Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Bad Tempered Gardener

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter

Imagine my surprise on hearing that Anne Wareham had written a book about me! She is one of the founders of thinkinGardens, a fascinating and intellectually stimulating website. Then I read the book and discovered that I was mistaken, it's actually about Wareham and her famous garden, Veddw House. (Don't ask me to pronounce it, I stink at Welsh.) I haven't reviewed any books recently here because they all seemed to be too basic for me or preaching to the choir (with one notable exception I need to review soon). Not so with The Bad Tempered Gardener. It challenged me, it educated me, it made me think. What more could I ask for in a gardening book? Plant porn? Got it. Wareham's husband, Charles Hawes, has supplied the inspiring images.

This book is more garden theory than garden practice. Wareham raises quite a few issues for gardeners, garden writers, and garden bloggers. In particular, she acknowledges the problem of criticism in the garden world, that it's difficult to criticize people one knows and that, in general, no one wants to criticize any garden, no matter how lame. She contrasts that with the gleeful trashing by restaurant, art and music critics. She rightly deplores the dumbing down of garden sections of newspapers. (It's a good thing she lives in Britain; in the United States, we're lucky if our paper even has a garden section.) She wants to elevate the discussion of gardens by making people think more about them, to really see them, not just join the bleating herd of adulation.

The Bad Tempered Gardener also challenged my plant-collector sensibilities. Wareham has no time for plants as objects of admiration. She views them as tools to make the landscape. If I had views and acreage, I could probably indulge in such an attitude, but when hemmed in by power lines and suburban houses (some painfully ugly), I find my eyes drawn down, to the plants. While I do appreciate her point that large swathes of a single plant make a big impact, on a small property doing so would be Bo-ring for most of the year. The brief blip of beauty doesn't justify the occupation of so much real estate one must see every day. But this is a minor quibble. Agree or disagree, the reader will be challenged to review his or her assumptions about gardens.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who aspires to be a better gardener, or who wants to get more out of their garden visits. It's good to re-evaluate how one goes about things, even if one ends up concluding that he or she has been on the right path all along.

Rating: buy it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mentors in the Garden of Life

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter
I won a copy of Colleen Plimpton's Mentors in the Garden of Life from Mahoney's Garden Center's blog.  While it is a work of nonfiction, it reads like fiction.  Plimpton is a wonderful storyteller, painting scenes and bringing to life family members long deceased.  There is a smattering of gardening advice scattered throughout, but this is a book more about inspiration than the nuts and bolts of gardening.

Mentors in the Garden of Life made me laugh, made me sympathize (the chapter about the deer is priceless), but most of all, it made me think and remember those garden mentors in my own life.  I highly recommend it for deep winter reading.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The 5 Best Books on Gardening

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter

Genevieve of North Coast Gardening has requested that we post our list of the five best gardening books.  All of these are worth owning, and any one would make a good gift for a gardener.  So, without further ado, my list in chronological order of publication:

1) The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition, William Robinson
This is the book that set my feet on the path to making the garden of my dreams, when I read it over 20 years ago.  I have a special affinity for wild places, and this is the go-to book.  Even though it was first published in 1870, it's still relevant, especially with the inclusion of updated material.  The expanded edition has stunning photos by Rick Darke.  This one will get you through the winter.

2) Russell Page's The Education of a Gardener was one of the first books about gardens I read that wasn't a how-to book.  This is a memoir, a series of anecdotes, and reflections on gardens he designed.  There is advice, there is wisdom, there is inspiration.  I haven't read it in over 20 years.  I think I need to read it again.

3) Color Echoes: Harmonizing Color in the Garden by Pamela Harper, is no longer in print, which is a real shame.  It was published in 1994.  This is the book that can help even the most intimidated by color learn how to use it well for great effect in the garden or in arrangements.  I wish I owned a copy, but I had checked it out of the library repeatedly back when I was planting my last garden.

Moving on from the 19th and 20th Centuries to books from the 21st Century:

4) Fallscaping by Stephanie Cohen and Nancy Ondra, of Hayefield House and Gardening Gone Wild.  I knew about having plants for fall interest before I read this book, but honestly, it opened my eyes to the myriad possibilities of autumn foliage color and design.  Gorgeous photos by Rob Cardillo, inspiring plantings, it's a stunner.

5) a book I reviewed last fall on Mr. McGregor's Daughter and a must have for every gardener: The Garden Visitor's Companion by Louisa Jones.  It's everything you need to know to keep from making an ass of yourself when visiting gardens.  It also can be used to help design your own garden, as it teaches what to look for in a garden and the garden journey.

I usually recommend the publisher's website for buying books, but as a holiday indulgence, I ask that you use this link at Escrip to purchase books (or anything else) on  By going through this Escrip website, a portion of the sales will go to support the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance, which the girl attends.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Novel for Gardeners: Winter Bloom

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter
Sometimes you just want to get lost in a good novel.  Especially during the shorter days of fall and winter, I like to read fiction about gardens, which is why I was delighted to stumble across Winter Bloom by Tara Heavey at my library.  It's a story about a diverse group of people who come together in Dublin to restore an overgrown garden.  As the garden is healed, so are the gardeners and the entire community.  Each of the people has suffered a tragic loss, and while the subject matter is dark, the book isn't a downer.  Ultimately, it's a story of hope and the healing power of gardens.  But then we gardeners already knew that.

There are wonderful descriptions of the walled garden, and the part about the first ripe tomato is spot on.  There's much in the book to which gardeners can relate, such as one character insisting that you can't have roses without "shit."

Rating: Read it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter

I broke into a grin on seeing the cover of the free copy I received in the mail of How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino.  I laughed out loud reading the first paragraph of the introduction, and it just got better from there.  The photos especially are a hoot.  Sambuchino, a self-proclaimed "Class 1 gnome-slayer and gnome defense expert," advises readers how to assess the risk of a garden gnome attack, protect one's home, and defend one's self in case of an attack.  According to Sambuchino, if you live in the suburbs, such an attack is a virtual certainty, as garden gnomes are nothing but raging psychopaths.

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack is reminiscent of a "Monty Python's Flying Circus" sketch, which is the highest praise I can bestow on a humor book.  While not a garden book, it will appeal to gardeners, especially those who find garden gnomes hilarious.  It will also appeal to garden gnome lovers and collectors.  (You know who you are - you believe in the maxim "Never get a garden gnome without a job, as it will cause mischief in the garden.")  How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack is fun reading for tweens, as tested by both the boy and the girl, and will appeal to anyone with a warped sense of humor.  Just check out the trailer for the book.

Rating:  Buy It.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Radical Prunings

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter
I delight in fiction about gardens and gardeners, but a humorous fiction book about gardens and gardeners hits the jackpot. "Radical Prunings," by Bonnie Thomas Abbott, is that rare book. It purports to be a collection of gardening advice columns of the eccentric and opinionated "Mertensia Corydalis," the self-described "Contessa of Compost," in which she dispenses advice and updates her readers about her garden, employees, family and garden celebrity ex-husband. Mertensia is brilliant and wickedly funny. Here's a quote that had me laughing out loud on the train (and no, it had nothing to do with the two drinks I had at dinner): "Next time...antiquing for vintage flamingos...growing the right cucumber for your needs." Mertensia feels like a kindred spirit with her acid wit; she abhors the use of chemicals and pesticides and she despises restrictive homeowners associations as much as I do. She also hates orange. She gets giddy over the delivery of a tree peony. (Had the author been spying on me?) The illustrations and fake catalogue entries are also entertaining. "Radical Prunings" is a light read, easy to pick up and put down, whenever time allows. The gardening advice is good and nearly perfectly accurate. (I must quibble about the ants and the Peonies, but that's such a minor point.) I loved it. "Radical Prunings" is the funniest book I've read in a long time.

I don't know if non-gardeners would enjoy this book, but gardeners will want to read "Radical Prunings."

Rating: Buy It.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An Essential Resource for Hosta Lovers

by: Mr. McGregor's Daughter

or any shade gardener who can grow them is The Encyclopedia of Hostas, by Diana Grenfeld and Michael Shadrack. I've checked this book out of my library so many times to help me identify Hostas in my garden and help me choose which to purchase, I had decided I ought to own it. I'm so glad I procrastinated, because the Buffa10 traveling bloggers' tour made a stop in the garden of Michael Shadrack, where I was able to purchase an autographed copy of "The New Encyclopedia of Hostas."
Hosta 'Mike Shadrack' growing in its namesake's garden.

It's been revised and updated, but it still has the same user-friendly format of the original. Hostas are organized by leaf color and variegation, which makes it a simple matter to figure out which Hosta you found growing in your garden, or is being passed along from a friend's garden. There are also recommendations and suggested uses. The book is filled with beautiful images that make it easy to identify a plant. While "
The Hostapedia" is more comprehensive, "The New Encyclopedia of Hostas" is the right size and price for the average gardener.

Rating: Buy it.