Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

Leafing Through
New garden books cover mulch, art, people, dogs and insects

Beasly, Miguel and Sponk hang out with coyote friends behind David Seeler's Bayberry Nursery on Long Island.
In Linda Cochran's Bainbridge Island terrace garden, a stylized Meconopsis poppy fountain sculpture is by island artists Little and Lewis.
Scotch moss peeks out from the stepping stones leading to a glazed ceramic pot.
Even though springtime brings with it enough seeds, slugs and weeds to fill a gardener's every minute, several new gardening books are worthy of us stopping long enough to scrub our hands and thumb through the pages.

In "Weedless Gardening," (Workman Publishing, $8.95), Lee Reich advocates a no-till approach to building healthy soil that takes its cue from nature, which provides a layer of mulch each autumn when old leaves and plant debris cover the ground. Resist that primal urge to stir up soil in the spring, a technique that sows and spreads weeds rather than eliminates them. Instead, Reich advises blanketing undisturbed soil with a thick layer of organic material. The book supplies information on composting, cover crops and how to remove existing vegetation without lifting a shovel.

"Mulch It!" by Stu Campbell (Storey Books, $11.95) is a companion volume to Campbell's book on composting, "Let It Rot!" More than 50 mulch materials are evaluated for relative cost, appearance, insulation value, weed control, water penetration, moisture retention and rate of decomposition. Have you ever thought of mulching with aluminum foil? The appearance is poor, but aphids shy away from it. The practical chapters on winter protection of ornamentals and on mulching techniques make up for the details you never wanted to know about mulching with poultry litter.

Keeyla Meadows is a San Francisco artist and designer with a fine color sense, captured in her first book, "Making Gardens Works of Art" (Sasquatch Books, $21.95). The design is a little frenetic, but the details are strikingly unusual, she includes useful tips (such as how to paint a pot) and her personal story presents a lively approach to garden-making as an art form.

If you love looking at dogs lazing around estate gardens be sure to pick up "Dogs In Their Gardens" by Page Dickey (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $16.95). Dogs provide ornamentation as well as animation, with Jack Russell terriers climbing trees, beagles nosing through a flower-dotted meadow, and an Australian Shepherd swimming laps. Here you can enjoy canine antics without worry, as I suspect all of these dog owners have staffs to clean up after their pets.

Now In Bloom
Camellia japonica is a mainstay of older gardens, with glossy evergreen leaves and March flowers. Too often used as overgrown foundation plantings, camellias are effective pruned up into tree shapes, as a trimmed hedge or grown in containers. C. japonica 'White Nun' is a pure white semi-double; 'Kramer's Supreme' has large peony-type flowers in clear red, and 'Mrs. D.W. Davis' (above) has open blossoms in blush pink shown off by extra broad leaves.
"Eden On Their Minds: American Gardeners with Bold Visions" by Starr Ockenga (Clarkson Potter, $60) is a big book filled with wonderful gardens and disappointing pictures. Ockenga's interviewing talents are top notch, however, revealed in the histories and enthusiasms of the 21 exceptional gardeners profiled. Three are from the Northwest: Richard Reames, whose Williams, Ore., garden showcases his tree-trunk topiary; Portland doctor Geoffrey Beasley, who cultivates trees and shrubs; and Linda Cochran, whose tropical extravaganza on Bainbridge Island has appeared on the cover of this magazine.

Eric Grissell, an entomologist who makes an eloquent plea for plant diversity in "Insects and Gardens" (Timber Press, $29.95), is one of those rare scientists who can make a complex dynamic understandable to the rest of us. Close-up color photos of wasp, dragonfly and beetle show the curious magnificence of the creatures that share our gardens. Grissell explains that if we take care of insects by supplying them with the variety of plants they depend upon to flourish (and refrain from killing them off with chemicals) they in turn bring health to our gardens through billions of vital interactions.

Valerie Easton is manager at The Miller Horticultural Library. Her new 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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