Pacific Northwest Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste

Well-Planted Wisdom
The gift season brings a bounty of books for gardeners
Now In Bloom
Hedera cochica
'Dentata Variegata,' or Persian ivy, has purple stems and large, glossy heart-shaped leaves of gray and green, trimmed in warm cream, an ideal evergreen for winter flower arrangements. Keep it in a planter or pot to prevent its invasive tendencies, and cut way back in early spring.

Sedum alboroseum 'Mediovariegatum' with pink calla lilies in Pamela Harper's garden, in Time-Tested Plants.

ARDENERS ARE READERS, and publishers seem to have caught on, with a new harvest of gardening books coming out in the weeks before Christmas. Maybe it is the librarian in me, but buying books, whether for myself or as gifts, never induces the guilt that is the aftermath of other holiday indulgences. Books, after all, fill shelves and tables with color and wisdom (some of them), and may just give you, or the gardener on your list, new ideas and inspiration for next season's garden. The best even enlarge our ideas of what a garden can be.

"Notes From Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons," by Robert Dash (Houghton Mifflin, $24), is one of those rare books in the latter category. Other than the book jacket's color photos and watercolor, it is all text. And what wonderful text. Dash, a painter and a poet, tells the story of how he has turned two acres of Long Island farm fields into a garden over the past 30 years. The name "Madoo" means "My Dove" in old Scot's dialect, and Dash's love for plants and fascination with his land comes through in every word. He writes: "I do not paint in the way that I garden or garden as I would employ the brush, although the process is often the same - both are arts of the wrist, the broadest, largest sort of signature, if you will, highly idiosyncratic, the result of much doing, much stumbling, and highly intuited turns and twists before everything fits and adheres to the scale of one's intention." For Dash, the scent of a leaf, the aspect of the light, what book he is presently reading are all as vital to his gardening as soil, spade and seeds.

Gardening expertise of a different kind is displayed in "Dream Plants for the Natural Garden," by Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf (Timber Press, $34.95). Oudolf is a world-famous nurseryman who is introducing a wide range of mostly perennial plants from his nursery in The Netherlands. He teams up with countryman Henk Gerritsen, a designer who specializes in naturalistic gardens, to present what they feel are the 1,200 most beautiful and dependable plants. I question the authors' assertion that "all these plants do exactly what is expected of them," but the color photos are pretty and plentiful, and the arrangement of plants into categories of tough, playful and troublesome is unique and perhaps even useful.

Two venerable gardeners have written books that sum up their vast knowledge and experience. Pamela Harper is a Brit transplanted many years ago to Virginia. "Time-Tested Plants: Thirty Years in a Four-Season Garden" (Timber Press, $39.95) is the story of her garden in color photos and text arranged by season and kind of plant. It is remarkable to hear in detail, from a gardener who pays attention to weather and each and every plant, how her garden has evolved over 30 years what has worked and what hasn't. It is true that Harper gardens in a climate far different than our own, but her honest assessment of what she has learned through the years is fascinating for anyone trying to sort their way through all the possibilities and problems of garden-making.

Christopher Lloyd's "Garden Flowers: Perennials, Bulbs, Grasses, Ferns" (Timber Press, $39.95) is 384 pages of Lloyd's opinions on the plants he has grown over the years at Great Dixter, his garden in the English countryside. Lloyd never shies away from praise or scorn, and in the process tells the reader things that take years of growing a plant to really understand things like best cultivars, self-seeding, habit, fragrance. A straightforward alphabetical arrangement by plant name allows dipping in to learn Lloyd's strongly felt opinions about hundreds of plants. Lloyd is in his 80s and we are very lucky that he has taken the time to put this all down in one volume.

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