Enjoy a bumper crop of words

Books: Here are five volumes to fertilize your gardening plans.

In The Garden

January 28, 2001|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Winter is for reading -- for sinking deeply into a soft chair, a hot drink within easy reach, perhaps a warm fire nearby. Ir's for settling down with garden books that engage our minds, even if we don't rush out to do something.

Spring, with all its busyness, often doesn't allow time for serious reading that will inspire, teach and even lead our gardens in a new direction. Here are five well-written books on diverse garden subjects.

To call a book a bible raises huge expectations. But "The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible" (Rodale, $29.95) might just be the one book you need on this popular topic. While comprehensive in scope, this bible offers a format of chapter and verse that is descriptive and instructive without being doctrinaire.

Author Sally Roth of New Harmony, Ind., is a naturalist and well-established author on nature and gardening. She has arranged short articles by topic alphabetically in a way that makes for enjoyable reading.

The book begins with Accessories (brushes, brackets and even bell-shaped ant guards) and flows nicely across 368 pages to Z, where a piece on zinnias tells how to use this popular flower to attract various kinds of birds.

While many readers may look to this book for the basics of bird feeding, it offers far more. I learned that you can train some birds to eat walnut kernels out of your hand, and how to make a basic bird feeder from a gourd and how to make a fruit mix to serve bluebirds in winter.

"Time-Tested Plants: 30 Years in a Four-Season Garden" by Pamela Harper (Timber Press, $40) will have any gardener -- beginner to pro -- yearning for digging weather. Reading her chapters bearing such engaging names as "High Summer Stalwarts" and "Beauties of the Night" is like visiting her 2-acre garden in coastal Virginia.

She writes from the perspective of gardener and plant collector, not landscaper, and makes wise choices for her sometimes difficult climate.

Her writing is direct, specific and sometimes humorous: "I find the sex life of aucubas a bit mysterious"; of wisteria: "These delights do not come without price"; on pruning Southern magnolia: "When I say 'whacking back' I mean just that."

"Taylor's Master Guide to Landscaping" by Rita Buchanan (Houghton Mifflin, $40) of Win-sted, Conn., is like taking a good course in designing your home landscape, except you can do it with leisurely reading in the cozy comfort of your favorite chair.

While "Master Guide" may imply that this is a book for the pros, it isn't. The interested beginner will learn the basics of evaluating the site property, setting goals and arranging trees, shrubs and other plants.

The book offers short, clearly written articles within a topic and lots of easy-to-read lists. Just to show how up-to-date it is, the book devotes half a dozen pages to that most current of current topics: water gardening.

This book is a lot livelier and more interesting to read than many books on landscaping I've had over the years.

That's because it makes a clean and sound pitch to the large audience of nonprofessionals who want to create a landscape of high standards with low-to-moderate maintenance. A photo shows a grassless front yard filled with an appealing array of conifers, perennials and broad-leaf evergreens; considering the bad luck I have with grass, that's something I'd like to try myself.

At first glance, one might think this is a gardening book for the coffee table, so perfectly focused, cropped and arranged are the photographs. Take a closer look and you'll find "Making More Plants: The Science, Art and Joy of Propagation" by Ken Druse (Clarkson Potter, $45) is wonderful reading.

Here's another topic that in the wrong hands could be deadly dull, yet Druse, who gardens in Brooklyn, N.Y., and New Jersey, actually makes plant propagation exciting.

How? He is a master of explanatory writing. He is the first writer I've ever encountered who made the process of stratification -- cold, moist treatment to stimulate seed germination -- understandable in any detailed way. (I never really got it in my college course on propagation.) You may ask why we care. Lots of shrubs, trees and perennials require it.

"Through propagation," writes Druse, "I've learned to appreciate the life within a seed, the promise of a stem cutting or a piece of a bulb; it's the thrill of life beginning, and irresistible to anyone who loves to watch plants grow."

Allen Lacy of Linwood, N.J., is a prolific garden writer who rarely touches on technique. The soul, mystery, the sense and senses of gardening are his forte, all of which he handles like probably no other person writing today.

"In a Green Shade" (Houghton Mifflin, $25) is a collection of Lacy's columns published in his quarterly newsletter, Homeground, available by mail order.

Each of these essays is a little jewel to enjoy individually one evening at a time or read by the seasons, in which Lacy bundles them nicely. Such order proved a bit surprising to me, since he is a self-described rule-breaker in the garden.

"After over 50 years of the gardening life," writes Lacy, "I have come to the conclusion that there is only one rule that counts: you have to garden where you are, not someplace else. As real estate salespersons are wont to say, location is everything."

That said, Lacy has a lot to tell us and it all makes for easy, quiet reading.

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