Books to help plant gardening ideas

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, May 1, 2010; E04

A well-informed gardener is more likely to be a successful gardener. Here are some book selections that I found particularly useful for meadow design, herbal plant preparations, pruning, tomatoes, square-foot gardening and hardscaping. And, if you'd like to carry your celebration into the weekend from the official April 30 Arbor Day, I offer some books about trees.

"Urban and Suburban Meadows" by Catherine Zimmerman (Matrix Media Press, 2010) is a practical compilation of information collected from Zimmerman's background growing up on a small farm in the 1950s and '60s and her training and certification in horticulture and organic gardening. She captures the enjoyment of having a meadow garden and takes you through the steps of how to create one for yourself.

Zimmerman writes about meadows vs. monocultures and how to prepare sites, and she provides 70 pages of contacts across the country. This how-to guide offers the most up to date information for succeeding at meadow gardening in urban and suburban settings. Available now from and; June 1, at major bookstores. This 271-page paperback has more than 200 color photographs. Cost: $29.95.

"Grow Your Own Drugs," by James Wong (Reader's Digest, 2010) contains recipes and growing guidelines to create natural remedies and cosmetics. I will admit that I wasn't as interested in the subject matter as my wife was until I opened this very polished book, which contains images illustrating virtually every aspect of the steps involved in preparing, growing and blending, along with an explanation of the benefits of each herb. Wong's recipes are responsible because they are not new, and safety is emphasized as the primary concern. Recipes include those for heartburn (seaweed stomach soother), insect bites and stings (plantain cream), blemishes (witch hazel gel), and sunburn (carrot and aloe cream). This 224-page hardcover book has more than 150 color photographs. Cost: $19.95.

"The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated," by Lee Reich (Taunton Press, 2010) is the most thorough book I have ever used on the subject of pruning. This is a basic horticulture book that should be in every gardener's library. Through his work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cornell University, Reich's research on pruning practices provides up-to-date information for cutting back plants to promote full, healthy growth. He offers the latest theories on pruning, including roots, fruit trees, neglected shrubs, tender plants, topiaries, vines and bonsai. Other techniques are explained as well. Reich's hands-on guidelines impart a sense of how plants should look in the landscape, providing you with the information needed to get the greatest appreciation from plants as they mature. This 233-page paperback has 262 color photographs and 135 illustrations. Cost: $21.95.

"The Lives of Trees" by Diana Wells (Algonquin, 2010) is an engrossing book that reads like a novel. This collection of information about trees is presented in approximately three-page abstracts about each plant, offering history, philosophy, prose, anecdotes and information about the plant's culture. Examples are that almonds have been eaten since the Bronze Age and may have originated in Persia; birch trees were probably the first trees to restore land scraped bare by glaciers; ginkgos are prehistoric dioecious trees that, through fossil record, predate conifers. Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are no longer valued for their fruit, "which is a pity," Wells says. She covers 100 trees in this well-written, lightweight and compact 369-page hardcover book. Cost: $19.95.

"How to Plant a Tree: A Simple Celebration of Trees and Tree Planting Ceremonies," by Daniel Butler (Penguin, 2010) offers hints of what draws people to the landscape and why we want to connect with trees and nature for inspiration. Trees add the dimension of humans to natural areas, offering a new perspective on the use of open spaces, adding the dimension of the vertical and overhead planes. This book includes information about hedging, longevity, growing from seed, tree health, fertilizing, trees for fine lumber and firewood, and planting and transplanting trees for the health of the planet. This 128 page hardcover is a helpful idea book. Cost: $15.95.

"All New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook: Taking the Harvest to the Table" by Mel Bartholomew (Cool Spring Press, 2009) is the perfect book for planning your vegetable garden. The summer garden begins now, and Bartholomew's 175-page hardcover book offers growing suggestions and recipes. Cost: $19.95.

"New Backyard Idea Book" by Natalie Erman Russell (Taunton Press, 2010) is a very helpful book for amateur gardeners who have difficulty visualizing what they want for their landscape design. It lays out ideas elements that you might want in your back yard, using 331 color images and 11 drawings. There are chapters on porches, patios and decks, back-yard entertaining, garden spaces, pools and play spaces, and backyard buildings. In 218 pages, you will find good ideas for your property. Cost: $19.95.

"Patio & Stone" by Tom Wilhite and the editors of Sunset Books (2009) offers a way to accessorize your landscape. Natural stone symbolizes permanence, and this book brings masonry to you in a visually stimulating fashion with color photographs of stonework and companion plants. Along with photographs illustrating textures, methods of installing stone and basic information are clear explanations of materials, patios, paths and steps, walls, raised beds, boulders, stone accents, and rock gardens. Water features, entryways, side yards and driveways are also addressed. This 224-page paperback comes with an interactive DVD. Cost: $22.95.

Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park.

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