For Christmas why not give a book on gardening? Next to plants my favorite “thing” is probably books. I will name of some my best ones on plants that you might like to give or read.

          The one I use the most is the “American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Garden Plants”   and its companion “Encyclopedia of Gardening”. I have found very few plants missing that I wanted to know about, and it may be because I didn’t have the right name. There is a section in the back giving common names and their scientific name. All references use the Latin Name and tell how to cultivate, propagate as well as pests and diseases.  There are over 15,000 plants named.

          The one on gardening has many sections such as shrubs, perennials, bulbs, etc. It also contains general ideas on how to help a plant grow, plant problems, plant propagation, greenhouses, and different gardens with “how to’s” on each section. It has 647 pages. Between the two they are so heavy I keep them on the floor near my desk.

          My newest book is “Right Plant, Right Place” by Nicola Ferguson (Simon & Schuster: 2005).  It is complete with small colored photographs of each plant mentioned in the different areas.  There are 1400 plants in the book and are categorized in 29 areas such as acid soils, clay soils, dry shade, ground covers, container plants, variegated leaves, and fragrant plants. It has an index of common names.   When I get a new plant now I should be able to find what will keep it happy.  For example, I got a new plant this summer called BEARS BRITCHES (Acanthus mollis) that is listed for Zone 7 but I had heard several say they have the plant. In this book it is under 1. ground covers, 2. heavy clay, and 3. decorative foliage.  Ground cover (4 feet) because it spreads to cover your space, its foliage is finely cut large, dark and glossy. As soon as it freezes I will put a cage around and fill it with compost. It did well this summer but is quite a ways from 4 feet tall. Under colorful autumn foliage, I found my young Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) which gets bright yellow leaves and it drops them all the same day. The tree was described, the best area for it to grow in, and was referred to the heavy clay soils, tolerant of atmospheric pollution and decorative foliage sections. 

          Over the years I have bought a number of “House Plant” books.  Sometimes I have to look in four or five of them to find some new plant I just received. The latest one has a different title: “The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual” by Barbara Pleasant (Storey Publishing: 2005). The plants are in “Care Groups” that need the same treatment.  Each one gives light, temperature, fertilizers, water, repotting, and propagation. Then at the end is a troubleshooting section to identify any mistakes you might have made. There are color photographs of each to identify as well as common names. An example would be the NORFOLK ISLAND PINE which needs lots of light, cannot be pruned or that branch or top will never grow, and is loved by scale, mealy bugs and spider mites.  Give it an inch bigger pot each year until you get to 12 inches and then repot every third year.

          Since I have gotten a number of BROMELIADS in the last few years I liked that section and their rule about where to place a new plant: “soft leaf/soft light, hard leaf/hard light”. She says to put fresh water in the tank every 10 days to two weeks and recommends a turkey baster to remove the old water.  To encourage flowering add a pinch of Epsom salts to the tank and roots, which are very small in comparison to the size of the plant.  The cover of the book says, “Know how for keeping (not killing) more than 160 house plants”.

          There are a number of books written about one plant.  This is good because they can go into detail about special needs and wants.  One of mine is titled “Bromeliads” by Andrew Steens (Timber Press: 2003). Because there are so many different species (3000) found in 56 genera, the plants have very many differences in watering and amount of light from the smallest SPANISH MOSS (Tillandsia usneoides) of less than a inch to the largest at 9 feet (the bloom reaches 30 feet) at age 150 years.  Another book is “Clematis, A Care Manual” by Mary Toomey (Morel Graham Publishing: 1999). It goes through their pests, diseases and disorders, as well as history. In the planting section she recommends compost in the soil and if planting in clay to dig a very large and deep hole, putting a good amount of grit or sharp sand for drainage. She likes the root ball at least 2 ½ inches below the rim to develop buds below the soil line.  She lists them as a favorite food for slugs and snail.  She also describes using clematis as a ground cover rather than a climber. Can’t you imagine seeing “Ramona” or “Jackmanii” (light and dark blue) covering a slope where you can look down into all that color?

          I will write about other books I like in future articles. Have a Happy Holiday and consider giving a book for Christmas.


           In one of my catalogues (Bonners) they tell the legend of the Lady Bug. Many, many years ago aphids invaded the fields of farmers.  When the farmers prayed for help from the Virgin Mary, swarms of little red beetles appeared to eat the aphids.  The farmers named them “LADYBUGS” in appreciation of Mary “Our Lady”

          According to Eric Grissell in his book “Insects and Gardens”, hundreds of years ago ant colonies were placed in citrus trees. Rope bridges were hung between trees.  The trunk of each tree was surrounded by a shallow, water filled moat to keep them from running away.  The ants would keep other insects off the trees.

Copyright Dec. 2, 2006