Pacific Northwest | March 28, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMarch 28, home
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New books bloom with ideas, advice and tales to entertain
Canadian nurseryman Thomas Hobbs confesses he is smitten with the porcelain-like, soft-lavender flowers on Deinanthe caerulea, a seldom-encountered herbaceous relative of the hydrangea.
WE CRAVE fresh ideas this time of year, even when every minute is taken up with spring gardening chores. Notable new books are ripe with information on how to find the hottest plants, how to prune the old ones, and how to arrange plants in the ground, in pots or on top of tables. There's even a new volume of gardening fiction, so after you're worn out from digging and planting, you can relax with tall tales about your favorite pastime.

"The Garden of Reading: An Anthology of 20th Century Short Fiction about Gardens and Gardeners," edited by Michele Slung (The Overlook Press, $24.95). Editor Slung has anthologized women's erotica, female sleuths and dark tales of eerie encounters, so it is no surprise that she's gathered some unusual stories from the garden. The word "anthology" comes from the Greek terms for "flower" and "to gather," and here are 24 stories featuring not only flowers but also youth disillusioned, age comforted, hopes dashed, love fulfilled and slugs defeated. A surprising variety of authors, from Eudora Welty to Steven King, with detours into the humor of James Thurber and the magic realism of Sandra Cisneros, offer fine writing about how plants and gardens shape our dreams and daily lives.

"The Jewel Box Garden," by Thomas Hobbs, with photography by David McDonald (Timber Press, $34.95). There is no question that plants have shaped the life of Vancouver, B.C., nurseryman Thomas Hobbs. His new book is an unabashed revel in aesthetics, complemented by McDonald's large and luscious photos on every page. This isn't a how-to book but an exploration of color, combinations and the sheer sensual pleasure of the garden, exuberantly expressed in pure Hobbsiana. "Think of your garden as exhibition space," he advises, and "concentrate on plants that actually give you a thrill." Hobbs makes a plea for cohesive plant pictures rather than "foliar graffiti." You may well buy the book for Hobbs' plant-laden philosophy and the gorgeous visuals — it gets my vote for the most beautiful garden book of the year — but you won't escape being influenced by his plea and prescription for more personal and heartfelt gardening.

Book jacket"Gardening on Pavement, Tables and Hard Surfaces," by George Schenk (Timber Press, $29.95). Schenk, who lives part of the year in the Northwest, wrote "The Complete Shade Gardener," one of the best garden books ever. Now he's off on a new tangent, planting up tables with sedums and ferns, squeezing little gems between every crack in the sidewalk. His new book is rich with surprising ideas and a unique twist on drawing attention to little plant treasures. His round metal table holding dwarf conifers brings to mind a wobbly, overblown Easter bonnet, but many of the table plantings are things of great beauty, and his planted wall-tops make you want to haul out the bricks and start building. If nothing else, this book will make the reader aware of never-before-dreamed-of microclimates.

Book jacket"Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning: What, When, Where and How to Prune for a More Beautiful Garden," by Cass Turnbull (Sasquatch Books, $17.95). Back to reality and how to deal with plants that quickly outgrow a tabletop, which is most of them. Pruning diva Turnbull, founder of PlantAmnesty, shares her knowledge on how to prune without inflicting damage. Don't be put off by the cheesy quality of the cover and paper, for the advice inside is first-rate, and the drawings are detailed and plentiful. Turnbull actually makes pruning sound fun and manageable in this book full of clear instruction geared to our climate.

Book jacket"The Plant Locator Western Region: More Than 50,000 Plants and Where to Find Them," compiled by Susan Hill and Susan Narizny (Timber Press, $19.95). The title says it all, for this is a 750-page book stuffed with plants from trees to groundcovers cross-referenced to common names. So if you want to track down any of the hot new "it" plants I'm going to write about in my next two columns, you can take advantage of the 336 nurseries and more than 50,000 plants indexed by the two Susans in this sure-to-be-well-thumbed reference book.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is

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