December 30, 2007

My Gardening Book Library

A view of my downstairs collection of gardening books
I know, I even arranged them by color. Believe me, I am not one who would ever be described as organized. This was just a silly artsy task inspired by some photos on Flickr, and besides, I never really ever know how to best organize my gardening books anyway; should it be by genus? Monographs? Literature? or by culture? Alpine Plants, greenhouse plants, but then should Campanulas be places in the rock garden section or the perennial section? Color - works best given my memory.

OK. people are already writing in with their selection of their five most favorite gardening books to spend quality time with. This was tough, even for me. I know what my favorite books are, but I am a little embarrassed to say that some of them are not as 'fancy' as one may expect. I can say that I prefer informed gardeners, those who are not beginners, but mostly experts at something. I appreciate talent and expertise, and rarely feel that someone is ever too rightout or self centered if what they write is about what they are passionate about and thusly, has become their expertise. I only selected those books that I like to pull out of the library on snowy days, at night, or re-read often, even if by 'reading', I mean looking at the pictures. There are plenty of alternate favorites that could easily be placed on this list, but these would be those species specific books - Bowles book on Narcissus or Clivias by Harold Koopowitz. This will always remain on a 'list' of some sort, but a list which changes weekly, based on what-ever genus I am obsessed with at the moment.

So here is a stab at my favs.

1. Adventures of a Gardener by Peter Smithers

I discovered this book at a used book store in Providence, Rhode Island, and found it very influential. I know I have read many reviews on Sir Peter Smithers book, most talked about it's biographical nature, but I don't have a problem with that at all, since Sir Smithers had a fascinating life. This is a book I dream with, and it's about a privileged life that we could all dream about. From his Early experiences with Nerines as a child in pre-war England, to his later years- after Parliament, at his architect designed home at retirement in Lugano, Italy in the Alps. This is a book full of gorgeous plant portraits of Sir Peter's favorite plants, and it was just one of those books that made me write down lists of must-get plants to grow both outside and in the greenhouse.

2.Dan Hinkley's The Explorers Garden
This must have book for any serious gardener really may be more frustrating now that Heronswood Nursery has been acquired by Burpee and has sadly become Wal Mart-ized. Since many of Dan's suggestions for recommended plants could only obtained from his collections from expeditions to Nepal, China, Tibet, etc. through his masterpiece 1 inch thick catalog. I've saved all of my Heronswood catalogs (still missing 1999), and these two are worth reading in bed or by the fire, but regardless, THE EXPLORERS GARDEN is what one would expect from such an intelligent and knowledgeable man as Mr. Hinkley is. I hope he considers writing another book, but until then, this is another of those works that will have you making lists and searching the seed lists. One of the best features of this work is the cultural information, and I refer to it constantly for hints on such things as 'how to propagate Cardamine' ( in March, divide the tiny rhizomes or scales). Where else and who else would provide this information?

3. GARDENING by Martha Stewart

(OK, go on.,.,.say it). I love this book. Perhaps more nostalgic than anything else, this 1991 masterpiece was one of the first books that combined good design and gardening together. I remember fifteen years ago being so inspired that finally, someone had the vision and knowledge to write a book that I wished I had written then. Say what you will about Martha, I can just tell that she truly knows what she is doing when it comes to many things, especially with those things that she is passionate about. I never could understand why people always say that Martha Stewart is all about being perfect...or homemaking.....I think she is all about excellence, and doing things the right way. SO when she planted German Bearded Iris, she planted ALL of the cultivars that she could find. Old World Roses.....she planted as many as she could afford.
This is still an influential book for me, and to this blog. As a professional designer myself, I appreciate her sense of style as well as her respect for cultural excellence. In 1991, this book changed gardening for much of America. Of course, when I finally write my book on Gardening, this book will become sadly, obsolete!


This is my favorite of all of the Ken Druse gardening books, and although I have them all, this is the one that drive me to make lists. ( I must love making lists!). Ken is a terrific talented photographer, and a humorous as well as honest writer. His books are all fun to read and to flip through for inspiration, or to loose oneself in. Although, many of these books feel a little dated, I still can become excited when seeing new combinations of plants. Much of what was rare in 1990, is now common, and as plant breeders continue to introduce new crosses and discoveries, the excitement of the moment, that is expressed in many of these books may be lost on some who could never appreciate how rare and expensive a Cornus alternifolia variegata was in the 1990s. Others, especially those who might be new to gardening, may find some of these books overwhelming, or inspiring, yet for many of us, once you become inspired, then collect let's say Hellebores, and then buy every book on Hellebores that you can find, and then move on to another genus....may find a chapter introducing the rare Hellebores being bred in the 1990s as tired, and has-been. Others, who are just becoming Helleborized may find this the perfect next step.

5.A YEAR AT NORTH HILL by Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck
I love this book, more than any other book by these guys, who are practically my neighbors in Vermont. I think I can safely say that this is the book that I have read and re-read more than any other book. It must be because I can relate to so much in this work, the photos of a New England garden in different seasons, early morning sin in the March woodland, or a first snow, fluffy on Winter Berries. I have never visited their garden nor met these guys, but I have been so influenced by them. From collecting Auriculas to building my greenhouse, to the raised alpine bed along the greenhouse foundation. There is so much inspiration here that I still even right now, have this book at my bedside, and look forward to nesting in during a nor-Easter (like tonight) to lose myself in their Vermont garden. Since one of my goals is to move and live in either Vermont or the Berkshire mountains just west of me in Massachusetts, this book truly is my muse.

Other books that we're runner ups include Vojtech Holubec;s new work THE CAUCASUS AND IT"S FLOWERS, BURIED TREASURES by bulb guru Janus Ruksans. THE GARDEN PLANTS OF CHINA by Peter Valder,Roy Lancasters classic A PLANTSMAN IN NEPAL.....I will stop here!!

December 28, 2007

Winter Reading

I was inspired last weekend while surfing for random loast minute holiday gifts (for myself, basically, since I became distracted while eBaying and Googling) Somehow, I took a break and discovered noted garden writer and respected bulb expert Judy Glattatein's web site XXXXXXX. I love discovering new plant sites, especially those managed by horticulturists who are curious as well as educated. Call us plant geeks - there is nothing better than sharing through ones geekness. Judy's passion for plants and bulbs led her to post about a year ago requesting others to share with here the number of books they have in their plant book library, and then to select thier top 5 favorite gardening books. I would love to challenge all of you readers to do the same.

I will not share my favorites right now,but I would love to hear your top five most influencial, most noteworty, most likely to end up at your bed side table again and again. Surely, there will be some duplicates, but also I susspect some new discoveries. It was through Judy's site that I made my new discovery - a Christmas gift to myself thanks to Alibris.com. A gift which consisted of 9 books which where listed by her readers as thier favorites (many of which are South African bulb books), and many which are out of print, but easily available from one of the many book sites that specialize in such things. I love Alibris.com, and now, even more since I was able to order at one time nine books which will keep me busy long through the winter, and thanks to Judy's readers, my library is enriched as are my long New England winter evenings.

Here are the books, in no special order...

This 1966 classic arrived in pristine condition, yet without it's dust cover, which is fine with me. The etchings and line art drawings are simple yet horticulturally accuarate and the mid-century black and white photos of winter gems like Galathus and early small bulbs are charmingly period and almost nostalgic in quality. The text seems to consist of short essays focused around all sorts of winter blooming northern hemisphere plants.

COLOR IN THE WINTER GARDEN by Robert Nicholson. 1973
Following in the theme of winter blooming plants, this British book provides a different perspective on winter gardening and does so with lots of black and white and color photos. From Cyclamen to Pernetya, this hardcover book may be thin at 96 pages, but is an exciting find for me, and adds to a genre where few books explore.

A find, indeed. Be careful if you want this out-of-print book loaded with color plates of Jeppes gorgeous watercolors, some copies on Alibris.com we're selling in a range of $350 - $900 US DOLLARS. You should be able to find one for less that $200 if lucky, but this is one book which is surely a must-have for any South African bulb fanatic. With color plates dedicated to such genus as Babiana, Lachenalia, Massonia, Gladiolus, Ixia, and most every South African bulb and even those not technically bulbs like the bulbous Oxalis ( a thrill for me!), I have to say that this is an awesome book, and I can't wait to spend more time with it. One drawback is that the book seems to ignor many of the Amaryllids of South Africa, but it does cover some genus such Romulea quite extensively. Not too much cultural information is provided, but the short descriptions do provide a valuable fact for each species - a line explaining where the latin name came from. i.e. Lachenalia aloided means that the flowers look like Aloe blossoms - Aloides.Watsonia Illustration from Jeppe's book.

Another South African press book, which would not be available to many of us if it were not for Alibris. Also out of print, this book is slightly smaller than Jeppe's coffee table size, but provides an equally impressive selection of color illutrated plates. I can't even begin to share my excitement about discovering and finally recieving these two books, since only two books on South African bulbs are available to North American gardeners via Timber Press.

A GARDEN FOR ALL SEASONS a Readers Digest Book was also reccomended, and althrough more conventional, this book appears to be of high quality, full of color photos and text.

Rounding out the nine books, is a vintage book called OLD HERBACEOUS by Reginald Arkell, 1951. A essay books, the inside flap reads..." Anyone who loved the England of Goodbye Mr. Chips and Mrs. Miniver will love Mr. Arkell's England too.". This is the story of a gardener through all of his years of growth, from child through adult, English mansions, Conservatory's and garden rooms.....

Another book, WILD WEALTH by Sear, Becker,Poetker and Forberg is beautifully bound in gold leaf, with illustrations that might be too mid-century modern in thier Picasso abstractness, yet Ms. Glattstein says that it is on her top 5 list, and that alone encourages me to spend time with it. OUT IN THE GARDEN by Dean Riddle is the most contemporary book on this list, and most likely will be the book which I will take on a plane with me since it is small , well written and funny. The illustrations are by one of my favorite contemporary illustrators Jwho happens to be included in my design book BEYOND TREND and represented by a friend of mine in Japan, CWC....Jeffrey Fulvimari's sketches are fabulous and artisticall stylish if not silly and cheerful, yet may not stir the soul of the serious gardener accoustomed to images of Haws watering cans, hand thrown pots and alpine plants.

Last but not least, Judy Glattsteins classic book, THE AMERICAN GARDENER'S WORLD OF BULBS, hard to find perhaps, but still on Amazon, if not eBay. I can;t believe that this early book of hers slipped under my radar. If you are addicted to this blog, you must get this book!

So share with me what are your 5 favorite gardening books that you keep turning to. And....how many books do you have in your gardening library? I will go count mine, and then choose my 5 fav's and share later.

Merry Christmas to me! And you!

December 24, 2007

Tis the season

Happy Holiday season everyone from our home to your.!

This is the snowiest Christmas in thirty years, and the weather forecasters say that if we get one more inch, we will break a record from 1900. Ho ho HO.....I LOVE snow. (and the plants do too, since if we keep this deep 20 inch snowcover all winter, my zone 7 amd zone 8 plants that I tend to try to take chances with through the winter, might actually make it until spring in our zone 5 world!). Of course, it then will become muddy and freeze again!).
Just some out-takes ofrom some last minute decorating in the boxwood garden. Irish Terriers are SO helpful.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone

December 17, 2007

Nothing says Xmas like an olive wreath.

When invited to a Christmas party, especially one where there are many talented and creative people, such as the party we were invited to last Saturday night, I wanted to bring a gift that was more than a bottle of wine. Since we had the crazy snowstorm the day before, we were snowed in, so as one attempted to snow blow the driveways, I trudged out the the greenhouse to pick olive greens as well as rosemary, bay laurel and myrtle so that I could throw together a holiday hostess gift wreath. Now, I think I will make some for our guest next week.

I forgot to bring in this Agave parryi, but I do know that it can take some serious cold. It's the cold moisture that will kill it, so since I don't have a cold, dry place to keep it, I may bring it back into the greenhouse for one more year. It's a dangerous plant, with it's 3 inche needle-like thorns, just as in The Christmas Story movie... I am always afraid that one of the dogs will "loose an eye with that thing!" Joe refuses to touch is after his encounter with our sadistic Sir Parryi two summers ago - a thorn imbedded itself between two of his finger joints, and after his screams of death threats to the plant, his injury resulted in an infection which lasted for months. Maybe I will just let this guy freeze to death after all.

This candy striped Camellia reminds me of peppermint. After a heavy snow, it somehow seems perfectly festive.

Forcing Lily of the Valley Pips

Lily of the Valley Pips arrive via post

I am fascinated with things that fall out of favor, culturally and horticulturally. The list of forgotten plant favorites is long, fragrant bouquets of Parma violets scented that scented the air of railroad cars at the turn of the century, bowls of Anemones that once were the traditional Christmas flower, long before the Pointsetia made its way into cultuvation in the 1920s. Camellias, Chrysanthemums, and perhaps most lost of all, bulb pans of forced Lilly of the Valley. Once commonplace, featured in ads in gardening magazines right through the 1960's, for whatever reason, the tradition of ordering single plants of Convallaria majalis, known as Pips in the trade, fell out of fashion in the last quarter of the twentieth century. As a child I rememebered seeing full page ad's in my uncles Horticulture magazines, and I often dreamed of someday finally having money so that I could order them to grow in the greenhouse that I, of course, would someday build and own. Well, the day is finally here, except finding a source for Pips was more difficult than I imagined. Thanks to White Flower Farm, pips are available, I suspect that they are the last retailer in the US to carry them, and although a bit expensive, I believe it will be worth it. Most likely these pips are from a source overseas, either in Germany or the Netherlands. The only source I found was a Dutch wholesaler, and I would bet that they supply White Flower Farm.

The pips arrive safely wrapped in newspaper, and the simple procedure of planting them in moist soil is as easy as potting up paperwhite bulbs. The pips are large, not even remotely similar to pips dug from your home garden. These are at least four times as large, and have already been vernalized (kept cold in a false winter for a period of 16 weeks). All that needs to be done is to plant, water and wait.

15 Pips we're potted into a 10 inch bulb pan, watered and places on a plunge bed in the winter sun. The cool temps and moist air of the cold greenhouse will ensure sturdy growth and be early January, will deliver the fragrant white bells that say "june wedding' during the darkest days of the year. I can't wait!

December 9, 2007

The Inevitable Greenhouse Freeze

A tree aloe with a frozen flower stem.

I knew it was coming. Everyone who owns a greenhouse in a cold weather area experiences this.
It was inevitable, but finally happened. I awoke Friday morning to outside temperatures at 16 degrees F, and as I fumbled in the dark kitchen for the coffee pot, I glanced, as I always do, with one eye open, through the porch window across towards the greenhouse just to see if the unthinkable happened. I usually see a puff of steam coming from the exhaust of the furnace near the roof, and even through the whole glass structure is frosted over, the corner near the furnace is always clear and melted near the peak. But not today. The entire house was silent and frosted over, and I knew what had happened.

My fear was that everything would turn to mush, and thousands of dollars worth of collections would be lost forever.

sometime over the night, the furnace konked out from a lack of fuel. I knew that the previous sunday, while putting up holiday lights, that the fuel tank said 20%, blah blah blah, the work week flew by, and everytime I call the gas company they yell at me anyway for calling them too early. That will never stop me again.

Joe flew out to see what the damage was, ( and to sneak a cigarette), he came running in saying that the temp inside the house was near 31, and that we might still have time to call the gas company. He warned me though no to go look since the oxalis collections we're frozen solid, as we're many things. I knew that the sun would be up in an hour and was too shocked and depressed to go out to see. I sat and drank coffee staring at the road looking for the gas truck.

Long story short, the sun enver came out, it started snowing, gas truck game, re-primed the pump, the head came on with a whoosh and steam clouds once again rose through the falling snow. I then stepped out to see the damage, which, surprisingly was minor. Plants are so tough sometimes. I knew that I read somewhere that if kept dry, that plants could handle below freezing temperatures, and clearly, this worked. Besides the fact that most of my plants are cool- growing anyway, I did loose most of the pelargoniums, a couple tropical vines, some succulent bonsai and most tragically, the huge flower stem emerging from a tree aloe which I brought back from California, due to bloom for the first time this winter. Surprisingly, the velthiemias, Boophanes, Fresia, Cyrtanthus and Oxalis which where not only transparent and frozen hard, but wilted as if dead to the world, all recocoverd as if nothing happened! The cyclamen, narcissus collections all survived and may have even enjoyed the excitement. That said, the back-up heaters are now ready to run with gas and electricity, and even though I was complaining last week that the greenhouse was a burdon, another dependant keeping me from moving to another job, career, or excuse du jour, I am thankful that it is still there, collections and all.

Temps out side the house we're 16 degrees F. This Agave paryii survives outside since it is well drained.

December 2, 2007

Decorating for the Holidays & First Snow

The greenhouse is getting special attention this year. Sixteen degrees outside - it does make one wonder why one spends more time and money on lights and design, and not in installing the bubblewrap insulation that should be going up inside the greenhouse. But, then again, the glass is too wet right now, and there is something just wrong with hot chocolate and bubblewrap.

I am discovering that instead of twinklelights, that simple spot lights are more effective in holiday lighting. The color is exactly the same as white twinkle lights, but the impact is greater. Last year we began with lighting the birches in the front of the house, and near the studio, and now, we are starting to install them everywhere.

It must be working, I am seeing some neighbors doing the same thing this year. Lighting trunks from below can make the most ordinary tree, spectacular, and some trees that are either muscular like Stewartia or Holiday icons, like birches, are particularly nice.