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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool: Many urban farming and vegetable gardening books include lavender as a staple plant, but "The Lavender Lover's Handbook" provides much greater detail on the particular needs and benefits of these sub-shrubs. Sarah Berringer Bader is a lavender farmer in western Oregon and shares her expertise on selection, planting, maintaining, harvesting, and--yes!--cooking with lavender. Best is her selection of cultivars for various purposes such as best scent, richest color (in various hues), or in a landscape. She even includes the best choices for using in her recipes. An encyclopedia of available varieties is quite thorough and enhanced by Janet Loughrey's skilled photography.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool: Lorene Edwards Forkner has addressed a real need on the Garden Library bookshelf. While there are a handful of books (none of them by local authors) about using foraged materials for garden decoration, none adequately take the next step of using these materials to create useful yet attractive objects that we all need in our gardens. "Handmade Garden Projects" has everything from fountains to potting benches with clear instructions and lots of encouragement to build these yourself, at a fraction of the cost of having someone else be your handy man or woman. Another plus: many of the examples are from gardens created by familiar people in the Seattle area horticultural community.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

"Edible Landscaping" is not your typical vegetable gardening book. You will not find an A-Z encyclopedic listing of popular vegetables, nor is there much cultural information specific to each crop. Instead, this is a garden design book with an eye to making edible plants the key feature.

Author Senga Lindsay, a landscape designer and gardener in North Vancouver, B.C., challenges and encourages you, the home gardener, to take charge of your garden's appearance and assumes that you don't want your "...yard to look like a 'dog's breakfast'--messy, unkempt and utilitarian." After outlining basic planning steps, she presents fifteen different model gardens, each with detailed plans, lists of needed supplies, and step-by-step procedures for installation.

These plans range from the traditional row garden to green roofs and walls to parking strips. Your garden may need to satisfy a gourmet chef, or accommodate a disabled gardener, or engage young children--all are addressed with the same level of detail. While you can follow one plan to the letter, the elements from the plans can easily be blended as needed.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Gardens have taken many forms, depending on the time and culture nurturing them. "Gardens Aflame" considers the gardens created by the indigenous people of the greater Victoria area before the arrival of Europeans. At first, we might not recognize these spaces as gardens, but the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) meadows were carefully maintained to provide valuable camas roots (Camassia quamash and C. leichtlinii), a staple of the native diet.

Maleea Acker takes a keen interest in the history of these meadows and the efforts to preserve and restore them. As one would expect, these are under threat from expanding development and invasive species. But another challenge comes as the native people can no longer provide the management that kept more aggressive native species (especially Douglas-fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii) from encroaching.

"Meadows were kept clear by the Coast Salish for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, and served as a food source for many First Nations up and down the west coast and into the Interior." While camas was the main crop, other plants were also harvested, and the gardens became important places for people to gather, just as they are today.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

"From the Hands of a Weaver" is a history of basket making on the Olympic Peninsula, edited by Jacilee Wray. Gardening was an important part of this craft as "...sophisticated techniques conducted by indigenous cultures altered the landscape, the species composition, and individual plants, ensuring that the highest-quality basketry materials were continuously available for use."

Several plants were used in this craft, ranging from the mighty cedars (Thuja plicata) to more humble beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), but all required intimate knowledge of these plants for the best results. I found the practices used by the different tribes, from plant selection and harvest to the design and production of the baskets, very engaging.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

"Garlic! Grow West of the Cascades" is a charming and infectious little book--that will make you eager to grow lots of this culinary staple. At least, that was my reaction as Frank Parente has an enthusiasm rarely matched by other garden writers. Based on Whidbey Island, but channeling his garden loving, Italian ancestors on both sides of his family tree, he writes to "...cover some pointers that will ensure success in wet and humid Western Washington."

You will need these pointers, as the many varieties of garlic require specialized handling for optimum results. But don't worry; the author takes you carefully through the many selections. He also spares no detail on soil preparation, planting, harvesting, curing, and storing, all supplemented with his instructive photographs and diagrams. You're in good hands!

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Jennie P. Grant brings a full measure of enthusiasm to "City Goats," a combination how-to manual, goat keeping manifesto, and love story, made all the better by its Seattle setting. While much of the care-giving information would apply to goats anywhere, the author's campaign to legalize her herd is especially compelling because of its local connections.

I'm not likely to start my own herd, but I couldn't help getting hooked by the exploits and personalities of Brownie, Snowflake, Maple, and Eloise. Is this a gardening book? Perhaps not, as the author makes it very clear that your goats and your roses are not good companions. However as the model of the urban farm continues to flourish, you may embrace having your own source of milk and veggies, from securely separated sites, of course.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

From a publisher a bit out of the region but very familiar to us all is "The One-Block Feast" by Margo True and the staff of Sunset Magazine. Essentially this is a scrapbook of the an on-going experiment to grow, harvest, prepare, and cook a full menu, all from very local sources--the Menlo Park, California campus of this long-time fount of wisdom for gardeners throughout the west.

While one must make modifications for the Pacific Northwest (a calendar of regionally adjusted planting and harvesting dates in the appendix will help), you can't help but come away from reading this book full of ideas. The staff formed teams by food type, and weren't afraid to tackle almost anything from honey to cheese, or beer to olive oil. I thought the stories of Team Salt and Team Escargot were the most intriguing.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool: Cass Turnbull needs no introduction to our readers and a new book by her is a cause for celebration. Her "Guide to Pruning" is now available in its 3rd edition with three added chapters, including a much needed essay on Taming the Native-Plant Garden. She also addressed an impressive list of new plants not considered in the earlier editions, including "whackables" such as Lavatera and Perovskia. Oh, how I wish I had read about the dangers of whacking too soon--before making my mid-February cutbacks in my own garden.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool: "It's a Jungle Out There!" is a collection of essays by Cass Turnbull from the time of the founding of Plant Amnesty. It give some perspective and appreciation for the success of her efforts in educating the public and professionals on proper tree and shrub care. While not available to borrow, this book is worth looking at for its history and, especially, the charming diagrams.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Spring 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Jack Nisbet's first book about David Douglas ("The Collector" from 2009) was a very popular, journal-like life chronology of the intrepid plant explorer. The enthusiastic response led the author to realize "...I had only begun to touch the dynamic worlds he [Douglas] saw. So I went back on the trail, revisiting places he had described, checking on species of flora and fauna he had collected, following any lead that might reveal additional facets of his career and character."

The result is a new book, "David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work." Instead of a year-by-year account, this is a delightful collection of essays that explores themes as they played out over Douglas's entire, all-too-short career. Several chapters explore the different groups of people he worked or lived amongst including Native Americans, fur traders, sea farers, and members of the scientific community in England and North America. He did his best to fit in with all and this may explain much of his success as a collector--his eager personality encouraged others to share their knowledge or provide help with explorations.

This new book also incorporates observations from current day researchers that are influenced by Douglas almost two centuries later. For example, he was very enamored with the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and the communities it formed in the Pacific Northwest. Present day biologist Peter Dunwiddie has tried to understand why these communities are so rare today. While Dunwiddie concludes there are several factors, the most important is "...the way Native Americans throughout the region systematically set fire to these open oak woodlands," a practice that did not continue after the early 19th century.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

In "The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest," Lorene Edwards Forkner gives a whole calendar of ideas of what to plant and what to harvest every month--what's unusual is that the chapter on January, while having fewer pages, is still on equal footing with June, rather than be relegated to an off-season category.

Does year-round engagement with your garden sound daunting? Relax. Further reading encourages a steady but gentle approach--no more herculean "putting in the garden" effort in the spring--instead be strategic and realistic about how much garden you can handle and thankful for the bountiful resources of our region to provide what you leave out.

While this book is packed with information, it will work well for the novice, as Forkner is good with pointers for getting started. "If you are a beginning gardener, I recommend you learn to love your hose. Time spent at the end of it is the best education and the most accurate barometer of your garden's needs." I totally agree.

She also has some interesting ideas for the experienced gardener. She divides her veggies by flavor profiles, and then considers what fits into, for example, "sweet leaves" or "hearty greens." Within each category there are plant options that which will give you a similar taste result, but some are easier to grow, or provide a harvest at different times of the year. This can simplify the planting list enormously.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Most vegetable gardening books have a long, encyclopedic listing of favorite crops with a relatively short introduction to general cultural. In "Cool Season Gardener," Bill Thorness takes a very different approach--the A-Z listing is confined to a short chapter near the end of the book. While these few pages do contain some excellent recommendations for the late summer-to-spring garden, the heart of this book focuses on the practices of vegetable growing, especially for the cooler months.

To do this, the author invites you to change some of your basic concepts, including dividing the year into only four seasons. "Wanting to tend my garden continually throughout the year in our mild climate has made me chop up our seasons into a few 'miniseasons' so I can more easily plan and plant." Spring stretches into three parts from mid-February to mid-July. Summer is a short two-month season. Fall, in two parts (early and late), extends until Thanksgiving, while winter fills the dark months until early spring.

This is an interesting way to revamp the calendar, but more importantly it gives structure to the planting and harvesting schedule. Sadly, it also emphasizes that short summers are a fact of maritime Pacific Northwest life. But don't despair; the goal of this book is to help you make a success of those long, cool seasons.

Much of this is accomplished with techniques. One whole chapter discusses simple steps for extending the growing season. The next chapter (the longest in the book) covers advanced practices--to a depth of detail not found in other veggie books. Once you've absorbed the theory, the appendix gives you the specifics for numerous building projects. This makes it the perfect book for a handy-with-construction gardener--or perhaps the partnership of a handyperson and a gardener.

Unlike some do-it-yourself books, Thorness keeps everything upbeat and sprinkled with practicality and humor--and always with options depending on your skills and resources. "My brain agitates crazily like an old washing machine when I walk through the secondhand stores. Sometimes I take home a box of treasures; other times I leave with just ideas." You will leave with a treasure of ideas from this book.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

"Slow Flowers" is something of a sequel to "The 50 Mile Bouquet," Debra Prinzing's previous book (co-created with photographer David Perry) about local and sustainable cut flower vendors. In this book, she uses the produce (flowers, leaves, seedpods, cones, and other plant material) from those vendors, plus cuttings from her own yard and those of friends to create a calendar full of arrangements, one for each week of the year.

The process for creating each week's offering is carefully recorded, both in narrative and with an ingredient list complete with sources and a count of each stem. I found the detailed descriptions of the vases, some quite historical, particularly interesting. Tips on design, finding materials, assembling your bouquet--without the use of environmentally unfriendly florist foam--and preserving it when done are sprinkled throughout the book, and in a helpful reference section at the end.

What I like best about this book is the author's teacher-like approach to everything. No detail is missed, but each is gently mixed with encouragement, practicality, and a sense of fun that makes you want to participate, too.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Two Seattle area garden designers discovered they have a shared passion for leaves. The result of this synergy is "Fine Foliage," a rare garden design book in which almost no flowers are allowed. Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz fill their book with a gallery of plant combinations highlighting leaf color, patterns, size, and shapes in both intimate and large-scale settings.

For each example there is a memorable name (like "Down the Rabbit Hole" or "Deer Be Damned!"), a summary of combined cultural needs, and a "Meet the Players" highlight of the selected plants. Most useful is the "Why This Works" paragraph that highlights the design principles behind each combination and stressing the importance of foliage first in any planting plan. Readers of "The Bulletin" will be interested to see that three of the designs for shady locations were created by Rizaniῆo "Riz" Reyes, a gardener on the University of Washington Botanic Gardens staff.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool: "The Orchard Mason Bee" by Bellingham author Brian Griffin has long been my go-to book on this subject, but from just across the border in Coquitlam, B.C., is a slightly newer book (2002) on these fascinating garden helpers. "Pollination with Mason Bees" by Margriet Dogterom, takes a bit more of a do-it-yourself approach to creating and maintaining your bee nests, but if you're interested in this subject, I'd recommend referring to both books.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool: With a title like "Passionate Slugs and Hollywood Frogs," it's hard to know what to expect from the 2001 book by Patricia K. Lichen, but the sub-title helps: "An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Backyards." This is mainly a guide to the birds and other animals--natives and non-natives alike--who may call your backyard home, plus a few plants including iconic trees, some troublesome invasives, and even your lawn and its "three million tiny plants." The essays are short and full of whimsy, but also plenty of good information and the incentive to appreciate what you have in your own, well, backyard. The book concludes with an invitation to look up and appreciate rainbows and the stars at night--charming.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

"Quiet Beauty: The Japanese Gardens of North America" is itself a book of quiet beauty, and an excellent introduction to Japanese-style gardens throughout Canada and the United States. Photographer David Cobb, from Mosier (near Hood River), Oregon, is particularly adept at emphasizing the contrasts between light and shadow, the subtle reflections in still waters, and the energy of moving water in his subjects. I have visited many of the 26 featured gardens and he captures the spirit of these very well.

Text author Kendall Brown is an Asian Art historian at California State University, Long Beach. His introductory essay places these gardens in the context of what he sees as five distinctive, historical periods beginning at the end of the 19th century. The Seattle Japanese Garden, along with gardens in Portland, at the University of British Columbia, and at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, are all placed in the second of these periods, a time of "Building Bridges" following World War II.

Feeling regional pride, I read the chapter on this period first, and I wasn't disappointed. Brown is good at telling (what are often) convoluted histories. He underscores the importance of our local gardens in the development of the Japanese style in North America: "The Seattle Japanese Garden also set a new standard as the earliest major permanent garden built in North America by well-established designers from Japan." He further compliments it as being "...arguably one of the finest in North America."

Featured in a later chapter is Spokane's Nishinomiya Garden in Manito Park, while another ten gardens from throughout Washington (including the Kubota Garden) and British Columbia are briefly described in the appendices, making this an important garden book for the Pacific Northwest. Brown's earlier (1999) book, "Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast", is also worth reading for a more in-depth general history of this style.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Fall 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

"Gardening for Sustainability" is almost two books in one. The first part takes you on an intimate tour of the Albers Vista Gardens near Bremerton, approximately four acres lovingly crafted by author John Albers and his wife Santica Marcovina over the last 15 years. I kept a post-it note on the garden map for frequent reference as I walked page-by-page through the 14 garden rooms; the history, purpose, and plantings of each made very real by the considerable descriptive detail and excellent photographs

.

"As visitors stand among the Three Islands dreaming of distant lands, they have the choice of proceeding through the open sea of crushed granite or continuing up Madrona Lane." Transitions like this hold your interest as you continue your tour, while picking up ideas to use for your own garden such as, "...the underutilized Chaste tree [Vitex agnus-castus]...is an ideal substitute for the [invasive] butterfly bush [Buddleia davidii]."

The author's enthusiasm is especially apparent in a chapter on special collections, including dwarf conifers, striped-bark and Japanese maples, and viburnums. Much of his interest in the latter genus was sparked by the collection at the Washington Park Arboretum, which he studied and described while taking classes through the Center for Urban Horticulture in the 1990s.

The second part of the book is a concise essay on landscape sustainability--excellent reading for any gardener. These principles and practices are the basis for the design and maintenance of the Albers Vista Garden, but despite best intentions the author freely admits that errors do happen. He concludes that it is best to "...learn from your mistake and move on to the next joyful garden project."

The garden is open to visitors by appointment or for special events. More information is available at www.albersvistagardens.org.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Fall 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Jim Fox is a consumer advocate. More specifically, a gardening consumer advocate. His goal is "...to educate you to be a savvy consumer so you can be confident that your gardening dollars are well spent." To achieve this goal, he has written a shopping guide: "How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies."

Many general gardening books touch on plant buying or tool selection, but typically at the back of the book, or in a brief introduction that the reader hastily skims over to get the real excitement--an encyclopedia of plants in glorious color. Fox recognizes how critical this basic information is for all gardeners, experienced or not, and uses clarity, broad experience, and considerable wit to engage the reader, leaving the colorful photos and plant bios to the several other books that he recommends.

I found the author's insights into the process of buying and selling plants particularly engaging, demonstrating his perspectives as both an avid collector of specialty plants, and as a long-time nursery worker. "To get good service, you need to be a good customer," he strongly recommends. For example, spouting your own expertise is a quick way to shut down any helpful advice you might have received from the true expert.

After reading this book, I have a much better appreciation for the dedicated men and women who own and run nurseries and must be skilled at managing both plants and people. All so that we can have the cool plants we really, really want.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Fall 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon became household names, at least among those households interested in native plants, with the publication in 1994 of "Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast". It has been the most popular field guide in the Miller Library ever since its introduction because of its clarity, organization, plant keys, and many features that give it added value.

Now, the two British Columbia authors/editors have matched their earlier work with a new title, "Alpine Plants of the Northwest". While the previous work was a comprehensive study of all plants west of the Cascades, this book extends to the alpine and subalpine areas from the coast east to the Rockies, including north to the Yukon and Alaska. This is a large region, but as the number of plants that thrive above the timberline is limited it is a quite manageable guide, especially for those who hike in these areas. Like the earlier book, the Lone Pine publication has a soft but weather resistant cover, making it worth having at least one copy in your hiking party.

This model for field guides anywhere is a good blend of information for a broad range of competencies. Detailed keys required by the knowledgeable are nicely matched with photographs, drawings, and descriptions that will aid anyone in identification. Vexing, hard-to-distinguish species have additional aids, such as a conspectus with descriptive comparisons of both leaves and flowers of the many Potentilla, or leaf silhouettes of the members of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae).

But even if you are not a high country traveler, there is much to recommend in this book. The extensive introduction is much more than a how-to-use-this-guide as it provides an excellent background to the geology and climate (both historical and as changing) of the area of study, and the adaptations of the plant life. Throughout the body of plant descriptions are short sidebar essays to supplement the introduction.

Some of these are just for fun, such as the authors' top ten favorite alpines, chosen by "flower size relative to the entire plant; appearance and colour; impact factor; plant chutzpah or elan." What is number one? The Mountain Sapphire (Eritrichium nanum). Elsewhere, all five contributing authors describe their favorite alpine areas of the region.

This sense of fun is present throughout all the writing, but typically with a thoughtful point to make. "In past books, we've argued that scientific names are worth learning because they are generally more stable over time[...]it's becoming more and more difficult to make that argument with a straight face." This leads to a discussion of the changes brought often by genetic analysis in the plant genera and families. They conclude, "You can also learn scientific names to impress people", with the tabloid quality tidbit that singer/model Carla Bruni married former French president Nicolas Sarkozy partly because "he knows all the Latin names" of plants!

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Fall 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Audrey Lieberworth enjoyed an active, outdoor childhood in Seattle, but not until she left for Scripps College did she realize "...just how much the connections I made with these [Seattle] landscapes as a child had shaped the person I had become." The result of this revelation is her senior thesis, "Seattle's Orchards: A Historic Legacy Meets Modern Sustainability."

The heart of this work is a survey of eleven orchards--some historical, others recently planted--including their history, their setting in the neighborhood, and types of trees. Also reviewed are the communities supporting each orchard, broad-based programs that support the preservation of trees throughout the city, and the role of the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. This engaging report is available in print at the Miller Library, but also online from Scripps.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Fall 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-10-21
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

book jacketBeatrix Potter's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell



Part biography, part garden photo essay, and part ventriloquist's act, Marta McDowell's Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life (Timber Press, 2013) provides a window into Potter’s world. If you have read her children's books, you will have a lasting impression of the charming adventures of rabbits, hedgehogs, kittens, and ducks but you may not think of Beatrix Potter as a botanical illustrator. I was surprised to discover that the highly accomplished sketch of foxglove and periwinkle on page 27 was made when she was only ten. The best feature of this book is the gathering together of selected drawings and watercolors of plants, fungi, and landscapes. Potter's natural history illustrations (particularly of mushrooms) are featured in Ambleside's Armitt museum.


Potter was also a certifiable plant addict, and was not averse to gathering cuttings and seeds in gardens not her own. Royalties from her publications enabled her to acquire property and land, so she ended up with several gardens in England's Lake District. The weakest part of the book is McDowell's attempt to channel Beatrix (as she takes the liberty of calling her) by paraphrasing from her journals and letters to feature aspects of the gardens through the seasons. The accompanying photos are glorious (I am captivated by Hill Top garden's green-painted wrought-iron gate rimed with frost), but it would have been better simply to quote Potter directly.

Reviewed by Plant Answer Line librarian Rebecca Alexander

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-11-16
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Keywords: Reviews, Citrus limon, Edible plants, Palms

Garden Tool:

book jacketLemon: A Global History by Toby Sonneman (Reaktion Books, 2012

I've always wondered about the warty etrog (citron, or Citrus medica) used as part of the Jewish observance of Sukkot (etrog represents one of The Four Species mentioned in the Biblical description of this festival; the others are palm, myrtle, and willow): what purpose did the fruit serve beyond the ritual, and how was this odd-looking fruit related to lemon? The answers to these and many other citrus-related questions may be found in Toby Sonneman's Lemon: A Global History, a volume in the Edible series from Reaktion Books (2012). It was a surprise to discover the important role of the citron (probably a wild species from northeast India) in the development of a 'citrus culture' that eventually gave rise to the lemon we use for its flavor. Citron, thick-skinned and inedible, was valued for its fragrance (mentioned in a Hindu text from before 800 B.C.E.). Its centuries-old use in Jewish ritual would eventually lead to cultivation in different parts of the world after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., when so many Jews dispersed across North Africa, into the Aegean, Spain, and Italy.

The lemon was probably an ancient natural hybrid, and its route to the Mediterranean is difficult to trace because of the confusion in written and visual depictions: lemons and citrons are hard to distinguish, and common names can be unreliable. Lemons hold an important place in Arab culture, and were also prized in Persia. Because of the lemon's need for water, farmers developed ingenious irrigation canals with stone tiles to regulate and direct water flow, these methods were widely adopted.

The first recipes using lemon appeared in a 12th century Egyptian treatise called On Lemon: Its Drinking and Use by Ibn Jumay, a Jewish physician in the court of Saladin. He devised a way of preserving lemons with salt, and mentions the fruit's medicinal uses for a wide range of conditions. Ibn Jumay's writing was translated, and lemon's culinary and medicinal fame spread.

Other points of interest:

  • Lemons were scarce and costly, and therefore a status symbol, in Northern Europe. You will find them in many 17th century Dutch still life paintings.
  • Cosimo III de’Medici grew 116 varieties of citrus in his gardens. The name Medici is possibly related to the name for citron, Median apple (Media being the Greek name for ancient Persia).
  • It took a long time for sea voyagers to figure it out, but lemons were an essential preventive against scurvy. (If you think about the term 'ascorbic' acid—something which is found in lemons and other citrus--you can see that it is anti-scurvy!) British English does not use 'lemon' in the pejorative sense of American English, perhaps a bow to the fruit’s life-saving properties.
  • Harvesting lemons is a thorny business but the Meyer lemon has fewer thorns.

This pocket history reaches from antiquity to the present time, and is packed with colorful details and illustrations. You may also want to try making Ibn Jumay's preserved lemons, included along with several other more recent recipes.

Dates: A Global History by Nawal Nasrallah is another title in the Edible series from Reaktion Books. An unusual aspect of the fruit (technically a berry) of the date palm tree is that it may be harvested at three different stages of ripeness—the ultrasweet dates one usually finds for sale in groceries are at the final stage, when they have sun-dried on the tree and the skin has begun to wrinkle and darken. Dates have been used as a food staple for centuries. Once called 'bread of the desert' and 'cake for the poor,' dates are still considered of vital importance in combatting world hunger.
The date palm's botanical name (Phoenix dactylifera) derives from the tree's origins in Phoenicia (now Lebanon, Syria, and Israel), while the species name might refer back to the Semitic roots of the word for palm (dekel in Hebrew, diqla in Aramaic, etc.) or could refer to the finger-like (dactylos) shapes of clusters of fruit, or more: it's shrouded in mystery and confusion, as with so many names. You will also learn of a connection to the firebird or phoenix of myth and legend, which built a nest of cassia twigs and frankincense in the top of a date palm.

Other aspects of the date palm:

  • Once a full crown of leaves has developed, the trunk does not widen with age—there are no annual growth rings if one cuts a cross-section. Leaves which die off protect the trunk with their bases that remain attached. The tree's roots are fibrous, and secondary roots grow out of the bottom of the trunk. Both a male and female tree are needed to produce fruit. Trees must be hand-pollinated in spring (this has been common knowledge since the days of Mesopotamian agriculture!).
  • Even in the days of Pliny the Elder, there were numerous varieties of dates. The ones American consumers will probably recognize are medjool and deglet noor, but there are nightingale's eggs (beidh il-bilbil), khalasa (quintessence), and even an Obama date named for our president.
  • Although we mainly think of date palms for their edible uses, the hollowed trunks were made into aqueduct pipes for irrigation, and were used in building (the first mosque in Medina, built in about 630 C.E., was reportedly made of palm trunks, thatched with palm leaves, with prayer mats of woven leaves).
  • Indio in Southern California is the date capital of the U.S., and holds an annual date festival.

The book ends with several tempting recipes (sweet ones such as a 13th-century recipe for date syrup, and a personal favorite—a filled cookie called ma'moul, as well as savory uses).

Like the other books in this series, this title includes footnotes, bibliography, and index.

Review by Plant Answer Line librarian Rebecca Alexander

Season: All Season
Date: 2013-11-27
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Garden Tool:

The moment I opened this massive, two-volume set, I was immediately engaged. Page after page of high quality photographs show the seemingly endless variety of cultivated forms of conifers--it's mesmerizing.

"Encyclopedia of Conifers" illustrates nearly 5,000 different cultivars, along with the species they are derived from--often with multiple photos from different times of year, or at different ages, or in various horticultural presentations. The variety of cones alone could fill its own book. While these trees are popularly known as evergreens, the rich variety of blues, silvers, golds, and browns along with the rich reds and purples of cones belies that name.

While the photographs are stunning, this is not just a picture book. The authors have notable credentials: Aris Auders maintains one of Europe's largest collections of conifers cultivars in Latvia, while Derek Spicer is the chairman of the British Conifer Society. Their goal was to create a reference work that is both comprehensive in its listing of cultivars and well-illustrated, a combination lacking in earlier publications on this subject.

The result will be the standard for years to come. While the photographs would stand on their own, the text provides description of each species in the wild, including range, elevation, size, notable characteristics, a description of the cones and hardiness zone (using USDA standards). For each cultivar that follows there is a description, origin if known, synonyms, misspellings, and citations to the name in older books, nursery catalogs, websites, and arboretum holdings. This piece too, could stand on its own.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2014-03-12
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Garden Tool:

It is a nice balance that a publication of equal stature to the RHS encyclopedia on cultivated conifers has been recently published on conifers in the wild. "Conifers around the World" authors Zsolt Debreczy and István Rácz have been working together since 1975. The predecessor to this current title was published in 2000 in their native Hungarian; Kathy Musial of the Huntington Botanical Gardens provides valuable editing skills to this much expanded English edition.

The result is massive (again, in two volumes), but very manageable. The authors' intention is to "…present photographs of conifers in their natural habitats in a consistent format." These larger images are breathtaking, and are supplemented with close-up photos of cones, leaves, and any distinguishing features. The accompanying text is concise but unlike some botanical descriptions is very readable and reflects the authors' sensitivity to conservation, local culture and ethnobotany.

The focus is on temperate species, and the layout is by broad geographical areas with a detailed description of the geological, vegetative, climatic and human history of each. Maps are used liberally to show topography, sites of major conifer forests, floristic provinces, and the ranges of species. The extensive introduction is a joy to read despite covering some pretty dense subjects, including taxonomy, conifer identification, morphology (lots of drawings help the reader with these), and the history of the earth's climate and other factors that have impacted the distribution of conifers we find today.

The appendix is also fun, with various essays that didn't quite fit elsewhere, and a "bark gallery" giving eye level close-ups. The Pacific Northwest is clearly dear to these Europeans, as the two photos that accompany the Preface are from Washington State, including the authors' portrait standing in front of a giant Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) in Olympic National Park. On the inside of the back cover of Volume 2 is the "Sell the Land?" speech attributed to Chief Sealth; a suitable closure to this very rigorous but also very passionate and personal publication.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2014-03-12
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"A Handbook of the World's Conifers," by Aljos Farjon, was published in 2010 and is described by the author as "…not a monograph purely for taxonomists. Its content aims at a much wider audience." This is accomplished in part by discussing the ecology, conservation, and uses of all species along with the etymology of the botanical name and vernacular names in local languages. Calling this a handbook diminishes its stature; this is a set of two hefty volumes with entries more typical of an encyclopaedia.

It includes all tropical species (about 200, which accounts for nearly one-third of all known conifers in the world) and an emphasis on description including--despite the author's stated intentions--extensive taxonomic notes. The images and illustrations that are included are of good quality, but are comparatively few and collected on photo pages separated from the related text.

The introduction to "Handbook" is relatively brief, but that's because Farjon regards his 2008 publication, "A Natural History of Conifers," as the real introduction. This is a book to be read cover-to-cover, and is a selection of essays on subjects "…sometimes communicated at the coffee table in the staff room of your institute, but that would not have been allowed through by the editor of a scientific journal." This suggests light reading, and the author does show a flair for storytelling, but he also chooses pretty meaty subjects. If you are confused by cladistics, phylogenetic relationships, and other concepts of modern taxonomy and systematics, these terms are explained in language that a lay reader can--with a bit of work--understand.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2014-03-12
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

James Eckenwalder graduated from Reed College in Portland, making him a one-time Pacific Northwest resident, although he is now on the faculty at the University of Toronto. "Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference" is an ambitious effort that was years in the making. It is an excellent reference book in a single volume.

Tropical species are given equal treatment to temperate and the A-Z presentation emphasizes descriptive text--there are only a few photos and those are mostly in black and white. The introduction includes a very readable discussion of taxonomy; the author is clearly captivated by the subject but is able to make his points in terms for a general audience. "My overriding motivation behind all of these considerations, however, is to share my fascination and enthusiasm for these wonderful plants."

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2014-03-12
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Richard Bitner has written three books about conifers in the garden; I think the best is the most recent, "Designing with Conifers." Organized by notable features such as shape, color, or bark, the author uses his own photographs to illustrate a wide range of planting options. He clearly detests foundation plantings: "Why this mandatory dress code? It is time to break free of this tradition and change our practices."

Specialty situations such as hedges and topiary are included, along with some unexpected chapters on recommended Christmas trees, dwarf cultivars for garden railways, and--the most curious--traditional plantings for German graveyards. Although the author is from the East Coast, I thought his best work was a case study of a garden near Eugene, with a photographic dissection of the different purposes for the plants used in the landscape--quite instructive.

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2014-03-12
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Keywords: Reviews

Garden Tool:

Melany Vorass Herrera is an enthusiastic and experienced forager who lives in Seattle. In "The Front Yard Forager" she identifies 30 common weeds found in North American cities that she recommends we add to our regular diet. I found her presentations, including recipes, beguiling--especially as my own garden is filled with several of her selections that until now I've tossed into yard waste.

Before heading to the garden or the vacant lot, however, the author has several cautionary topics to consider to keep you--the foraging consumer--safe and to ensure your collecting doesn't disrupt the ecology or social harmony of the neighborhood. Further caveats fill each plant entry, including "Poisonous Look-Alikes" and "Who Should Avoid It" warnings.

While most of the selections, such as dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), have general consensus in the literature as safe to eat, some of Vorass Herrera's other choices are less certain. This makes as a good companion book the new edition of "The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms" by two University of Victoria authors, Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas.

The wild sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius) illustrates the value of consulting at least these two sources before consuming any wild plant. Vorass Herrera recommends it when identification is certain and when eaten only in moderation. Turner and von Aderkas state that "all species of Lathyrus should be regarded with caution. However, a strong case is made for the edible qualities of…wild sweet pea (L. latifolius) by wild food expert John Kallas." A discussion of the arguments by Kallas follows, leaving you--the now well-informed forager--with three distinct opinions on the safety of putting this plant on your dinner table.

The importance of this is best summed up by Vorass Herrera: "The bottom line? A good forager needs to be willing to spend a little time digging for accurate information."

Reviewed by Curator of Horticultural Literature, Brian Thompson. Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

Season: All Season
Date: 2014-03-12
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June 24 2013 12:55:25