Cultivating the minds of those who tend the earth

Gardening: For those who enjoy digging and planting, here are a few recent books on annuals, herb gardens, letters between gardeners, even a book by the Prince of Wales.

In The Garden

January 06, 2002|By Denise Cowie | Denise Cowie,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Not so long ago, when everyday gardeners thought of annuals, what came to mind was impatiens, petunias, geraniums, marigolds and zinnias -- and maybe the occasional cosmos or cleome.

That has changed as gardeners have grown more sophisticated and demanding. Ordinary backyard gardens today are likely to feature favorites from Granny's day, such as love-lies-bleeding, as well as newcomers imported from Australia or South Africa.

But even the most determined gardener could never grow all the annuals Allan M. Armitage covers in his new book, Armitage's Manual of Annuals, Biennials, and Half-Hardy Perennials (Timber Press, $39.95).

Armitage, a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia and an award-winning author of gardening texts, has compiled descriptions and assessments of 245 genera of those plants, discussing 279 species in detail and touching on the distinguishing features of hundreds of cultivars.

His practical approach makes this manual a winner in my book -- an excellent addition to any gardener's own reference shelf, and a great read in the winter months.

It's also why Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School (Rodale, $35) is one of my personal picks in the recent crop of gardening books.

Lovejoy -- prolific author, teacher, partner in an organic nursery on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, and designer of gardens all over the country -- wants to help gardeners maximize the pleasurable aspects of gardening and minimize the maintenance. You can't argue with that approach, and she offers advice on how to do it -- by working with nature, rather than trying to control it. The right plants in great dirt can't help but be successful, she says.

Advice on designing boldly with color comes from farther afield: Color for Adventurous Gardeners by Christopher Lloyd (Firefly Books, $35 hardcover, $19.95 paperback). In his usual breezy and entertaining style, Lloyd contends that every color can be successfully used with any other, even orange with pink -- in the right circumstances -- and then proves it with more than 200 photographs by Jonathan Buckley. This is for gardeners willing to toss out the rule book.

Another prolific writer and photographer is Derek Fell, who lives and gardens at Cedaridge Farm in Bucks County, Pa. His much-documented gardens have been featured in Architectural Digest, Garden Design, and Gardens Illustrated over the years, which is not surprising, as he's been involved with more than 50 gardening books and calendars since he moved to the United States from Britain in the 1960s.

Two of those books have been reissued in paperback by Friedman / Fairfax: Water Gardening for Beginners and Herb Gardening for Beginners. Both are distributed by Sterling Publishing and cost $12.95, but my pick is the herb book. Although it's certainly not the definitive word on growing herbs, it offers a good starting point and includes a manageable list of the most useful herbs to grow. Plus, it has some lovely photos -- many of them shot at Well-Sweep Herb Farm in Port Murray, N.J. -- that would make anyone impatient for spring.

More quirky in its appeal is A Year in Our Gardens: Letters by Nancy Goodwin and Allen Lacy (University of North Carolina Press, $27.50). The book is just that, correspondence between two well-known gardeners: Goodwin, who founded the now-closed Montrose Nursery in North Carolina, and Lacy, who writes the gardening newsletter Homeground, among other things, in Linwood, N.J. Reading these letters is like getting to know them personally.

For celebrity authors, it would be hard to beat The Garden at Highgrove by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Candida Lycett Green (St. Martin's Press, $35). This is a look at the gardens created by Britain's Prince Charles (and his staff), and the book's beautiful photographs make it clear what really commands the prince's passion.

Like any list, this is an idiosyncratic selection, but I have to end with a slender book just published on a topic that is dear to the heart of some gardeners and drives others to distraction: dogs.

Dogs in Their Gardens by Page Dickey (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $16.95) is perfect for any gardener who ever had the help of a four-footed friend. Dickey and her 135 photographs capture the personalities of some of the most pampered pooches ever to dig in the dirt of some of the finest gardens anywhere.

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