Free-Range Chicken Gardens

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard
by Jessi Bloom

222 pages
Timber Press, 2012
List price:  $19.95

Let me preface this review by saying that I have chickens. We got eight layers last May, and I love them, which could not have surprised me more. Jessi loves chickens too, but what we both don't love is how they can really wreak havoc in the garden. Never fear! As a garden designer with her own landscape design firm, Jessi's the perfect authoritative voice for how to have both beautiful gardens and chickens.

I'll admit, knowing just how quickly my chickens can scratch out a small plant from the garden in their unending search for bugs, I was skeptical about this book, but at the same time hopeful that it could give me some practical ideas about how to allow my hens more free-range time outside their covered run. And that's what I like most about it - Jessi keeps it real.

There are practical ideas for garden design, noting plants which chickens like, those they don't, and which ones are particularly bad for them (although she shares that they usually will leave the toxic ones alone). Sometimes it isn't an issue of what tastes good to them, but of texture. Also included are ways to construct barriers, both temporary and permanent, to keep chickens out of spaces where you don't want them.

On the other side of that coin, Jessi suggests that chickens can help you out with garden work! We've got several places where we want some grass taken out and I'd dreaded skimming the sod off. That's hard work; I've done it many times. But this spring, I'm going to use temporary fencing to corral the chickens, place it where I want the grass gone, and let the chickens have at it.

Free-Ranging Chicken Gardens is a fun read too, because besides chickens being just plain fun themselves (I'm biased, I know...),  we get to peek at some other chicken owners' gardens, including Jessi's. I'm convinced if she can maintain such beauty at her place while having a small flock of chickens, then so can we. Make no mistake, there's some planning and effort involved, but this book helps us do it.

If you're thinking of getting chickens, but have some concerns about it, I can't recommend Free-Ranging Chicken Gardens highly enough. Even if you don't, this is a great basic guide for first-time chicken owners and chicken owner wannabes.

Jessi Bloom is an award-winning landscape designer whose work emphasizes ecological systems, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. She is a certified professional horticulturalist and certified arborist, as well as a long-time chicken owner with a free-ranging flock in her home garden.

Owner of Pacific Northwest–based landscape design-build firm N.W. Bloom — EcoLogical Landscapes, Jessi has been praised as an innovator in sustainable landscape design. Recognition for her work includes awards from the Washington State Department of Ecology, American Horticultural Society, Pacific Horticulture magazine, Sunset, 425 magazine, Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, Washington Association of Landscape Professionals, and the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, including gold medals and the People’s Choice award.

You may also be interested in the author's own Web site,

The publication being reviewed in this blog post 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.

Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening

Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening
by Katie Elzer-Peters

192 pages
Cool Springs Press, 2012
List price: $21.99

If you've never gardened before and you're thinking about doing it, the whole process can be pretty darned intimidating. Sometimes the hardest part of doing something is the starting. Where exactly do you start? Do you need a lot of stuff? What if this happens? So many questions about so many things - it can be enough to make you want to let someone else do it and take up knitting or something.

Gardeners will always tell you, "Oh, it's easy!" But Katie shows you just how easy it is in the Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening. Covering everything from preparing the soil, choosing plants, how to plant, dealing with bugs, growing houseplants, fertilizing, and more, each topic is explained in simple steps with lots of photographs to illustrate each one.

The book's size isn't overwhelming and neither is what's in it. Though a veteran gardener herself, Katie has done a fine job of addressing just about everything a beginning gardener would want to know or would encounter as they begin to grow their own vegetables, flowers, trees, shrubs, or houseplants. There's even a section on lawn care.

Is it a comprehensive guide to all of the above topics? No. It isn't meant to be. But the next time someone asks me if there's a good book to give to a beginning gardener to help them get started, I can think of no better guide to recommend than the Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening.

Katie Elzer-Peters has been gardening since she could walk. She turned that hobby into a career by first pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Horticulture at Purdue University and then her Master of Science in Horticulture through the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware. After school, Katie managed botanical gardens around the United States. Now she runs a garden marketing and pr business, The Garden of Words, LLC and an online Speaker's Bureau,

The publication being reviewed in this blog post 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.