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Gardening Books
by Brian Fawcett

Budding Delights Frombedding plants to naturalized gardens, this season`s guides for the greenlyinclined cover plenty of ground THIS YEAR`S GRAB BAG OFNINE Canadian-made gardening titles contains Tsome highly useful books,several slightly strange ones (including an unexpected delight), and one bookthat is just short of remarkable. The All SeasonsGardener: Getting More from Your Canadian Garden (Viking, 259 pages, $40cloth), by the Toronto gardening expert Mark Cullen, is large, well-photographedand -illustrated, and perhaps a little pricey for what it does. It`s notquite a reference book or manual, not glamorous enough to be a coffee-tableitem, and not quite an almanac. But, happily, the book is a little like itsauthor: personable, well focused when it gets to the technical details, andsurprisingly interesting. It has one of the best explanations of Canada`scomplex climate zones I`ve read, and (aside from indulging in that sillyCentral Canadian notion that you should kill slugs by getting them drunk onbeer) the section on pests is intelligent and up-to-date. If you`rea gardener who`s just getting crazy over your garden, this is a good book -not just for yourself but for your entire family, which Cullen has taken painsto provide for. Two very good books comefrom Lois Hole and Edmonton`s Lone Pine Publishing. Northern Flower Gardening:Bedding Plants (270 pages, $19.95 paper), is a compendium of 92 floweringannuals suitable for northerly gardens, and Perennial Favorites: 100 Best forCooler Climates (350 pages, $19.95 paper) is exactly what it says it is,although the Americanized spelling of "favourite" makes me wonder ifPremier Klein has convinced everyone in Alberta that all markets now lie southof the border. Both books try to bebusinesslike and charming at the same time, and despite the spellingdifficulties, they mostly succeed. That shouldn`t be a surprise. Lone Pineusually knows its territory, and Hole, the owner/operator of a prominentEdmonton plant nursery, has years of both residential and commercialexperience. The result is two well-organized, decently written handbooksthat feature accurately colour-keyed photographs from cover to cover. 1should point out that they`re handbooks rather than manuals, and they assumethat you`re buying your plants at the nursery rather than trying to grow themfrom cuttings or seeds. 1 have just onetechnical quibble. It is in the volume on bedding plants, and it concems one ofmy favourite border annuals, bush lobelia. Hole offers Blue Moon as animprovement over Crystal Palace, citing the former`s larger blossoms andearlier blooms. Be that as it may, Blue Moon is a tiny shade lighter in colour,and its blooms just don`t light up around twilight the way those of thewonderful Crystal Palace do. Andrew Yeoman has comeup with A West Coast Kitchen Garden: Growing Culinary Herbs and Vegetables(Whitecap, 144 pages, $14.95 paper). This is an intelligent book written by askilled gardener. Yeoman, who runs Ravenhill Farm just outside Victoria onVancouver Island, is a conscientiously precise writer, but one wishes he`doccasionally break loose and let fly with a wild generalization. If you live onthe B.C. Lower Mainland or on Vancouver Island, this book is worth the price.Otherwise, I`d suggest taking a pass. There are no photographs, no usefulillustrations, and the prettiest thing about it, aside from the prose, is thecover. A little moredisappointing - and for exactly the opposite reason - is ElaineStevens`s The Creative Container Gardener: Adventurous Themes for Small Spaces(Whitecap, 224 pages, $17.95 paper). Like Yeoman`s book, it has a very elegantcover, no photographs, and illustrations that are decorative rather thaninstructional. Stevens is a knowledgeable container gardener, but her realinterest is in exterior design, and I got the impression that she gardens in anevening dress, generally surrounded by strong-backed workand delivery-persons. What am I trying to say?Well, mostly that the technical section at the back of the book is woefullyinadequate. hi my experience, the biggest problem gardeners face when trying towork with containers is the containers themselves. They need to be big, andthat usually means they`re unwieldy and outrageously expensive. Unless you`rewilling to turn your backyard or balcony into a slum, you`d best be a finishingcarpenter, or reasonably well-heeled. Stevens seems blissfully unawarethat good, expensive taste can cost a lot more than many gardeners can afford.That`s forgivable, but the sense that gardening is really quite easy once youknow the phone numbers of the appropriate tradespersons isn`t. Any indicationthat experimentation with containers is messy and fraught with costly failuresis likewise missing in this book. So is the fact that the gardening climate ofmost of Canada is unlike Vancouver`s, and that at the best of times containergardening requires a much longer attention span than normal gardening. Perhaps I`m not beingentirely fair to this quite elegant production, but it seems to me that a bookon container gardening needs more on exactly how to do things, and less abouthow it looks and feels once you`ve done it tastefully and successfully. More Julia Child, inother words, and a little less M.F.K. Fisher. Whitecap also has twovolumes ostensibly targeted for Ontario gardeners, but each with notably widerpotential application: Super Hints for Ontario Gardeners (128 pages, $9.95paper), by Wendy Thomas, and The Ontario Naturalized Garden: The Complete Guideto Using Native Plants (224 pages, $17.95 paper), by Lorraine Johnson. Thomas`sbook of hints is a small, slightly oddball collection of technical opinions andsnippets of gardening common sense collected from around Ontario. I`m not a bigfan of using the word "super" unless it is to describe the big guy inblue-and-red leotards with yellow trim, and not all the hints`Thomas has compiled are extraordinary. On the other hand, some of them are, andmany will find application well beyond the borders of Ontario. At $9.95, thisis the kind of book that will make good reading around the kitchen table onrainy mornings. Normally, even the coverof a gardening book that gives off any hint of organic gardening gives mehives. Their authors are generally altogether too interested in their ownspiritual righteousness, and what they have to say seems more directed atscaring the hell out of readers than at gardening. I`m pleased to say that LorraineJohnson`s The Ontario Naturalized Garden doesn`t have either ofthese faults, and that it is the best of this year`s crop of books, by acountry - or urban -mile. I probably ought to acknowledge that Iknow Lorraine well enough to have visited her naturalized garden in Toronto`sAnnex district. But having said that, I should also mention that I`ve teasedher mercilessly over the past several years on the subject of naturalizedgardens, and I never tease anyone I don`t respect. Her garden and her chosen project- as well as this book - are pretty wonderful. Johnson`s purpose inwriting this gem isn`t to impose an organic/eco-freak aesthetic on yourgarden, and she isn`t preoc cupied by purity. If the book is aimed at anything, it`s pretty squarely atyour lawn, which, she argues, is both symbol and instrument of a rathersocially and ecologically toxic monoculture. She`s suggesting that we bringback native and local species - thus "naturalizing" our gardens- and her arguments for doing so are fascinating, and sometimescompelling. Johnson posits anamiable "attitude" toward gardening, but beyond it - or rather,beneath it -is an extremely rigorous and coherent philosophy, one withprofound debts to the late and brilliant landscape analyst Alexander Wilson. Atthe root of it is the idea that we need a greater degree of integration betweenthe private aesthetic values with which we order our gardens and thespecificity and particularities of the landscapes we inhabit -and whichwe tend to ignore in designing our gardens. The risks that result from ourlongstanding habit of ignoring where we are - as gardeners and ascitizens - are sometimes subtle, but in the long term, they`re extreme. The Naturalized Ontario Garden provides a context inwhich we can rethink what we`re doing - in the garden and beyond. One warning. The book isnot a manual intended for gardening newcomers or for green-thumbers whodemand great gouts of splash and flash from their plot. It is a resource foranyone interested in keeping things true, and it contains some truths we allneed closer contact with. It is also one of those rare books that creditreaders with lots of intelligence, and it is not preachy. Johnson writes toowell -elegantly and clearly at the same time - for that. Garden Letters: AGrowing Correspondence (Polestar, 192 pages, $18.95 paper), by Elspeth Bradburyand Judy Maddocks, is a thoroughly charming little book. The authors, who livein Vancouver and Hampton, New Brunswick, respectively, have cooked up theprivate correspondence that ensued after Bradbury and her husband pulled upstakes and moved to Vancouver in search of a more hospitable climate for livingand gardening. They`re both decent cooks, particularly Bradbury, who is alsothe more knowledgeable of the two in the garden. They`re good enough to drawyou into their conversations, which mostly concern the differences betweentheir two gardening locales, but occasionally range further afield. The resultis a book that doesn`t try to do very much, but ends up charming your socks offthrough the sheer modesty of its project. I`m a sucker for anyone who knowswhat a blue flower is and isn`t, and Bradbury delivers a beauty on the subjectthat more than makes up for yet another explanation of how to get slugs drunk. Not quite so modest andslightly less charming is In a Victoria Garden (Orca 121 pages, $19.95 paper),by the West Coast landscape photographer and entrepreneur Lynne Milne. Don`tget me wrong about this book or its author. Milne is a fine garden interpreter,and the book is a beauty that will look just fine on the right sort of coffee-tableduring cocktail parties. Still, after readingLorraine Johnson on the need to start naturalizing gardens, I feel compelled topoint out that the sole focus of In aVictoria Garden isaesthetics divorced from ecological concerns, and that it is photographed insuch a way that it makes Victoria into a city without streets, poor people, orthose great big pipes that pump all the city`s sewage into the ocean. The bookis also printed and bound in Hong Kong, which is Orca`s backhanded way of letting us know thatwhile a few Victoria residents can afford gardens as sumptuous as the onesdepicted here, book publishers have to export jobs offshore because the rest ofus can`t afford books like this if they`re printed in our own country. Still,it`s a beautiful book, and if you can forget about the sociology of glamourgardens for a while, it will bring you many hours of pleasure.

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