Two Books for The Less Than Perfect Gardener


I often read two or more books at once, but it is rare for me to read two books at the same time that are also in the same genre.

But I found myself reading both of these books together, and I think they make an illuminating pair.

They aren’t exactly memoirs but rather deeply personal essays and stories and investigations–all set in or around the garden. One has a very English perspective. The other is entirely American.

I recommend them both.

It is well titled, as Osler relates her own mistakes and happy accidents. She lives in the country, and the neat, well-maintained suburban garden is not for her.

Osler’s book is more literary. The Latin plant names come fast, and there are interesting historical and botanical rabbit trails. I wouldn’t recommend this one if you aren’t already a fan of personal garden writing as it might seem a little dense.

However, read Anne Raver’s book, and you will fall in love with this genre.

  • Deep in the Green by Anne Raver makes for lighter, easier reading, but it is also thoughtful and intelligent.

The essays aren’t chronological or strongly linked, but over the course of the book a portrait of this east coast gardener emerges: she is no expert dispensing advice, rather she is someone who delights in the green world, and she is gifted at sharing her delight.

Despite their superficial differences, Osler and Raver set an encouraging example for beginners and experts alike. Both acknowledge that gardening is hard work, that we don’t always feel like pulling weeds or harvesting the green beans we planted with such enthusiasm. They are easily distracted by other things, but both feel a strong, magnetic pull toward gardening.

These books inspired me to keep on gardening, but they also reminded me that I don’t need to be so hard on myself.

Both gardens and garden books are for delight.

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How to Grow Whimsy and Wonder: A Topiary Guide


For the past few days, my youngest child has been repeatedly asking me the same question:

Mom, when can we plant our topiary garden?

I can’t quite remember how the idea originated. Was it because her older brother discovered a love for trimming boxwood, and I set him loose with my best pair of hedge clippers? Was the idea planted in her through repeated visits to the old topiary garden at Longwood? Or maybe it was a book we read?

Wherever the idea came from, I am now–apparently–committed. I can tell by the rising pitch of her voice each time she asks this question that I cannot turn this ship around. We will be cultivating a topiary garden. My only question now is whether tall green creatures will soon be seen all over our yard, or can I get away with one small boxwood ball in a pot?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I am grateful for these inspiring sources:

Potted herb topiaries are surprisingly easy to make. Here’s a video tutorial. Here’s a written tutorial. Geraniums (properly called pelargoniums) and herbs like lavender and rosemary are good candidates for a topiary standard.

And here’s another general tutorial for making your own topiary.

The Night Gardener by brothers Terry and Eric Fan is a beautiful, whimsical picture book. All of my kids appreciate this one. It might even convince you that topiary can change the world.

I loved British gardening television show Great British Garden Revival. Episode 2 of Season 2 featured topiary and includes an inspiring tutorial.

My favorite high quality tree seller, Bower&Branch, also sells topiary.

Some of the topiary in The Topiary Garden at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania were planted in 1936. This special garden is well worth a visit. My own kids love to play hide and seek here.

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Vicarious Gardening


Gardening offers up pleasures far beyond the limits of our own raised bed or fence-line.

When we tire of our own space or feel overwhelmed by weeds or hot weather, we can recharge our gardening batteries by enjoying the fruit of someone else’s labor.

Here are three ways to do just that:

  • Monty Don! Monty Don is possibly the UK’s most visible and most popular gardener. He is a writer and television host, and I am always encouraged by his endless enthusiasm. Many of his television programs can be found on various streaming services. He hosts the BBC television show Gardener’s World every week spring through fall, but I especially appreciate his longer travel programs like Monty Don’s American Gardens, Around the World in 80 Gardens, Monty Don’s Italian Gardens, and Monty Don’s French Gardens.


  • Classic Gardening Books: I especially enjoy reading about gardening when it’s either too hot or too cold to be outside. The classic garden memoirs of Beverley Nichols are sweet and fun. He writes about house and garden with wit and whimsy.


  • Garden Visits: I often share my appreciation for the many fine public gardens here in the Philadelphia area. I could spend every day wandering the grounds of Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, and Chanticleer, to mention just a few. If you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of a public garden, I encourage you to prioritize a visit. Public gardens and botanical gardens also frequently offer educational programs. It is also possible to fill your Instagram feed with virtual garden tours. I especially recommend following he famous British garden Great Dixter here on Instagram.

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A Few Favorite Websites


One of the main reasons for this Garden Library is to offer you a friendly guide through the firehose of gardening information it is possible to find online.

There are many scientific, government, and general knowledge websites, but my taste in online garden inspiration runs toward the personal and unique just like my taste in gardens. So, while you will probably still want to bookmark the website for your local cooperative extension or a plant database like the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder, I especially recommend these quirky, personal sources with their very particular points of view.

Here are some of the websites I turn to when I’m looking for answers or inspiration:

This pretty and stylish blog offers inspiring garden tours, growing tips, and recommendations for unique and well-designed garden tools and furniture.

This online garden community offers the chance to chat or pose your questions to other gardeners. The extensive plant database is also very useful.

The website for garden writer and podcaster, Margaret Roach. I also recommend her book and podcast by the same names.

Even if you live outside the delivery area for this innovative tree seller, their beautiful website offers a treasure trove of tree stories and descriptions. Browse here to choose the right tree for that spot in your yard, choose a tree to commemorate a special event, or simply browse to learn more about gardening with trees.

A beauty of a blog focused especially on growing roses.

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Kitchen Garden Revival (a Book Review)


Kitchen Garden Revival is a brand new book from Nicole Johnsey Burke, a garden coach and designer.

First, it’s a beautiful book: hard cover, lovely photographs by Eric Kelley, clearly written, and both practical and inspirational subject matter. The subtitle says it all: A Modern Guide to Creating a Stylish Small-Scale, Low-Maintenance Edible Garden.

What’s it about?

Burke’s book has a fairly narrow focus: how to create your own stylish, beautiful kitchen garden. According to Burke, a kitchen garden is an artistic and productive space that elevates your home’s landscaping while providing fresh produce for your kitchen. Her kitchen gardens are less productive and harvest-focused than a traditional vegetable patch but much prettier to look at.

Who is it for?

This one is perfect for beginners as Burke gives detailed instructions on everything from building raised beds to sowing seeds, but even experienced gardeners will find inspiration in the photographs, at least. I recently created my own small kitchen garden with four square raised beds near my kitchen door, and I studied these photographs carefully for ideas on how to keep the mix of plants in my beds pleasing to look at it.

Borrow or buy?

Anyone who loves beautiful garden books will appreciate this one, but if you’re on the fence about making a purchase, keep in mind that those new to growing their own produce will probably get the most out of this book, while those who really want to build a kitchen garden–either on their own or with the help of a landscaper–will receive the most.

Final Thoughts:

Burke’s kitchen garden designs are not, perhaps, for the most frugal gardeners. But for those willing to spend money on their home’s landscaping, her designs prove that spaces for growing more of our own food–even just a few herbs–can and should be integrated into even the most elegant settings. While some rule-driven Home Owner’s Associations might baulk at someone turning their front yard into something resembling a farmer’s field, it’s hard to imagine anyone objecting to these gorgeous kitchen gardens.

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