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A Dog Days Reading List for Fresh Inspiration and Tips

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, August 4, 2007

Gardening and landscape-design books can take you away from your weeding while the weather's overheating. Here are a few good ones to check out.

· "Flower Confidential," by Amy Stewart. Stewart is a fine interviewer and historian, and she does a superb job with this hardcover scoop on "the good, the bad, and the beautiful in the business of flowers." Well-researched details about the cut-flower trade draw you in, and her writing style and character development make the book as good a choice for vacation reading as a novel. You won't finish it in one sitting, as the tale moves from one plant to another. (Algonquin Books, $23.95)

· "The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes," by Rick Darke. More than 1,000 color photographs in this 484-page work catalogue hundreds of decorative plants related to the grass family. Darke's accuracy in listing and describing ornamental grasses reflects his scholarship on the subject. The popularity and palette of ornamental grasses have grown considerably in the past couple of decades. The subject is overwhelming to cover in one reference, but Darke has done it with great clarity here. He expounds on the morphology of the various grass families (grasses, sedges, rushes, restios and cattails) and devotes more than 100 pages to how to design with them. Also covered are the plants' maintenance and cultural requirements. A comprehensive alphabetical listing of plants and glossary of terms is included. (Timber Press, $59.95)

· "Encyclopedia of Hardy Plants," by Derek Fell. This reference book can help you find a plant that will thrive in your region that is readily available from a garden center or by mail order. Fell offers an excellent idea book with general descriptions of growth habit, leaf and flower, plant height and spread, and hardiness zones. This handsome 224-page work -- with more than 700 full-color photographs -- is organized by category and botanical name within each plant type. An index helps you find plants by common or botanical name. (Firefly, $29.95)

· "Spring Comes to Washington," by Robert E. Mumford Jr. This photo book captures the historic and horticultural flavor of Washington, including historic estates, botanic gardens and parks in spring. Mumford's images capture the monumental scale of Washington. This 132-page hardcover is a good addition to your coffee table. (Laurel Hill Press, $19.95)

· "Otherwise Normal People," by Aurelia C. Scott. This is not a picture book. Scott leads readers through the slow, diabolical transition that takes "otherwise normal people" from hobbyist to serious grower, putting rose-mania in perspective for the rosarian and the amateur. She has a light, humorous style but emphasizes that it's a serious discipline. After following Scott's journey to competitive rose-growing in the unlikely location of Portland, Maine, you will never look at a rose the same way again. The lists of rose varieties and definitions are invaluable to readers. She recounts a conversation with a fellow rose admirer after a long day: "Tired of roses?" the man asked. "Not me," Scott answered. "My back is giving out, but never my desire for roses." (Algonquin Books, $22.95)

· "Lawn Geek," by Trey Rogers. The antithesis of the more esoteric how-to books reviewed above, this one is down and dirty. Rogers proudly proclaims himself a lawn geek. He pets and sniffs his lawn, sits in it, rolls in it and just loves it, earning him the title of "guru of grass." He came about his passion because he was a golfer since his early teenage years. But don't take the geek lightly. His background is in agronomy, soil management, land cultivation and crop management. Rogers consulted for the turf at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and is helping Beijing get playing fields in shape for the 2008 Olympics. This paperback is filled with facts about grass, including a glossary, site preparation, grass varieties, renovation, establishment, maintenance, weeds, resilience and general tricks of the trade. It has the most up-to-date information on what to do about problems and what you can and can't use, depending on state regulations. It will be your primer for lawn care in the 21st century. (New American Library, $15)

· "The Self-Sustaining Garden," by Peter Thompson. This hardcover reference uses 150 color photographs and 14 diagrams to illustrate Thompson's strategies to create self-sustaining gardens, or those in which the plants will take care of themselves once established. Plants are often more successful and need less maintenance when we allow them to grow into self-governing communities. Thompson offers examples of plant mixes for various landscape conditions and tips to help you determine what plant groupings will grow successfully in your garden. This will usually turn into a perfect relationship among canopy and understory plants and can sustain itself for centuries. (Timber Press, $29.95)

· "Rain Gardens," by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden. One of the more recent environmentally responsible landscape practices, rain gardening can capture, channel, divert and make the most of rain and snow that fall on a property. The objective is to keep it there and use it. This work describes how to handle storm water in numerous ways that are practical and aesthetically pleasing. Nearly 200 color photographs and 40 line drawings leave little guesswork about how to create your own rain garden. (Timber Press, $34.95)

Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, http://www.gardenlerner.com.

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