative drawings explaining the differences between a runner, a rhizome, and a sucker. There are also dazzling plant images taken with a scanning electron microscope, a discussion of genetic engineering, and awesome diagrams showing the sequence of photosynthesis: how water, air, and light produce sugars in a plant, which when combined with soil minerals produce fats, protein, and vitamins. This reviewer was delighted to find graphic illustrations that visualize the various descriptions of inflorescence. I discovered the difference between a spike, a raceme, a panicle, an umbel, and a composite head. Try reading a flower catalogue without a basic knowledge of these concepts.

The author, a native of Cheshire England, was educated in England, Canada, and the United States, receiving a Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Chicago. For thirty years, he was Professor of Botany at California State University, Los Angeles, where he taught courses ranging from undergraduate general botany to advanced subjects for graduate students.

Those who feel the need to know more about the science behind gardening will find great satisfaction in reading this publication. While the information presented is comprehensive, it is, in the end, a reader-friendly book.