Green Scene

Cultivating a meaningful reflection of yourself in the garden

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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, September 18, 2010

I have always felt -- and taught -- that landscape design is personal, depending on what a homeowner wants for his or her their property. There are cultural interests, aesthetic considerations and practical thoughts, such as gardening for food, that come into consideration, along with other factors. Perhaps one of the following texts will focus on the aspects of gardening that are most important to you.

-- "Places for the Spirit: Traditional African American Gardens," photographed by Vaughn Sills (Trinity University Press, 2010), addresses a cultural connection to the garden. Sills has been working on this series of photographs for 20 years. What she captured with her camera is the depth of meaning that these gardeners intended. "These gardens hold a place for spirits: the gardeners provide the means to communicate with ancestors, fend off harm, and offer security to those who enter," Sills writes. Her inspiration for this series came from a friend's garden in 1987. Sills traveled the southern United States searching for photographs. Then the photographer learned the deeper meaning of the gardens. "There are several styles of traditional African American yard work," she suggests. Some were spare in design. They generally included utilitarian items such as a shade tree, a shrub here and there, a vegetable garden and a coop. Sills was most enthralled by her finding that most gardens are first used for practical purposes; aesthetics are secondary. This 138-page hardcover is a collection of 85 photographs. $29.95.

-- "Wild Urban Plants Of The Northeast: A Field Guide," by Peter Del Tredici (Cornell University Press, 2010), is a thorough identification aid for all urban plants found in the northeastern temperate climates, including the most invasive weeds and wildflowers that will thrive in the cracks and crevices in the hardscape of cities. The book includes over 100 color photographs to help you identify 222 species of plants that flourish without human assistance or support. Del Tredici stresses that it is important to notice, recognize and appreciate their contribution to the quality of urban life. This 392-page soft cover tome is the most thorough work I've seen on the subject. $29.95

-- "Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City," by Sonia Day (Firefly Books, 2010), is more of a gift item and idea book. There are recipes for many of the urban produce suggestions in this clever twist on urban vegetable gardening. Day will have you eating your nasturtiums as well as planting them as ornamental annuals next spring. The 124-page soft-cover book is a good study tool, with a wide selection of facts and information about how to grow a garden in the city. $14.95.

-- "Botanical Serigraphs," by Gene Bauer (ESRI Press, 2010), represents the first compilation of the entire series silkscreen prints of flora, and related writing created by Bauer. The book was created from the series of drawings she did in the 1970s when she traveled to 56 botanical gardens and arboreta in California, illustrating plants that were appealing to her eye. Back at her studio, she created serigraphs from the sketches she made. This handsomely bound collection is annotated with well-written descriptions of the plants, and includes additional notes from Bauer. The work deserves a special place on the mantle or coffee table. Each time I look at it, the work becomes more interesting. She begins by describing exactly what a serigraph is -- a fascinating process of layering the colors of various parts of the plants or other objects until the entire picture is printed. These serigraphs are unique because they were created completely by hand and then layered without the use of photographic devices. She used the oldest form of printmaking, a time consuming, hand-cut lacquer film technique. The information focuses on California landscapes but if you are familiar with plants, you will recognize many of the serigraphs, such as tulip poplars, fuchsias, barberries and camellias. Hardcover, 264-pages. $40.

-- "Green Careers for Dummies," by Carol McClelland (Wiley Publishing, 2010), has a title that bothers me -- a feeling that dates back to 2003, when I wrote "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Landscaping Illustrated" (Alpha Books) and found myself saying, 'It's not for idiots or dummies. There must be a better way of titling these series.' With that said, McClelland's "Green Careers for Dummies" will give you a grasp of the basic precepts upon which the discipline is based. The publisher chose an individual with a good understanding of the field to write this book. McClelland has a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology from Perdue University with a specialty in green careers. The book is divided into the "new world" of green careers, choosing where we fit in the scheme of green, creating a career, finding a match with a green trend or creating one that hasn't been invented yet. If you follow the guidelines in this 340-page soft cover guide to the green industry, you will be well on your way to finding a green career. $19.99.

-- "The Vegetable Gardener's Book of Building Projects," edited by Gwen Steege (Storey Publishing, 2010), is one of the best garden-planning books to have this season. This is the perfect time of the year for this workbook. There are 39 designs of garden structures to build that will vastly improve your vegetable gardening. Raised beds, cold frames, compost bins, planters, trellises, benches, harvesting and storage materials, are all perfect projects to have ready for next spring's vegetable gardening. Paperback, 151 pages. $18.95.

-- "Tomatoes Garlic Basil: The Simple Pleasures of Growing and Cooking Your Garden's Most Versatile Veggies," by Doug Oster (St. Lynn's Press, 2010), is a storehouse of information about growing and cooking these very versatile plants, which have varieties offering a wide range of tastes and smells. Grow basil indoors and locate sources for hardy garlic, and plant the garlic now -- not in spring. Learn the requirements to ensure success growing these plants, which complement one another. Oster not only shares recipes for every plant, but the photographs of the food look good enough to eat. Soft cover, 237 pages. $18.95.

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

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