Books

Pages in bloom

The new crop of garden guides will turn thumbs green

BARBARA WICKENS May 18 1998
Books

Pages in bloom

The new crop of garden guides will turn thumbs green

BARBARA WICKENS May 18 1998

Pages in bloom

The new crop of garden guides will turn thumbs green

Books

BARBARA WICKENS

Like many of the plants they write about, Canada’s garden writers are a hardy lot, returning reliably in spring with fresh offerings. Maclean’s senior writer and budding gardener Barbara Wickens reviews the best of the 1998 crop:

Pocket Gardening: A Guide to Gardening in Impossible Places

By Marjorie Harris (HarperCollins, 223 pages, $19.95)

One of Canada’s most popular and prolific garden writers, Marjorie Harris has penned everything from sweeping how-to books to tiny tracts on medicinal herbs. In her new, soft-cover guide, she tackles a problem specific to many

urban gardeners: spaces that are too small or too dark, or have soil that is too poor to grow anything. But to Harris, people with a hankering to make things grow should not let any obstacles interfere. “Garden anywhere, everywhere,” she writes. “Just be sure to garden somewhere. It will change your life, improve your attitude and make you a better person all around.”

Lofty claims, for sure, but somehow Harris makes it seem possible. Some of her advice, about the importance of planning, for instance, applies to any garden. But she also targets her tips, providing a recipe for a lightweight, soilless mix for balcony container gardening. One quibble: the 16 color photos are not well integrated with the text. Otherwise, Pocket Gardening is a little gem for anyone not blessed with perfect soil or elegant vistas.

Grow Wild! Native Plant Gardening in Canada

By Lorraine Johnson (Random House, 154pages, $26.95)

Agrowing trend among North American gardeners is to plant species that thrived before European settlers arrived in the 1500s. In Grow Wild!, Toronto author and environmentalist Lorraine Johnson offers a compelling explanation for the newfound popularity of native plants.

They evolved over thousands of years, she notes, and so are ideally adapted to their local environments. For the gar dener, that can mean a lightened workload, since the plants requiri far less in the way of water, pesticides, herbicides and long-tern maintenance than imports. Native plants also offer food and sheltei to a wide array of indigenous birds, bees and butterflies. But John son, whose previous books include the composting guide The Rea, Dirt, co-written with Mark Cullen, does not rely on rational ar guments alone. She emphasizes that native plants—such as the brilliant red cardinal flower or the sculptural rattlesnake masterare also beautiful.

In Grow Wild!, Johnson divides North America into three ecological regions: the Northwest, with its lush coastal forests and dry interior grasslands; the Prairies, which extend even into a small section of southwestern Ontario; and the Northeast, with its towering woodlands and sunny meadows. The book, with more than 100 color photos by Torontonian Andrew Leyerle, includes native plant lists for each region, a resource directory and practical advice on how to create a native plant garden. There are also 20 profiles of indigenous plant aficionados. Some—like Winnipegger Randy Penner, who replaced his Winnipeg lawn with prairie grasses and wildflowers—have gone totally native. Others have been more cautious: Frank Kershaw, for instance, has incorporated trilliums and wood poppies into his conventional Toronto garden. A great book for gardeners who want to be part of an ecological trend—or just try something new.

The Art of Perennial Gardening: Creative Ways with Hardy Flowers

By Patrick Lima (Firefly, 176 pages,

$24.95)

Patrick Lima’s 1987 book,The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden, has become a Canadian classic, with

more than 150,000 copies in print. Its new sequel, The Art of Perennial Gardening, shows how Lima’s strategies—and the

sumptuous garden in Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula he shares with his partner, photographer John Scanlan—have evolved in the past decade. In a breezy, conversational style, Lima devotes chapters to such topics as early and mid-summer color and pushing the limits of hardiness zones. He writes knowledgeably about individual plants and pays special attention to creative planting combinations. But he also urges readers to see the bigger picture: “As we realize that a garden is only as beautiful as the ensemble effect—the

sum of its parts—we begin to widen our sights.” Scanlan’s enticing color photographs readily illusrate that point. With its visual appeal and helpful text, The Art of Perennial Gardening could become another classic.

[leader’s Digest A-Z Encyclopedia of Sarden Plants

ïditors-in-Chief: Christopher Brickell,

Vrevor Cole, Judith Zuk 'Reader’s Digest, 1,092 pages, $79.98)

One introductory section of this massive tome is botany for the gardener, nstructing readers how to identify the ine difference between spear-shaped md arrow-shaped leaves. There are also

sections devoted to descriptions and cultivation of the variius plant groups, from palms to perennials. But by far the argest portion of the reference guide is given over to deailed profiles of more than 15,000 ornamental plants. Infornation on each species, grouped by genus, includes garden ise, cultivation, propagation, pests and diseases. Each is ilso fully described by habit (for example, mound-forming )r erect), leaf and flower attributes, height and spread, geographical origin and hardiness.

For those content to go to the local garden centre and buy i pink peony, such breadth and depth of detail may be too mich of a good thing. But for someone who wants a book ;hat is, well, encyclopedic in scope, Reader’s Digest A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is a valuable addition to a gardening library.