Gardening by Cuisine

Gardening by Cuisine 
An Organic Food Lover's Guide to Sustainable Living
by Patti Moreno

256 pages
Sterling, 2013
List price: $18.95

With the second season upon us, we get another chance to grow what we like to eat and “The Garden Girl” Patti Moreno gives us a good guide, showing us how. There are a number of great books out there that provide basics for edible gardening, but sometimes a fresh voice adds harmony to the choir.

Gardening by Cuisine‘s format is straightforward with no frou-frou. There isn’t a single photograph in the book. But helpful illustrations and Patti’s conversational style make for easy reading. The layout is practical and she covers just about all that a beginning gardener needs to know to get growing.

Veteran gardeners will learn a thing or two as well and enjoy the recipes that are included with the themed garden plans. There are ten specialized gardens in all, including the Mama Mia Best-Ever Marinara Sauce Garden, the Latin-Caribbean Sofrito Garden, and the Vegan Raw Garden.

Patti has produced videos that expand on each chapter, which are an added value for beginning and seasoned gardeners alike. I like this book for its ease of use and no-nonsense approach. Patti didn’t grow up gardening – she’s a true city girl – and she shows that anyone who has some garden space can fill it with food for the table.

Patti Moreno is co-creator and host of, one of the top urban gardening websites in the US. She also produces and hosts the web series, Edible Gardening ( She lives and gardens in Roxbury, MA.

The publication being reviewed was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Gardening With Confidence

Gardening With Confidence
50 Ways to Add Style for Personal Creativity
by Helen Yoest

224 pages, softcover
GWC Press, 2012
List price: $24.95

 I'll start by disclosing that I know Helen Yoest on a personal basis. I know her style and her thoughts on gardening. I didn't need to read her book to find this out. But I'm glad she decided to share her ideas and philosophies with more people through the 50 chapters in this, her first book.

My first impression when I started reading the book was one of puzzlement. Helen gives the mostly accepted "rules" for gardening and then she tells you to do what you want. It took me several chapters to understand what I think she was trying to convey.

Helen is a very knowledgeable gardener and has a lot of experience with gardens of all types. No grass grows under her feet as she travels near and far to see famous, infamous, and private gardens. She knows what good design is and she knows what it takes to make plants happy.

In Gardening With Confidence, she simplifies it all and gives the reader a concise guide to how things should be done. But Helen has a mind of her own and she knows you do too. In essence, she continually gives you permission to break staid rules - rules that she herself has knowingly broken - because after all, it's your garden and you should do what pleases you.

It's almost like a "choose your own adventure," as you make your way through each aspect of creating a garden. Follow some rules if you want. Or follow none of them. Just have the confidence to create a garden that reflects you.

Helen Yoest is an award winning freelance garden writer, scout and stylist for some of the nation's leading magazines. Her work regularly appears in Country Gardens, Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, Southern Living, and many others.

Helen also curates garden art, serves on the board of the JC Raulston Arboretum, is a past Regional Representative of the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour, and is an 2012 inductee honorary member of Pi Alpha Xi.
The publication being reviewed was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Lawn Gone!

Lawn Gone!
Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives For Your Yard 
by Pam Penick

184 pages
Ten Speed Press, 2013
List price: $19.99

Austinite Pam Penick has a landscape design business and having read her blog, Digging, for many years, when she talks design, I listen. So do thousands of others, because she brings not only aesthetically pleasing solutions for gardens, but practical ones, too.

In Lawn Gone!, Pam makes a strong case for ridding properties of lawns, and provides plenty of suggestions for alternatives. In many areas of the country, including hers, huge swaths of grass don’t make a lot of sense, but even if you live where grass does well without supplemental watering, there are many other ways to give your yard character and style.

What makes this book well worth its space on the book shelf is its readability and sensitivity to circumstances and abilities. Further, Pam gives necessary how-to instructions for implementing her suggestions as well as the reasoning behind doing them. There is specific information for all areas of the country – eleven regions in all.

Plant suggestions at the back of the book include detailed descriptions with information relevant to using them as lawn alternatives. Social and cultural issues that may arise from choosing to go lawnless, such as HOAs and opinionated neighbors, are dealt with as well.

Pam covers the issue of doing away with grass without being judgmental or preachy. She presents the facts and lets the reader and homeowner decide for themselves what to do with them. With more and more property owners considering doing away with grass, Lawn Gone! is an invaluable guide on how to do it, and do it with style.

Pam Penick is a landscape designer, garden writer, photographer, and award-winning blogger who has replaced many lawns in her lifetime, including her own. She is a contributor to Garden Design, Fine Gardening, and Martha Stewart’s blog At Home in the Garden. Penick lives in Austin, Texas, and blogs at

The publication being reviewed was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Kiss My Aster

Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You
by Amanda Thomsen

160 pages
Storey Publishing, 2012
List price: $16.95

Your life isn’t complete until you’ve met Amanda Thomsen. She’s one of a kind and I triple dog dare you to figure her out or keep up with her. This is actually part of her charm and besides wanting to take her home with you, she’s a gardener’s best friend, to boot.

She’s pretty busy as a landscape designer, blogger, author, as well as being a wife and mother to a darling daughter who shows all signs of being a chip off her mommy’s block (watch out, world!), but she recently made time to write one of the best books I’ve seen on what to do with your yard. And then some.

Thomsen has long been the author of the popular blog, Kiss My Aster, an irreverent (and I mean this in a good way) look at the world of horticulture. Her book goes by the same name: Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You.

This is not your ordinary gardening book, no sirree. You can see this just by thumbing through it. The graphics are beyond amazing and invite you to crawl right in and start mining for magic that you can perform in your own yard, your way. Don't worry if you have no prior experience with gardening; Amanda's got you covered, and She. Knows. Her. Stuff.

It can be a bit overwhelming, but only if you try to take it in all at once. Thomsen wrote it in the manner of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books she enjoyed as a child. That’s brilliant, really. It makes the book an invaluable and timeless resource for creating the yard of your dreams, and you’ll have a whole lot of fun doing it. I mean, who else calls shrubs “the khaki pants of the landscape,” or when discussing lighting warns you not to jar up lightning bugs?

I don’t know when I’ve had this much fun reading a gardening book. It’s opinionated, but I would expect nothing less from Amanda, and 99% of the time, I think she’s spot on. I’ve always said I’m not a garden designer, but Amanda Thomsen makes me believe I can be one. With her coaching me via this gem of a book, my yard will never be the same. Get it and yours won’t be either.

Amanda Thomsen, a Master Gardener and landscape designer, has been in the field for more than ten years.  She is the coauthor of Grocery Gardening and writes the blog Kiss My Aster.  She lives in the Chicago area.

The publication being reviewed was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that,too.

Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?

Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?
255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants

by Andrew Keys

340 pages
Timber Press, 2012
List price:  $24.95

If there’s one thing that nearly all gardeners have in common, it’s that we try to grow things that we know darn well aren’t suited for our gardens. There are various reasons why we do this, but mostly it’s because we see a plant that we love and we want it. It’s sort of like falling in love with someone that we know isn’t good for us, but we can’t help ourselves, even when we know that down the road we’re likely to part ways. We think with our heart and not our heads. Don’t we all have “favorite mistakes?”

Andrew Keys has help for us. Not for the human kind – you’re on your own there – but he’s written a book that suggests other choices when it comes to choosing plants for our gardens. Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? takes a look at those plants that we’ve had, we have, or we want, for which there are alternatives that may work better.

Be prepared to change your way of thinking though, because sometimes he suggests plants that do not give the same appearance as the one it’s supposed to replace. Still, if there’s something you can’t grow, it’s good to have choices that have been deemed suitable alternatives.

There are some plants which he declares to be problems, that for me (and possibly for you), simply aren’t, by virtue of my location and particular growing conditions. But there are still some great possibilities that I never would have considered had he not brought them to my attention. It’s nice to have this as a source book for choosing plants for my garden when I’m tired of pandering to something I already have or I’m simply ready for a change. Andrew’s book can be a help towards gardening smarter, not harder!

Andrew Keys is a writer, designer, consultant, and lifelong gardener. The host and producer of Fine Gardening‘s Garden Confidential podcast, his writing has appeared in Fine Gardening and other magazines, as well as on his blog, Garden Smackdown.

The publication being reviewed was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that,too.