The Curious Gardener's Almanac



The Curious Gardener's Almanac: Centuries of Practical Garden Wisdom
(Hardcover - Perigree Books, $16.95)

by Niall Edworthy


If you think you're going to sit down and read this book over the course of a few days, you won't. It's not that you can't, because at 192 five-by-eight-inch pages, it's certainly possible. But that would be a shame. A book like this should be savored like a piece of fine chocolate.

I can only imagine the research required by Mr. Edworthy to create such a compendium of gardening wisdom. It's not merely page after page of this and that, although it is that, too. This book contains just the right amount of quirkiness and humor mixed in with practical gardening advice and basic facts that keeps you coming back for more. Boring it's not! Fun it
is.

Mr. Edworthy is from the U.K. and he imparts what he's included in this book with a British flavor. I found myself charmed by it and after all, the human condition is universal and gardeners everywhere will have no problem gleaning the good stuff from the pages. And it's all good stuff.

This is not just a whimsical look at a gardener's world though. There's a lot of seriously useful information here as well, including recipes and it's chock full of ideas you can try in your own garden. An index and an attached ribbon bookmark complete the package.

Perfect as a gift for both beginning and experienced gardeners alike, The Curious Gardener's Almanac is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Readers will return to it again and again.

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Click here or on any link above to read more about The Curious Gardener's Almanac at Amazon.com.

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The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

The Atlantic Gardener's Greenbook


The Atlantic Gardener's Greenbook by Jodi DeLong
published by Saltscapes Publishing Limited in Canada, $17.95


Our fellow garden blogger, Jodi DeLong of bloomingwriter fame, is the author of a book that I recently purchased and read. If you garden or even think you might want to garden, you should read it, too. When I ordered The Atlantic Gardener's Greenbook, I did so in order to see just how Jodi went about writing a book about something I love. But I got more than I bargained for.

Jodi lives in Canning, Nova Scotia, up north in neighboring Canada and gardens there near the Bay of Fundy in zone 5. I garden in zone 5, too, so much of what I read in her book pertains to my experience here in northwest Ohio. But no matter where you garden, there's so much basic gardening information packed into this slim volume that makes it well worth the space it takes up on the bookshelf.

Have you visited Jodi's blog? If so, you know she writes with a smooth sophistication that exudes her warm personality and coupled with her stunning photos, you'll bookmark it so you can return again and again. She writes The Atlantic Gardener's Greenbook in that same engaging style.

Jodi knows her stuff, as well she should, having completed studies in plant science and horticulture at Nova Scotia Agricultural College. And lest you think that sounds stodgy and boring, think again. It gives credence to the wealth of information she stuffs into her book, but she explains everything in a casual way that is easy to understand and implement in your own garden.

Need a gift for the burgeoning gardener on your Christmas list? How about the experienced gardener you know? This will put a smile on both faces when it's unwrapped, then enjoyed all the way through the last page.

I need to say that Jodi didn't ask me to write a review of her book. I am just that impressed with it that I felt compelled to share my opinion. If you're interested in purchasing it, you can do so directly from Jodi (and she'll personalize it if you wish).

Well done, Jodi. Write more books, please.

Captivating Bluebirds

The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
Henry David Thoreau ~ 1852


Romie and I saw our first bluebird last spring. We were working in the garden, near an ornamental birdhouse, and I saw a flash of brilliant blue out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and saw the bluebird perched atop the birdhouse. I whispered to Romie, "Look!"

We stood for a moment, in awe of the beauty of this rufous-chested bird and we knew we were in the presence of something special. Neither of us had ever seen one before. It took a look into the small hole of the birdhouse, and then it flew away.

The very next day, we bought a bluebird house and mounted it on the back side of a tall shagbark hickory at just about eye level, hoping the bluebird would return and make its home there. It didn't, but a small wren decided it was just right.

From this point on, we both were fascinated with bluebirds, which recently led me to discover a great new book about them. Captivating Bluebirds: Exceptional Images and Observations is written by Stan Tekiela. It's a treasure of a book, chock full of just about anything you'd want to know about bluebirds and amazing intimate photos of them.

We were familiar with Stan's work because we turn to his Birds of Ohio field guide time and time again to identify the various birds that visit the feeders and gardens at Our Little Acre. Just last night we looked up the Belted Kingfisher because we were sure we had seen one down by the creek that runs near our house. Stan's information confirmed it for us.

But back to this bluebird book he's written... All of the stunning photographs (more than 100) were taken by Stan and feature every aspect of a bluebird's fascinating life. Each is accompanied by text containing facts that confirm that this bird is truly special and unique among songbirds. For example, did you know that a bluebird's feathers don't contain blue pigment? Did you know that a female bluebird sometimes has three broods in a season?

Captivating Bluebirds
is written in an easy-to-browse format and can easily be read in one sitting, if you so choose. But why do that, when there's so much to look at and savor? I've read and reread this book several times already and will no doubt turn to it again and again. In fact, we plan to place another bluebird house and Stan has included suggestions for purchase, construction, and placement of houses, at the back of the book.

The 9 x 7-inch book is softcover, but it's a "Perfect Paperback," meaning it's bound somewhat like a hardcover in the way its pages are grouped together. The front and back covers have a wrap-around section like a dustjacket has, and these add stability and strength to the edges of the softcover as well as being handy to use as a bookmark.


Captivating Bluebirds: Exceptional Images and Observations by Stan Tekiela, Adventures Publications, March 5, 2008. 144 pages. List price $14.95. (Amazon price $11.51.)

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Stan Tekiela is an award winning author, naturalist, columnist, wildlife photographer and radio personality. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural History Interpretation (Naturalist) from the University of Minnesota. He has been a professional naturalist for over 20 years and is a member of the Minnesota Naturalist Association, the Outdoor Writers Association of America, North American Nature Photography Association, and Canon Professional Services.


Stan actively studies and photographs nature throughout the U.S. You can visit his website at www.naturesmart.com.



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The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

My Natural History

When gardeners get together, they like to talk about their gardens and eventually the conversation rolls around to how they became gardeners in the first place. These stories always interest me, because each is as unique as the gardeners themselves.

In her newly-released book, My Natural History: The Evolution of a Gardener, Liz Primeau, a celebrity of Canadian HGTV television, founding editor of Canadian Gardening magazine, and author of Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass, tells us of her journey of becoming a gardener. While her story isn't my story, much of what she relates here resonates with me as it will most gardeners.

"Given the opportunity to spend time in the arms of nature, all of us -- not just the obsessed gardeners among us -- realize we like the feel of earth sifting through our fingers, we relax with the warm sun on our backs, and the tired feeling after pruning the shrubs or building a fence is a good tired."
~ Liz Primeau

Liz ponders whether becoming a gardener is something you're born with or if it comes about by being nurtured by those around you. By her own admission, she's never found the definitive answer to that question, but as we all discover, gardening is a journey and in My Natural History, Liz takes us along on hers.

My Natural History: The Evolution of a Gardener by Liz Primeau
List price: $27.00
Amazon price: $19.44 (Save 28%)


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The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

The Little Bulbs


The book is a classic among gardeners. The author is, too. And I've had The Little Bulbs by Elizabeth Lawrence gathering dust on my bookshelf for too long. Since my little bulbs are coming up and preparing to bloom, I figured now was a good time to dust it off and read it.

In case you haven't heard of Elizabeth Lawrence, she was a gardener living in North Carolina and wrote several books on gardening, as well as a weekly column in the Charlotte Observer from 1957-1971. The Little Bulbs is not the first book by Ms. Lawrence that I've ever read.

A year or so ago, I read Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, in which she recounts her years of correspondence with Katherine White, wife of author E.B. White (Charlotte's Web). As one who had pen pals from a young age and has continued to this day, I thought I'd love this book. I didn't. I became bored with it about halfway through and while I continued reading it past the point of boredom, I don't think I ever finished it.

But The Little Bulbs is good. I've not finished it yet, but I don't think that will be a problem this time. In this one, she starts by discussing the little bulbs in a garden - those first harbingers of spring, both literally and figuratively. (Yes, there's a flower called Harbinger of Spring!) She then takes us through the rest of the botanical year and tells us about each season's little bulbs.

Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Flore Pleno'
March 10, 2009


In my own garden, the double snowdrops have finally popped up through the mud (it's been raining - a lot), and just yesterday the first one opened fully. These doubles haven't multiplied like I'd like, so I think this fall I will just have to get some more of them. Some singles, too. They're the first things to bloom around here, so more would be nice.

I imagine the next spot of color I'll see will be from the crocuses, although the daffodils on the south side of the house just might beat them to the punch. They're standing tall, with pregnant buds about to burst forth with the ugliest daffodils I've ever seen.

Yes, I'm talking about those 'Repletes' that I've vowed to dig up and just throw away for the last three years. They're way photogenic though and maybe that's why I let them stay. Either that, or I get busy and forget about them until spring rolls around again.

There are other daffodils here though -

  • 'Faith'
  • 'Rick'
  • 'Sagitta'
  • 'Thalia'
  • 'Tête-à-Tête'
  • 'Rip van Winkle'
  • 'Jetfire'
  • 'Avalon'
  • 'Delibes'
  • 'Pipit'
  • 'Golden Bells'
  • 'Baby Moon'
  • 'Pink Charm'
  • 'Lemon Beauty
  • Poet's Daffodil

I like every one of those.

I see the Dutch Iris starting to make an appearance, too, as are the tulips and some of the alliums. The only spring bulbs I don't see yet are the large Dutch hyacinths, of whick I've got three or four different kinds. But the grassy foliage of the tiny grape hyacinth clusters has been up for weeks. No flower buds yet, but it's early.

Back to the book...


Written in 1957, the information is still pretty accurate and relevant. Ms. Lawrence mentions her friend from Ohio - Mr. Krippendorf - quite often and relays his accounting of blooms where he lives. From the times he reports blooms from those things that are familiar to me, I knew he lived in a different part of Ohio than I do.

When I researched it, I was right - he lived near Cincinnati, which is a zone warmer than here.
Mr. Krippendorf's home and woods of which he often speaks are now part of the Cincinnati Nature Center. Mom, Kara and I are taking two days in April to go to Cincinnati for the Flower Show and a visit to Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum. Maybe we'll swing by Mr. Krippendorf's place, too.

In The Little Bulbs, Elizabeth Lawrence and I got off to a good start straight away. In the preface, she writes:

"It is not enough to grow plants; really to know them one must get to know how they grow elsewhere. To learn this it is necessary to create a correspondence with other gardeners, and to cultivate it as diligently as the garden itself. From putting together the experiences of gardeners in different places, a conception of plants begins to form. Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one; no one can garden alone."

Wouldn't she have been a great garden blogger?


Poet's Narcissus - April 29, 2008


What Tree Is That?


In the U.S., Arbor Day is traditionally celebrated on the last Friday of April. Many will plant a tree on this day, but I want to call attention to a new publication about trees that may help you, whether you're planting one or trying to identify one.

So we're walking through the woods again, and there's this awesome tree off to the right. It's got the loveliest white clusters of blooms and we see them every spring. We always wonder what they are and vow to get a tree guide that we can take along on our hikes so we can figure it out, but we never do.

So when What Tree Is That? - A Guide to the More Common Trees Found in North America arrived in the mail the other day, I let out a "Woo-hoooo!" The Arbor Day Foundation puts out this fabulous publication and I have them to thank for helping us identify the tree in question, as well as providing plenty of excellent illustrations and information to allow us to identify plenty more.



The format of the book is well-organized, with such details as:

  • water resistant
  • take-along size
  • glossary of terms
  • step-by-step approach to identification
  • side flaps for bookmarking
  • color illustrations for each entry


This is the complete North American edition and is well-priced at $14.95. There are many tree guides out there, but the reason I especially like this one is its size (8.5 x 4 x 0.3 inches, 164 pages) and ease of use.




Identification of the trees is done by a process of elimination. (
Are the leaves SIMPLE (one BLADE attached to a stalk or PETIOLE)?)


It also has a list of online resources and a Field Notes section at the back, for recording your own observations.
Just an aesthetic item of note - they've used a favorite font of mine for the titles and headings - 'Terracotta' by Frank Lloyd Wright.

By no means should this be considered the be-all and end-all of tree identification sources, but it does include the commonly-found trees in the U.S. (and much of Canada). To be any more complete wouldn't allow for the portability that What Tree Is That? has. If I could change anything about it, it might be to make it spiral inside the outer cover. But now we're nit-picking and that wouldn't be fair to such a fine publication put out by our friends at the Arbor Day Foundation.







Where to get it:
Arbor Day Foundation - $14.95 + $4.95 shipping

Amazon - $14.95 - qualifies for Free Shipping on orders over $25


Pamphlets are also available for the Eastern and Western U.S. for $4.95 each from the Arbor Day Foundation.






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The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest Working Creatures on the Planet


I love honeybees and am fascinated by them. Too bad they don't like me. Well, I guess it isn't really their fault that I'm allergic to their stings. In spite of the pain and other bad reactions they cause me, they are one of my favorite insects. They rank right up there with the butterflies and lightning bugs.

Honeybees have been a part of my life since I was quite young. I grew up just a few miles from two honey producing and packing businesses. In fact, the son of one of the owners of one of them was in my class at school and was my boyfriend in the fifth grade. My parents used to call him "Honeyboy."


He eventually went on to become the president and CEO of that business, which merged with another honey business in Kansas to form Golden Heritage Foods LLC, the second largest honey packing facility in the nation.
He and his wife, who was also in my class, still live just a few miles away.

Anyway, it was nothing to drive down one of our country roads and see bee hives sitting in the middle of a clover field. About a month ago, Romie and I were trekking through a nearby woods and there were some hive boxes a-buzzin' there. I kept my distance, of course, but it was fascinating to stand and watch the flurry of activity surrounding those boxes.

Recently, I was asked to read and review a copy of Plan‌ Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest Working Creatures on the Planet. It's no secret that I love to read, so when I got the chance to learn more about honeybees in the process, I enthusiastically said, "Absolutely!" Even so, I kind of thought to myself that the book was going to be rather dry and boring after awhile. I mean, really. How much can you say about bees before it begins to sound like an entomology textbook?

Susan Brackney is a beekeeper. She's also an engaging writer who just made me love honeybees even more than I already did. I never once got bored or felt like putting the book down without finishing it. This is good stuff!

Every time I spoon out a bit of honey for my coffee or oatmeal, I'm reminded that anything of real value requires hard work and a lot of it. On average, it takes about a dozen bees to gather enough nectar to make just one gloriously golden teaspoon of honey, and each of those bees must visit more than 2,600 flowers in the process. Crazier still, all those flights from the hive to the flowers and back again add up to 850 miles or so - just over the distance from New York to Chicago.

There's R-rated stuff in the book, too. I don't tell you that to get you to read the book, but how a queen bee attracts her mates and what they do after she's lured them her way is pretty bizarre stuff. In fact, this little book (
192 pages and about 5" x 8") is chock-full of amazing facts, history, and anecdotes about honeybees. There's also information about beekeeping, just in case you'd like to try your hand at it, and recipes for making not only food items, but soap, candles, and lip balm.

I think
Plan‌ Bee is the bee's knees. In case you don't know what that means, read the book. It tells you that, too.



Plan‌ Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest Working Creatures on the Planet by Susan Brackney
Perigee Books
List Price: $21.95
Amazon Price: $12.56 (qualifies for Free Shipping on orders over $25)




Susan Brackney is a beekeeper in Bloomington, Indiana. A nature writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Plenty, Organic Gardening, and elsewhere, she is also an avid gardener, an expert on sustainablility, and the author of The Insatiable Gardener's Guide, The Lost Soul Companion, and The Not-So-Lost Soul Companion. Visit her website at www.planbeebook.com.


Check out the live BeeCam!

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The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Herbarium Amoris


Herbarium Amoris by Edvard Koinberg
$39.95
($29.19 and free shipping at Amazon)
Taschen America LLC

I've been fascinated by herbariums ever since I first found out what they were. Towards the end of the 19th century, it became popular to collect specimens of plants, including foliage and flowers, press them and preserve them. Properly done, each was labeled with their Latin name, common name, where collected, and when. I have actually started one of my own, with plants grown in my garden.
Edvard Koinberg, a Swedish photographer and gardener, has done an herbarium using plants he's grown in his garden, too. Except his herbarium consists of photographs of those plants, not the actual plants themselves.
The remarkable thing about his photos are not necessarily the plants, but the intimate way in which he has photographed them. Inspired by fellow Swede Carl Linnaeus, considered to be the father of binomial nomenclature and taxonomy, Koinberg focuses on the sexual parts of plants. By human comparison, this collection is surely X-rated, but worthy of a venerated spot in every library.

Rarely has a book had such an effect on me as this one. Within five minutes of browsing through its pages of breathtaking images, I was nearly moved to tears. I don't need to tell a gardener about the unbelievable beauty and intricacies that each flower holds and perhaps seeing them up close and personal in this way won't elicit such a strong response from everyone, but as I felt my throat tightening, my reaction surprised even myself. I don't normally do this in response to pictures of flowers.


Each image has been created under perfect conditions - perfect lighting, black background, perfect angles. The flowers themselves aren't always perfect though, in fact, some of the most beautiful photos are of spent flowers and dusky seedheads. The photos are arranged according to the calendar year, with the first photos showing a flower's beginnings and the last ones as the flower gives way to dying petals, just as they do in the garden.

The book is coffee table material, being of typical size for such tomes, and that's the best place for it, so it can be enjoyed by those who happen to sit within arm's reach of it. There are 280 pages and at a list price of $39.99 (Amazon price $29.19 and free shipping), there's really no excuse not to own it or give it as a gift. It's worth far more than its cost.

Edvard Koinberg was born in 1964 in Stockholm, Sweden. He has worked as a freelance photographer and graphic designer since 1989, commissioned by press, businesses and organizations. The last few years he has focused on personal projects, where plants and gardens are recurring themes, which has resulted in a number of exhibitions. He has sought to depict plants following the artistic tradition of the Swedish Age of Enlightenment. Dutch painters from the 17th and 18th centuries have also been important inspirations. You may learn more about Koinberg and his work by visiting his website.

_________________
The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.