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Originally published Friday, May 9, 2014 at 11:02 AM

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Gardening books worth a look

You’ll read about everything from growing dahlias to foraging for food.


Special to The Seattle Times

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It’s spring, time to dig into the soil and a few good books to inspire and inform. These are worth putting your trowel aside for:

“The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias” by Andy Vernon (Timber Press, $29.95) is one of the first books in a new series on specific garden plants. The format is large enough for showy photos, especially important for the flamboyant dahlias on these pages. I love that the flowers are arranged by color; flip through to find dozens of dahlias from crimson to cream, with a chapter on “Extraterrestrials” that defy categorization. The author is a British photographer who not only worships dahlias but knows how to grow them. Vernon includes the practicalities of dahlia growing from staking to storing tubers. Also new in the “Plant Lover’s Series” are books on Sedums, Salvias and Snowdrops, with more to come.

“Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping” (Time Home Entertainment, Inc., $29.95) is the third edition of Sunset’s take on how to create gardens. This one has a decidedly modern edge. From the starter essay on sustainability entitled “Tomorrow’s Garden” to a chapter on nature-scaping, the environment and habitat are considered as carefully as lighting and patios. The photos, as you’d expect from Sunset, are beautiful and plentiful, although most of the gardens pictured are pretty high-end. A little more realism would be welcome, along with more Northwest gardens in this California-dominated book. That said, no one book offers more information on everything from growing edibles to lawn substitutes, from saving water to laying paths.

“Pacific Northwest Foraging” by Douglas Deur (Timber Press, $24.95) may change the way you see the world. The Oregon author, a cultural ecologist for Native peoples, has a deep understanding of ecosystems and native plants. Which, along with a lifetime spent mostly outdoors, has caused him to see the natural world as a giant buffet table. Deur explains how and when to harvest wild plant foods from forests, fields, wetlands and shorelines. This celebration of the food growing incognito around us includes the familiar, like watercress and blackberries, and the surprising, like the needle buds on Sitka spruce and the reproductive shoots on horsetails. Don’t worry, Deur gives detailed instructions on identifying plants and their edible parts, as well as how best to cook and eat them.

“Trees & Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest” by Mark Turner and Ellen Kuhlmann (Timber Press, $27.95) is a treasure of a field guide, thorough and well-photographed. If Deur’s book inspires you to snack on the world around you, this detailed guide draws you in closer to really look at, and identify, our wildly diverse flora. I could wish for a different organization than by leaf shape (compound, simple or none at all, in the case of our native cactuses), but since the book is all about identification, I guess that’s appropriate. What makes the book so useful is the wide range of plants included, not just natives. You’ll find ceanothus and willows that have escaped cultivation to grow on verges and vacant lots, making this book as useful around cities and suburbs as in the mountains and forests.

Also new and noteworthy:

“The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World’s Grandest Garden” by Alain Baraton (Rizzoli, $26.95).

“Handmade for the Garden” by Susan Guagliumi (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $27.50).

“Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise Between the Sidewalk and the Curb” by Evelyn J. Hadden (Timber Press, $24.95).

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.



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