Gardening Books & Plants
from the Pacific Northwest:
Each of us has our little indulgences--basically unnecessary things that make work and play more enjoyable. For some its fine wine that makes them feel good; for others its jewelry or quality tools. In my own case, I splurge on plants and books. Whenever I’m given the okay to write book reviews, whether for WSNLA’s monthly magazine, or the
WestSound Home & Garden Magazine, I’m thrilled. It’s a chance to combine two of my passions with my work as a garden writer. In this section,
and on my blog
Verdure, I’ll include only my favorites of books I’ve previously reviewed for professional horticulturists and the public. The books, both new and older, should appeal to the varied interests of those who enjoy gardening and nature. As for the plant reviews, I’ll be including an eclectic mix of flora that is both utilitarian and beautiful; species that I grow in my own garden and specify in my professional landscape designs.
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades:
the Complete Guide to Organic Gardening, 6th Edition,
Steve Solomon, 2007.
Sasquatch Books, 356 pages, 10” x 7”, $21.95 (paper).
There are no gimmicks in this book, the first edition of which was published in
1979. During this time the author has polished this work into the definitive
guide to year round vegetable gardening in our area with its unique pattern of
rainfall. That does not mean there are no “Ah ha!” moments, but simply that
Solomon has come by his knowledge honestly. The author encourages us to think
like a plant, or rather, with the way his “How to Grow It” chapter is
structured-- to think like vegetable “families”. By understanding that plants
(and all variety of pests) are solely concerned with their own survival in a
competitive world, we can achieve more plentiful gardens. Solomon favors
extensive rather than intensive gardening, and explains why his experience tells
him no till gardening is unsuccessful west of the Cascades. A change of heart
with regard to methods for growing asparagus is a departure for this edition and
will be of interest to anyone who has tried to sex an asparagus seedling or is
faced with a plot of declining productivity.
My Favorite Garden Related Books...
For the Love of Insects,
Thomas Eisner, 2005. The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 8 1/2 x 9 7/8
inches, 464 pages, $21.00 (paper).
This great book had been on my “must read” list since it was released in
hardcover in 2003 and won several prestigious book awards for science. Now that
I’ve read it, I can’t stop talking about it. Not only is this a book about the
mind-blowing capacities insects have evolved to thrive in our fierce world, but
the innovative Thomas Eisner and colleagues who have spent their lives studying
the intricacies of tiny creatures that most never once contemplate. Photo buffs
will enjoy the amazing images as well as the author’s tales of developing
photographic techniques to suit his revolutionary experiments. Chemists will
love the detailed descriptions of the volatile compounds insects wield for
defense, and yet for those with little scientific training or interest, skipping
these sections will not detract from the understanding of the experiments or the
insects they elucidate. In the prologue, Eisner states his purpose for the book
as “to involve the reader in the process of inquiry in hopes of not only
strengthening the conviction of the entomophile, but of changing the attitude of
the entomophobe.” He achieved that goal with me—while reading I couldn’t help
but exclaim “Oh my gosh!” every half hour or so. Indeed, anyone who cherishes
the inventiveness and tenacity of nature will find Eisner and this book
Mycelium Running: How
Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Paul Stamets, 2005. Ten Speed Press, 7 3/8 x
9 inches, 352 pages, $35.00 (paper).
I saw Paul Stamets speak years ago and hoped that his book would convey his
passionate knowledge of fungi in the same contagious way, and it does. This is
not a field guide, nor is it an introduction to fungi and a familiarity with
mycology helped my understanding of the terms in the book. Rather, it is an
examination of the important contributions fungi make to natural systems and how
they partner symbiotically with other living things. The information on mycorrhizae-plant relationships and fungal-based pesticides might be of the most
practical interest to nursery growers, but from my perspective, the novel uses
of fungi for environmental clean up are the most provocative sections. Using
examples from our area (Stamets is a Washingtonian), he describes how fungi can
be cultivated and used to restore ecosystems destroyed by commercial logging (mycoforestry),
factory farming (mycofiltration) and clean up land polluted with toxic chemicals
(mycoremediation). The book describes these processes in a persuasive and common
sense way. Anyone wishing to grow their own mushrooms will find this book full
of useful instruction to do so regardless of level of interest or purpose,
whether that be for detoxifying soil contaminated with diesel fuel or for
producing culinary delicacies.
and Hollywood Frogs: An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Backyards, Patricia K.
Lichen, Illustrations by Linda M. Feltner, 2001. Sasquatch Books, 187 pages, 5
3/8 x 8 3/8”, $14.95 (paper).
This book, which sheds light on the myriad creatures
that make their home in the cultivated garden, is a treat for those of us who
know our flora, but not necessarily our fauna. The line drawings are charming,
but most of all I love the format of individual profiles of animals, plants and
phenomena. Perfect for reading aloud, the stories are pithy and entertaining.
Lichen has written two other “Uncommon Field Guides” for the Northwest, on
shorelines and on mountains. I read the mountain collection while staying at the
Paradise Inn with my husband. What a perfect way to top off a day of hiking
around Mt. Rainier than to read about its denizens by the fireplace. Each
creature’s profile begins with the Latin and common name, descriptions of
physical features and habitat and is then followed by often peculiar tidbits
about mating rituals and other behaviors. In an amusing and enlightening way,
Lichen demonstrates that the garden is first and foremost habitat and all
inhabitants, even those we consider pests, have some contribution to make.
My Favorite Plants...
autumnale ‘Zimbelstern’ (Sneezeweed)
Florific is the word I’ve made up to describe this summer bloomer. Attracting
beneficial insects like nobody’s business, it also is an excellent flower for
cutting. Growing to 5-6’ in full sun, this perennial is a knockout that doesn’t
cause allergies and couldn’t be easier to grow.
‘Pride of Rochester’
I am a
huge fan of all Deutzias, which are floriferous, deciduous shrubs with an old
fashioned feel. ‘Pride of Rochester’ is coated in June with fluffy, double
white blossoms. This shrub is vase-shaped and needs room to spread at least
6’ and get as tall. Easy and pest free when grown in part or full sun.
met a Phlomis I didn’t like, but this species is the best of them. Lower
growing than the typical Jerusalem sage; like a slow ground cover in form. From
the mat of it’s large, felty leaves it sends out tall, stout stems with whorls
of scented yellow flowers for a long time in early summer. Once the petals
fade, the showy dried stems last for years indoors. Full sun.
This is a
great rose in our climate because it is both trouble free and quite ornamental.
The main draw is the foliage color: an unusual chalky, purple-blue that looks
wonderful anywhere. But add the flash of small, bright pink roses in early
summer, reliable fall hips and tough, drought tolerant demeanor and you can’t
beat this large shrub. To 10’ in full sun or morning shade.
A native of delicate beauty and a wonderful groundcover for naturalizing (in
other words, it re-seeds). Absolutely the epitome of spring when it leafs out in a fresh
green and is covered with airy white flowers. Best in part shade.
little native that resembles hens and chicks, this plant packs a punch in spring
with its sunset colored blooms that seem to go on forever. Lewisia do require
special garden conditions. They like moisture, but they need very fast draining
soil or they rot. I have the best luck with them tucked into rock walls and in
other garden areas with rocky, sandy soil.
The photograph below shows a
Lewisia plant growing out of a clump of Vancouveria.
List of Plants for Attracting Pollinators to NW Gardens:
provide nectar and/or pollen for beneficial insects.