Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Prescription for winter blues: garden books

What's the difference between an indespensible and inspirational reference book and a rectangular, three-dimensional, 75 dollar dust magnet?  Answer: only difference, how often you pick it up and use it.  There are plenty of reviews out there that describe certain garden books as "must-have" that I respectfully disagree with.  I should know, I have a small library of garden books I rarely, if ever, pick up and read.  I have listed below a few (that are especially relevant to gardeners up here in the north country) that I refer to time and time again.  Granted that there are not libraries worth of garden books just for Alaskans.  There are however, several books of note for gardener's in cold climates.  Let's dive right in, shall we?

Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates by Nancy Rose, Don Selinger, and John Whitman and published by Contemporary Books is a nice compendium of popular trees and shrubs to try.  The first part of the book deals with each genus and includes sections on: how they grow, where to plant, landscape use, planting, transplanting, how to care for, problems, propagation, and special uses.  The varieties of each genus and their height/width and hardiness are listed, as well as sources.  The second part of the book is all about the basics of growing shrubs and small trees.  The authors also rate varieties from one to five stars based on ornamental attributes.  Lots of pictures, too.

Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Michael A. Dirr and published by Timber Press is divine on a winter's day.  Dr. Dirr is regarded as a worldwide authority on woody plants.  This book lists more than 500 species and about 700 different varieties.  Lots and lots of pictures.  And plenty of Dr. Dirr's trademark candor and wit.  A must-have book intended for gardener's in zone 3-6.

Growing Perennials in Cold Climates by Mike Heger and John Whitman does for perennials what the "woodies" book in the series (mentioned above) does for trees and shrubs.  How to grow, where to plant, companions, planting, how to care for, problems, propagation, special uses, and sources are listed for each genus.  A handy variety guide completes each section complete with ratings up to five stars.  The second part of the book deals with the basics of growing perennials, from site selection to tools and supplies.  There are pictures for each genus (not enough in my opinion).  There is also a rose book in the series for those northern gardeners that suffer from that addiction (I'm in recovery).

As far as Alaskan books go, Lenore Hedla's The Alaska Gardener's Handbook, is a classic.  It can be found at the Loussac library, at bookstores new or used, or check amazon.com.  It was one of the first garden books I ever read.  Great for the beginning or new-to-Alaska gardener.

A couple of useful regional handbooks with applications in AK are: Tree and Shrub Gardening for Minnesota and Wisconsin and Perennials for Minnesota and Wisconsin, both by Don Engebretson and Don Williamson, published by Lone Pine.  They might be difficult to find locally; I got mine online.  Most of the picks are hardy in zone 3 or 4 and there are pictures on every page.  This is the sort (and size) of book that is handy to pitch into the car in the summer as a reference while out shopping at nurseries.

Yes, I freely admit I am an ornamental grass fanatic.  Even if you are trying grasses for the first time, you will enjoy the pictures taken by Saxon Holt in Nancy Ondra's Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design, published by Storey Books.  This was the first grass book I ever purchased and it really opened my eyes to their beauty and uselfulness.  The book is very readable, not to dry or overly-detailed, but it's the photography that sold me.  I could reccommend it as a coffee table book, it's that gorgeous.

While we are on the topic of grasses, anything by Rick Darke (a worldwide authority) is desireable.  My current favorite is Grasses for Liveable Landscapes published by Timber Press.  Everything you might wish to know is covered.  Don't worry, there are plenty of inspiring pictures to hold interest!  The encyclopedic portion is indespensible.  Many, many ornamental grasses are hardy for us in Alaska: run, do not walk, to the library to check this one out.

This just scratches the surface of books tailored for cold climates, but I can reccommend all the above books to any Alaska gardener.  For more selections, search "cold climate gardening books" online.  And have your wallet or library card handy.

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