Indoor Armchair Gardening

Phillip Peters
Adams County Master Gardener

Now is a great time to visit the local library, take out a good gardening book, and do some indoor armchair gardening while waiting for the weather to warm up. Here are some books to give you many good ideas for the garden as well as food for thought.

A fascinating starting point is with David Stuart's The Plants That Shaped Our Gardens (Francis Lincoln Ltd.). Travel around the world with the explorers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries as they visited places and peoples unknown to the European West and returned with plant species that have become popular in gardens on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the importance of plants in medicine at earlier times, it is no wonder that many of these early explorers/botanists were trained doctors who attached themselves to shipping companies as surgeons or to diplomatic missions to the Near and Far East to further their botanical interests. Stuart vividly describes the dangers and hardships they endured battling the sea, hostile natives, pirates, bandits and hazardous terrain in their quest to find new plant species. Although Stuart's focus is on the growth of the collections of Great Britain's leading gardens, all of these plants are favorites of American gardeners, too. Stuart shows how British gardeners used specialized gardens, i.e., the Wilderness, the American garden, the water garden, or the rock garden, to accommodate the new species. This technique foreshadows the garden "rooms" discussed by Joel Lerner in his book reviewed below.

Another excellent resource for gardeners is The Frugal Gardener: How to Have More Garden for Less Money (Rodale Press) by Catriona Tudor Erler. The seven easy-to-read chapters tell how to save money on everything from plants and tools to design, maintenance and low cost garden projects. The pages contain a wealth of inexpensive gardening ideas. Money-saving tips are gathered into eye-catching panels that summarize the chapters and provide additional pointers and resources. Frequent lists of buying guides and checklists will send you to sources you wouldn't think of otherwise. While the basic information is solid standard gardening practice, Ms. Erler couches it in a down-to-earth setting that makes the reader want to try these ideas. For instance, many of us put our potted plants in larger, fancier pots for appearance; but how many of us stuff the space between the pots with sphagnum moss to aid in water retention during the hot dry months? Bothered by garden pests or diseased plants? Get rid of them with one of the mix-it-yourself, organically-safe recipes that use readily-available household products to kill the insects and knock out diseases.

If you don't remember, or didn't get a chance to hear, Joel M. Lerner's landscaping ideas when he spoke at last October's Adams County Master Gardener's Rites of Fall seminar, you can read all about them in his book, Anyone Can Landscape (Ball Publishing Co.) This book is a veritable encyclopedia. Beautifully illustrated, it covers every conceivable situation the home gardener might encounter. Mr. Lerner takes the reader through the creation process with a LernscapingTM Checklist that helps concretize gardening concepts. A multitude of chapters explores drawing design, choosing plants, building structures, finding solutions to problem areas, etc. He takes the reader through the creation of garden "rooms," discrete gardens in themselves; and explains the use of different levels of plant height to create interest and variety. Photographs and clear garden designs supplement the text. The appendices furnish marvelous lists that help in choosing the right plant for the location and for over-all appearance. The gardener will appreciate the value of the many lists in the book as time-saving aids at almost every step of the gardening process. Not only a great resource, this book will take the pain out of making that dream garden a reality.

While we are planning for next year's garden, here is something to think about: Are you selecting the plants, or are they picking you? In The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Random House) Michael Pollan takes a decidedly different approach to the garden. He examines man's desire relationship with four plants; the apple (sweetness), the tulip (beauty), marijuana (intoxication), and the potato (control). This is a fascinating, thought-provoking story of the seductive power these plants have exerted on humans over the centuries. The final chapter examines the issues raised by the new genetically manipulated plants coming on the market today. No modern gardener can ignore giving serious consideration to deciding how or how far we should go in developing plants and altering their evolution and, indeed, our own in the process. He presents in detail how each of these plants have taken their place in our lives and the curious and interesting histories of how they did so. Mr. Pollan will definitely get you thinking about the produce you buy and how organically you wish to garden.

I hope these brief reviews will get you to your local library to pick out a good gardening book or two or more! Have fun reading and gardening!

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