The American Woman’s Garden: A Book Review

Rosemary Verey is a name I know and trust when it comes to garden writing.

So it was an easy decision to buy The American Woman’s Garden when I found it for only a few dollars at a local second-hand bookshop.

Probably Verey’s best known book (and one I highly recommend) is Rosemary Verey’s Making of a Garden, in which she describes the gradual, organic process of creating her own garden at Barnsley House in Gloucestershire.

This book features the gardens created by thirty American women. And while the idea of a “woman’s garden” may strike us as a little old-fashioned (this book was published in 1984), I found that I kept going back to double check the publication date because I was finding so much of value in the garden descriptions and photographs.


A few quick things:

  • Garden photography has come along way! More recent garden books tend to feature photographs taken in the golden light of morning or evening. The harsh sunlight seen in many of these photographs may not be as beautiful, but it is, perhaps, a more honest depiction of how most of us see our gardens most of the time.
  • It’s personal. I loved reading about these gardens in the words of their makers, even if many of the details belong to lives that were very different from our modern ways of living (for instance, do you any of us buy garden plants with the leftover funds from the grocery allowance allocated to us by our husbands??)
  • It celebrates the variety of distinctly American gardens. From east cost to west and in-between. These are city gardens and country gardens. Gardens for collectors, estate gardens, historic gardens, and more modest gardens.


Who is this book for?

Anyone who has ever wanted a private tour of a beautiful garden. Anyone curious about the variety of garden styles and climates in the USA.

I loved reading about the different inspirations for each garden, from vegetable growing to wildflower preservation.


Is this a book to buy or borrow?

I love collecting gardening books with beautiful photography and inspirational gardens.

I’m glad I bought this second-hand copy, but this might be one to borrow from the library.


Some of my favorite quotations from this book:


“I like to think of my garden as a painting–which I hope never to finish.” – Jane Kerr Platt (Portland, Oregon)


“Each year we have new projects. A garden cannot be static; either it is going forward, developing and changing, or it declines. A garden that is not renewed will die of old age just like anything else.” – Sally MacBride (Woodside, California)


“I am happy with my garden as it exists today … the garden is truly mine, and I believe that it gives the impression of being loved and lived in, as indeed it is.” – Lurline Coonan (Woodside, California)


“I have reached an age now when all I collect are sunsets.” – Medora Bass (Santa Barbara, California)


“And one last admonition: Don’t let anyone, man, woman, or child, organize your time for you. If you do, you’ll be sure to find yourself up to your elbows in dishwater or sitting on two or three committees or simply waiting on someone or on everyone, Practice saying no, no, a thousand times no, at least twice a day, and you’ll just barely have enough time to garden. I would be the first to concede that there’s no way any of us can have a perfect garden. But trying to can be just as much fun as ocean racing, bird hunting, ice skating, or being president of the United States of America–and besides, you don’t have to dress the part.” – Emily Whaley (Charleston, South Carolina)


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Why You Should Plant More of the Same

The garden designer in me frequently does battle with the plant collector in me.

The designer knows that planting more of fewer varieties makes a much more impressive statement in the landscape than planting one of everything ever will. Of course, the collector is always excited about trying the next great thing, but I try to give my collecting side only certain areas of the garden to play around in.

Here at Maplehurst, I listen to both voices (and often try new plants in containers), but I have learned to listen to the designer when it comes to the choices I make in high visibility areas, like the borders around my house and those near our more public outdoor spaces around the Black Barn.

One pyramid-shaped ‘Green Mountain’ boxwood is lovely but seven lined up in a row is WOW.

Not only that, mass plantings are easy for the eye to “read.” A line of boxwood or holly suggests formality and neatness. It’s a good message for the front of a house or entertaining area. A mass planting of fluid grasses evokes a meadow, but delivers that garden message without looking weedy.


Here are some of my favorite “more of less is more” plantings:

  • A matrix of grasses: I love to cover a border with only one type of a beautiful ornamental grass (try Prairie Dropseed for sun or Japanese Forest grass for shade); in the photo above, purple Verbena Bonariensis stands out against a sea of Northern Sea Oats


  • I like to plant my small or medium-sized shrub roses in threes. Planted close together, three David Austin roses make a much bigger splash in the flower garden than they would planted singly; the eye “reads” them as one large rose


  • Plant a hedge: plant a living fence (and a beautiful green garden backdrop) with a traditional hedge of boxwood (like ‘Dee Runk’ boxwood), hornbeam, holly, yew, or arborvitae


  • One pot on the porch steps is nice, but five or fifteen packed in tightly and it suddenly looks like a garden (this is one the designer and the collector can both agree on!)

The Power of Green

This image of the trunk of my minivan may not be the prettiest picture I’ve shared, but it speaks volumes.

All this green?

This says everything about my evolution as a gardener.


I began gardening because I loved the beauty of flowers.

I will ALWAYS be smitten with flowers.

And yet, this trunk filled with green plants from a local nursery speaks to an understanding that I have only recently embraced:

Flowers need green. Gardens need green. People need green.


As professional garden designer Julie Witmer recently said, “Green signals health in the garden.”

Without enough green, gardens look a bit sickly, no matter how much we admire all that purple or variegated foliage.

While the amount of green will vary from garden to garden, and especially from climate to climate, green is a universal sign of good plant health.

It sets off the colors of flowers beautifully.

It is soothing to people, and gives our eyes and our spirits rest.


There is no ideal ratio of green to other colors, however I have found that the ratio in my own garden is steadily increasing.

I do not love flowers any less, but now I know that I need lots and lots of green in order to feel at peace in my garden and in order to better spotlight the colorful flowers I love so much.


The garden designs of Miranda Brooks are famously green.

Ten beautiful and mostly-green gardens for inspiration.

Have you heard about these new varieties of boxwood? They are supposed to be very resistant to boxwood blight!


Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

Why Container Gardening?

Out of necessity, containers were my first garden.

When I first began to garden in Chicago, I had a third-floor balcony. Pots and containers and window boxes were my garden.

Here at Maplehurst, I have almost five acres at my disposal.

Why haven’t I “disposed” of containers?

With so much ground to cover and fill, why mess about watering pots?


Here are the reasons why I STILL love container gardening:


  • Containers help bridge the garden with the house: I love to create mini-gardens in pots on front steps, porches, and patios


  • Containers offer a nurturing environment for small or special plants: sometimes my mail-order roses are too small to go straight into the garden. I give them a year to grow on their own in a container before letting them duke it out with other plants in a mixed border.


  • Containers help me manage my urge to collect: I want to grow every plant I read about, but not all of these longed-for plants fit the style or color schemes of my current garden. If I really want to try growing something but don’t know where to put it, a pot is a perfect solution.


  • Containers bring the garden up close: For instance, I grow tulips and daffodils in the ground, but I love growing them in pots. When in bloom, I can feature those pots right on our outdoor table. When the blooms fade, I can tuck them out of sight.


  • Containers need watering and feeding but they don’t typically need weeding: I like growing edibles in containers because I don’t have to keep them weeded while I wait for harvest


  • Containers allow us to grow heat and cold sensitive plants year round no matter our weather: because I grow my pelargoniums in pots, I can keep them outside in summer and inside in winter. I can also protect some plants from strong sun or intense heat by moving them into shadier or more protected places. Containers give us flexibility.


Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

Cold Frames: What They Are and How To Use Them

Oh, the hubris in that title!

For the truth is, I am only a beginner when it comes to cold frames.

For eight years, I have thought about asking my husband to build one for me. I have even gone so far as to mention the idea from time to time, but I never took the step of sending him links to “diy cold frame tutorials” because I was never quite sure how to use them in my harsh winter / summer climate.

Were these tools perhaps best left to the English gardeners with their mild climate and cool summers? I feared that a cold frame would be insufficient in January and altogether too much in July, so why bother?


First: What is a cold frame?

It’s a bit like a small, unheated greenhouse.

A four-sided box is open on the bottom and topped with a removable pane of glass or clear plastic. The box can be placed on bare ground or on top of a raised bed. When the glass is lifted, seedlings and other vulnerable plants can be protected inside.

Second: How are they typically used?

Cold frames are used to protect plants from damaging weather: typically, cold and wet and wind.

They can be used to harden off seedlings as they help acclimatize them to outdoor conditions. Cold frames make a good way station between indoor growing lights and the outdoor garden. They can also be used to hold cold-hardy annuals like sweet peas that have been sown in fall but won’t be planted out until spring. This gives cool-season plants a head start.

Cold frames can protect potted bulbs from too much wet during the winter. They can also hold small plants grown from cuttings until they have grown enough to be planted out in the garden.

They can also be placed directly over soil–in the ground or in a raised bed–and seeds sown within, providing a protected environment for lettuces in cold weather, for instance.

Third: How will I use my cold frame?

No doubt I will learn through trial and error, but here are some of the ways I am already using my cold frame and how I intend to use them (yes, we are already building a second!) throughout this growing season:

  1. For growing trays of cold-tolerant seedlings like peas, sweet peas, violas, and pansies in order to save space under my growing lights for less cold-tolerant plants
  2. For hardening off all of the seedlings before planting them in the garden
  3. For holding pots of daffodil and tulip bulbs all winter, giving them some protection from cold and wet.
  4. For extending the season when I can grow salad crops: I will place over a raised bed and sow seeds directly
  5. I will remember to ventilate my cold frame–propping the top up on warm days–in order to circulate air and keep my plants from being burned


It’s true that I might not use my cold frame year-round here in my zone 6 Pennsylvania garden. July and August are probably too warm to ever need a cold frame, but I am beginning to understand how I might come to rely on a cold frame–or two, or three!–the other three seasons of the year.

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