A Quick Book Review

I like to still read beginning gardening books and articles, talk to gardeners, go to gardening classes. It is a good way to keep up on my gardening knowledge, and see what people are thinking as well. Not everything I hear and read is accurate. My cousin commented on my previous post, “There is so much misinformation and pseudo science out there. Thanks for making the world a more informed and scientific place.” It is very true, gardening advice is full of pseudo science. I would love to go over a lot of common advice that needs to be re-evaluated…but it’s already been done. There is an excellent book out there, that I believe should be in every gardener’s library.

The book is Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations by Jeff Gillman and Meleah Maynard

I bought this book on a Timber Press monthly special. (By the way, Timber Press specials are the best. Every month they have three e-books that are 3.99 or less. I have bought a load of gardening books all for around $3.50 just by checking up on the specials. It isn’t just old or unwanted books either, I’ve got some newer releases and some bestsellers from there.You can sign up for their mailing list and get notified. Can you really have enough Timber Press books as a gardener? I think not. And I am in no way compensate for this statement, although if they would like to send me free books they are more than welcome too.)

After my last post, I started to look through this book again. It is well organized, so in my case I was skipping through the book instead of reading it straight through. It is divided into chapters that include soils, water, pests, mulch, flowers, trees, vegetables and fruit, and lawn. It is presented simply, sorting advice in each chapter into good advice, advice that’d debatable, and advice that’s just wrong. In a glance you can quickly tell the value of a certain piece of advice, and then go on to read the details.

I did wish they would site specific studies and articles to back up their stance one everything, but that would also make it not as user friendly and is probably not of interest to most people. (An appendix would be nice.)


Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

I picked up this e-book on sale on Amazon recently. I’ve read the original, scanned the changes to the updated version and although I like many aspects of it, I have one huge problem with it.

I like soil. In square foot gardening you no longer have to deal with the texture, drainage, CEC, fertility, OM level, and all that good stuff I learned in two soil classes in college. Instead you just have to know the magic formula for Mel’s mix. Mel’s mix is basically a homemade soil-less sterile potting mixture.

Soil is filled with complex biota. Symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi or bacteria. Earthworms churning and composting the soil. The more you learn about all the intricate relationships in soil the more awesome it is.

And square foot gardening says ignore all that awesomeness and use this sterile stuff instead.

There are situations where the soil might not be condusive for vegetable growth. In this case, go head and use the mix. But realize that now you will need more water, more fertilizer, and your plants will probably not grow as well as if they were in good soil.

But if your soil is decent, work on improving it, not ignoring it. Add compost, grow cover crops, avoid over tilling, give your soil love. And get better, tasteful veggies.

Many people want organic produce from their garden, and the best thing about organic gardening is it is all about developing a sustainable soil system. Because of this, I can’t really see how square foot gardening and organic gardening mix. Square foot gardening is filled with bringing in exterior inputs. Organic gardening is about improving and cycling what you have.

So I would go out and arrange my veggies in nice little squares. I do like the book overall. But I’m also not in a hurry to build raised beds and bring in Mel’s mix.


I like to read…though sometimes it’s hard for me to get into serious how-to gardening book. But I will read them straight through (not out of necessity just because I like it), even if it takes me a while. The most recent one was The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. I should have read it eons ago. The main complaint was it was a library copy so I had to return it after I had maxed out my renewals.

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is the bible on maintaining perennial plants. If you are taking care of perennials, you should have a copy of this box. I don’t necessarily agree with or follow everything she recommends…but the book is an excellent place to start and then experiment on your own. I read straight through the first half, which is a how-to on installing and maintaining perennials. Even after maintaining perennials professionally, I learned a bunch from this guide. The second half is an encyclopedia with specific maintenance instructions for individual species, and that is why I want to own the book.

Because I’m currently nursing a lot, and I read when I nurse, I’ve read a lot. The next book I read was Four Tenths of an Acre by Laurie Lisle. Not a bad garden memoir about the author’s garden in New England, though nothing stood out to me that much either.

I’ve also read The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels–a Love Story and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (Aladdin Fantasy) to polish off the week. Niether are gardening books, but both are good reads and at least have gardens in them. I read them faster and probably enjoyed them more than the gardening books too.

Woody Plants

I’m trying to get up on my knowledge of woody plants in the area. I pulled out my woody plant book, which is Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs. I crossed an invisible line in my travels. Most trees and shrubs I see are not in this book. I needed the companion book: Dirr’s Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates. I proceeded to check it out from the library. So far I’ve made it through the introduction and looked up one plant.  The intro was very fascinating to me since it’s about Dirr’s Georgia garden, and I’m now in the same area. I found out the botanical name for a crape myrtle (it’s …Lagerstroemia). I had no idea before, even though crape myrtles are nearly as common as bark mulch.  I managed to get a horticulture degree without learning any plants that are used in warmer climates. Now I’m able to happily increase my knowledge.

A library copy of this kind of book will prove to be insufficient, but I’ve wanted to buy this book for a while. However, recently they released the new Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs.
I could go ahead and buy both, but it appears that the new book is mostly a compilation of the previous two Dirr woody books. This makes a lot of sense in my mind, and here’s why:

The invisible line in Dirr’s two book was going from a zone six to a zone seven. There’s no reason really to divide the zones like this, so I’m happy to see that they combined the books. I’m only half a zone apart from where I moved from: a 7b to a 7a. I’m wondering if things like a loropetalum wouldn’t grow well in many Utah landscapes: at a zone seven they are supposed to be cold hardy.  But I’m also still not sold that going off and planting a myriad of zone seven plants is wise. Like I said in this post I’ve seen winter damage on zone 5/6 plants.

There are other factors going on too. Like rhododendrons and azaleas still don’t make it far past garden center shelves before suffering a quick death due to alkaline soils. (Why they are on garden center shelves is beyond me. I once tried to convince someone in a hardware store they really didn’t want to buy that azalea…it would shortly die. It didn’t go over so well since I was just buying screws, and the associate in the garden center thought it was a good choice. I have yet to see an established azalea in a Utah landscape…)  Not only are winters more mild in Georgia, but acidity and humidity play a huge role in the plant pallet.

The native plant pallet that should be drawn upon and used frequently will be different as well. I also believe in regional gardening…Georgia is a great place for woodland gardens. Utah (at least to me) caters to dry desert and mountain alpines. So when I’m done in Georgia I might have a whole new list of landscape plants…but I’m not necessarily in a hurry to go ahead and plant them in Utah.

But I really do need to go and buy that new Dirr book, one way or the other.

Waterwise: Native Plants Book Review

I read this book right before I move to Georgia. To me, this year long stay in Georgia is just a year long adventure. I’m planning on being back in the Intermountain west after we are done here. (We moved out here for my husband to finish his schooling, by the way). My gardening heart is still very much rooted to the Intermountain west. I’m finding little desire to learn about what plants grow well in overly moist acidic soil, rather than the calcium carbonated dry stuff I’m used to.

I need to own this book. I actually checked it out from the library, read it straight through, and had to return it when I met the renewal limit. I would love my own copy to mark up and use. It will probably wait until we are no longer on a student budget and I actually live in the intermountain west again.

If you live out in Utah or nearby, and have any interest in growing native plants, you should own this book. It is basically a database of almost all plants that are native and one would consider growing in the garden. The layout is great and makes it easy to find specific details and growing conditions on each of the plants. I basically read this cover to cover, but it’s probably more of a reference book. The front section is wonderful, in that it spells out the different native plant associations that are in the area, and the specific growing conditions associated with each. Even if you are mostly using it as a reference book, the front sections is worth reading straight through.

One caution about this book, is many plants that are in it are not available to go buy, and certainly not at the local Home Depot. Sometimes the only way to get your hands on a native plant is to propagate it yourself. But that can actually be a lot of fun too.

The amazon price is $43. When I worked at the Extension Office we had a large pile we sold for $40 a piece. So if you are going to buy this book and live in Utah, go try the county extesnsion office first.

Also, I am considering re-purposing my blog. I have another blog that I use for anything not gardening related, but I am thinking of combining the two into a new unique site. But I’m not sure about that, and wonder what my readers would think, if they have any opinion.

Review: The Invisible Garden by Dorthy Sucher

I received this book as a Christmas gift off of my ever-growing Amazon wish list. (That probably means it was recommended from another blog at some time, but I have no idea where.) It made a great diversion during a busy few weeks moving into a new place.

This isn’t a how-to at all, but a reflection on some of the author’s memories associated with her garden in Vermont. In some ways it made me a little envious…I would love a garden that I could work in for years. Right now, I have no garden and more moves in my future. This book made me look forward to that day when I will actually have a garden and be able to work on it for many years.

Because I have not had the experience of owning my own land, this book was a great look at what goes into changing a property into a garden. Many of the sketches were humorous, others more serious (I was devastated when a horrid wind storm came along later in the book), and all carried a great sense of connection between the gardener and her garden. I enjoyed every page, and read it almost as quickly as a novel. No free copy with this posted, but you can get it for a penny plus shipping off of Amazon. (And it is worth reading.)

Sand County Almanac–Book Review

A Sand County Almanac (Outdoor Essays & Reflections)

This is not a gardening book. It is a classic book on conservation. I at least somewhat consider myself a conservationist and thoroughly loved this book. One of the fun things I did while I was reading it was compare what the author thought should need to happen and what actually is happening now, 62 years after the book was written. There definitely is more progress being made, but we aren’t there yet. So go read the book.

One thing I though of when reading this book was related back to gardening. As gardeners we are stewards over a certain patch of land and I believe we can do of conservation and improvement on the land we use and own. I wrote a senior paper in college about it, which I put up over here. A lot of it is planting a variety of good plants: as gardeners we can preserve native plant species, along with a hoard of cultivated species that are useful to the overall ecosystem. We can create healthy ecosystems in out own backyards by cultivating a healthy soil, not killing off everything “bad” with pesticides, and planting a diversity of plants.

I’ve seen great examples of this in a few gardens I’ve visited or heard of. Botanical centers do lovely jobs. There is an occasional neighborhood garden I stumble across that is growing a lovely assortment of native plants. I love the certified wildlife habitat program. I have yet to do much myself–it is one thing I aspire to do as a gardener, especially when I have a little more to garden with. I want to garden with the natural ecosystem and environment, not ignore it or even worse, try to get rid of or change it.

As a Man Thinketh Vol 2

I finished it! I’ve been reading this book for a long time. It was a present from my husband, but not from last birthday or Christmas. Sometime before that. It’s a small volume, and the only reason I took so long to finish it is that I would read a chapter and need to think about it for a while. Then other books were lots more compelling. So it often sat on the shelf with a bookmark in it. But I never stopped, and last week I got done.

This book is amazing. It is written by James Allen who wrote a whole book on, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” He has written 19 books in total. This is actually not one of his works, it is a compilation from all his other books. It is wonderfully put together. The main message of the book is to seek higher Truth and try to be good people: we do so by controlling our thoughts. When I was reading it, I would feel my soul being drawn up to a higher plane of thinking. I would stop making excuses for all my faults and just want to be better. And I also had complete confidence that I could.

He mentioned at one time that when we start trying to live a higher life, it’s hard at first. It’s the same as learning any other thing like learning to play a musical instrument. But as we practice it gets easier. Righteous correct living can get easy, but it certainly doesn’t start out that way: like anything we need to practice. I try to remember that when I’m improving some aspect of my life.

Another thing he mentioned a lot was meditation. Not the sit in a cross-legged position and hummm while focusing on the image of a tree. Preferably in the wee hours of the morning under open skies (is that not the most meditative setting?) you concentrate on some aspect of Truth and righteous living. You draw your thoughts up to eternal Truth. I do this a little, trying to wake up before the rest of my family and study the scriptures and think. It is the best part of my day.


My day flew by today. It’s already almost over and I’m thinking of all the stuff that I thought I could get done today. I didn’t do half of it. Mostly I took care of my toddler, along with a lunch date/shopping trip with my husband. The toddler is pretty high maintenance right now, but a joy too. Sometimes I have I think of what I could be doing if I wasn’t taking care of him all the time. So many things I want to do just don’t get done, nor will they for a long time. But mostly I love being a stay at home mom. There’s a slew of other things I wouldn’t have dived into if I hadn’t been home with him. Like this blog and my fledging hort business.

Right now I’ve working on lots of stuff for the above venture. One of which is making a plant list that is taking forever, mostly because I get distracted and start to read all the cool things about plants. I’m working on perennials right now. I got up to over 380 species, but have since consolidated some. There are so many different plants to plant out there! I wonder why people plant so much lawn when you could plant big borders of beautiful perennials instead. It’s been a really good project because I’ve increased my knowledge immensely. (I didn’t know 380 perennials before. Okay I still don’t know that many, but more than I did before I started.) It’s also nice to have a list I can copy/paste out of to make plant lists for clients. I will share when if I ever get done.

I’ve used two books for the plant list–Still’s manual (Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants), and Graham Rice’s book (Encyclopedia of Perennials (American Horticultural Society). Both are good books and complement each other. I like Still’s better as a basic reference, but Graham’s is the better read. I get very distracted by all the wonderful pictures and fun facts. And so many cultivars are listed! That is one thing I do not think I will ever learn unless I go into the nursery business. What do you think about learning cultivars? For me, it’s best to learn general facts about the species and worry about specific cultivars when I am at a nursery about to buy a plant. No point in finding the perfect cultivar that no one sells!

Five Books From the Extension Office

My gardening books might differ from an average gardener because most were bought as textbooks. When looking through them I realized that many of my favorite were the ones that I used the most during my long internship at the extension office. These were the one I frantically looked for when someone wanted an immediate answer on the other end of the phone, or pulled out and refereed to when someone came in. None are good reads. But they are wonderful gardening reference books.

Weeds of the West

Want to know what weed it is? Look it up in this book. If its a weed, you will find it in this book with only a few exceptions. If you garden, get this book. Because we all deal with weeds, and its easier to deal with them if you know what they are.

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propogation and Uses

This is the bible for woody plant information. No book compares. I also use the more reader friendly Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs. Colored pictures there make it easier for identification.

Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants

There are plenty of herbaceous plant books out there. This is my favorite for basic plant info reference. Its getting old (17 years!) and needs updating, but I still like the format.

PNW Insect Management/Disease Management/Weed Management and UW Weed Management

Now I’m excited: these books are online! Didn’t know that. And I know: there are actually four books that I am counting as one. But they extremely similar and worth mentioning. They update them yearly, and they include everything you’d want to know to take care of pests. It’s a lot of chemical recommendations, but also most other control methods as well.

Hartmann & Kester’s Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices (8th Edition)

There are more interesting books out there. But as a reference book this is the best. All the technique on how to do anything propagation wise, along with a large section on how to propagate most plants. It’s expensive: I would buy the old edition.

Thanks for suggesting, North Coast Gardening!