Archive for Sunday, December 20, 1998


December 20, 1998


I have a genuine appreciation for gardening books. I like them all.

To be sure, those with the glossy photos of fantastic gardens are among my favorite. My personal library is filled with them, many arriving on my shelf at the onset of my gardening ventures. As a novice gardener those were the books I looked through, in awe of the wondrous sights within and imagined my own garden looking like the ones captured on every page. Years later, the shiny pages of these books remain unblemished -- so careful have I been with them.

However, I cannot say the same for the how-to books that sit on my shelves, always in the same place -- ever ready for quick reference. These excellent books are necessary for both the beginner and experienced gardener. We would be lost without them and their detailed instructions on planting, fertilizing and pruning. Unlike the pristine pages of other books, the pages of my how-to gardening books are cluttered with bookmarks and sticky note tabs, highlighted with yellow marker and littered with smudges of dirt and dried water ripples, evidence of me referencing them frequently, sometimes in the midst of planting.

Always close at hand to my favorite chair, especially in winter, are the books whose pages are worn only because they have been read and reread. These are the books of gardening essays written by generous authors who allow me to dream about gardens, laugh at our common blunders and still make me feel good about my own garden.

Garden reading

Books make wonderful gifts for the holiday season. If you have gardeners on your gift-giving list, try some of the newest offerings. A leisurely browsing expedition through The Raven Bookstore in downtown Lawrence turned up a number of wonderful books that would be fun to give or get this holiday season. Pat Kehde, co-owner and gardener herself, gave me a brief synopsis of some sure-to-please gardening books.

New for this year is an encyclopedic volume, "Brooklyn Botanical Garden Gardener's Desk Reference," (1998) Janet Marinelli, general editor. It is filled with all kinds of useful information from botany to kitchen gardening. Its plant roster includes a rarely seen list of poisonous plants with specific information about each one.

Another book out this year is "Meetings with Remarkable Trees" by Thomas Pakenham. "It's not exactly a garden book," Kehde admitted. "It's essays about specific trees and plants that this person loves, where they grow and the history of the tree." This large-sized volume is definitely a coffee table book. You will want to browse through it often. The sights are spectacular. Each page is filled with wonderfully photographed trees, some of them 200 or 300 years old.

"My Favorite Plant" (1998) editor Jamaica Kincaid, is another book of gardening essays by famous people, not necessarily gardeners, and the plants they love. "This book is a nice book for people who love plants," Kehde said. "It's such a pretty little book."

A book that caught my eye was "National Geographic Guide to America's Public Gardens," (1998) by Mary Zuazua Jenkins. The large volume identifies the 300 best gardens to visit in America and Canada. The book is divided into regions and states. It offers an informative compendium of public gardens, including the dates and times they are open, fees, address, phone number and information about the plants in the garden's collection. For the traveler, this book is a must.

I asked Kehde about some of the popular gardening books. She immediately picked up "Gardening in the Heartland," (1991) by Rachel Synder. The book focuses on growing conditions for our region. Each chapter has a small section, "Things Nobody Ever Tells You," where you will find gems such as "It is generally (but not universally) true that yellow-flowered roses are more susceptible to blackspot leaf disease than roses of other colors."

Another book by a local author is Christine Walker's "A Painter's Garden." Walker is a Kansas University graduate, a painter and a gardener. "These are essays about her garden, what she learned from it, how she gardens and so forth," Kehde said. "This is a nice gift book, especially for a gardener who maybe is also an artist."

"The Undaunted Garden" by Lauren Springer (1994) is a popular book. Written by a woman in Colorado Springs who gardens on the eastern slope of the Rockies, the book is ideal for Kansans. "I think it's pretty applicable to our climate," Kehde said, noting that drying winds and hail are common to both areas. "It's perfect. She has a whole chapter on what to do for hail and what kind of plants withstand hail," she mentioned. "That's why I like to sell that book to people. It is a very comforting book."

"It's extremely inspiring," she went on to say. "Except it is daunting, even though she says it isn't." Kehde said that Springer "grows perennials from seed. It takes them three years to get them to where she can plant them out. I don't know how she does it."

Good beginnings

Another series of popular books are the Taylor's Guides to perennials, annuals and other things. "They don't give you a sweep of how things look together," Kehde noted. "But if you're looking at a plant and you say what is it, what are its properties and how does it grow, this is a good reference to have."

Other popular how-to books are "The Complete Shade Gardener" (1984) by George Schenk and "Sunset National Gardening Book" (1997) by editors of Sunset Magazine and Sunset Books. For a good overview of gardening try "The Garden Primer" (1988) by Barbara Damrosch. "Paths and Walkways" (1998) by Hazel White is a little more specialized. "If I was going to do a path," Kehde said, "I might actually look at this book and try to figure out what was the best."

A whole collection of books on the lower shelves housed books of essays. "I am very fond of garden essays myself," Kehde admitted. "Because if the person is a good writer, they can really give you some kind of thoughtful, inspiring ideas" without the distraction of glossy photos. She mentioned several books of essays by Henry Mitchell who wrote gardening columns for the Washington Post for more than 20 years. "Everyone should read his essays on marigolds," Kehde said. "He hates marigolds."

Another delightful book of garden essays is "Onward and Upward in the Garden" (1979) by Katherine S. White.

Kehde has observed a thing or two about shoppers of garden books. Books with many inspiring garden photos are perfect for the novice gardener or to give as a gift. "On the whole, people who come in and ask for help are looking for pictures," she noted. "But people who come in and just pick out the book themselves know more what they're getting and look for more factual stuff."

Satisfying to the gardener in winter is having a terrific gardening book to read. While the garden outside lies dormant, the hands that tended it during the warming days of spring and throughout the season now enjoy thumbing through books on the subject. With more time on our hands we have traded digging for dreaming, traded planting for planning and traded weeding for reading.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at

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