Maggie Nystrom: Get Going On Your Garden Now – March 9, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This is a hard time of year for gardeners. All around us the grass is getting greener, trees are starting to get small leaves, those bulbs put in last fall are blooming everyplace. It looks like spring has come; yet it is still too wet to really get to work in the garden. And just last week we found out that it is not too late for frost.

Actually, now just might be a good time for gardeners to do some planning. The Arcata Library has many lovely and interesting books on gardening and on landscaping. Note the difference in the two subjects, because we shelve them quite a few shelves apart. Gardening is in the 635 section while landscaping is over in 712.

When I was growing up gardens seemed to be divided into flowerbeds, which were pretty, and vegetable gardens, which weren’t. From what I hear now that is no longer true. In The Art of French Vegetable Gardening, Louisa Jones shows how gorgeous vegetable gardens can be, and how mixing veggies and flowers helps both. The book covers such items as enclosed gardens, vertical gardening and herbal gardens. There are even 80 classic French recipes included. The photographs by Gilles Le Scanff and Joelle Caroline Mayer are scrumptious and add real style to a wonderful book.

If you only have a small space for plants, take a look at Patricia Lanza’s Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces. While many of the ideas are for gardens with a few square feet, some are for using containers in a patio. Most of the book is about vegetables and herbs, but there is a good section on flower gardening.  Another book for the limited gardener is Container Gardening for California by Jennifer Beaver and Don Williamson. They have some very good ideas about how to pick the right containers for your home and what flowers will grow well together.

At the start of this column I implied that there was not much for a gardener to do at this time of the year. A look at Gardening Month by Month in Northern California by Bob Tanem and Don Williamson soon showed me how wrong I could be. The lively text and colorful photos will help anyone keep ahead of the garden chores.

In Flower Confidential: the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers, local author Amy Stewart has crafted another highly readable book. She traveled the world for a year to research the $40 billion dollar cut-flower industry.

While on the road, she spent time with a third-generation California violet grower, who still does things the old-fashioned way; with the CEO of the largest producer of cut flowers in the United States; and with a Dutch flower breeder and grower whose high-tech operation, run with Polish immigrant labor, is producing flowers in novel colors and shapes. Interspersed are profiles of the breeder of the popular Stargazer lily and of the proprietor of a tiny retail flower shop in Santa Cruz, as well as mini-essays on flower anatomy (with line drawings), propagation techniques and the dipping and dyeing of flowers. A fascinating read.

A garden’s style should agree with the house it surrounds, says landscape artist Anne Halpin in Homescaping: Designing Your Landscape to Match Your Home. For the beginning landscaper this book covers the basics of styles, colors, and structural elements, along with garden accessories. These chapters are complemented by plant finder lists and color palette tables that further guide homeowners in their selections. Overall, the focus is on how to think about design, with particular emphasis on coordinating existing architectural features of the property with garden elements. Jerry Pavia’s photographs are handsome and also helpful in showing the different points the text is making.

Part of the fun of leafing through landscaping books is to see what the master gardeners of magnificent gardens around the world have done. Gardens of Illusion by Sara Maitland and Peter Matthews is a grand tour of wit, humor and visual contrivance in the garden. From London to New Mexico, we view topiary, garden structures and plantings that confuse and amuse the passerby. While many of the ideas are too grandiose for yards around here, the idea of letting art escape the house and hide in the garden may appeal to many. A statue lurking in a pond, doors that lead nowhere or miniature stone circles are within anyone’s capabilities.

Maggie Nystrom is the Branch Librarian at the Arcata Library, 500 Seventh St. (707) 822-5954.