Book Review – Garden Up!

Book Review – Garden Up!

A common mistake when designing a garden is to take a myopic view of the space to be affected, concentrate only on the surface beneath one’s feet, and not include the space around and overhead. It’s a mistake made by novice gardener and experienced designer alike, and is understandable. The novice (and we have all been one at one time) has not been trained to consider the three dimensions of a garden, and the designer begins by thinking of space in plan view (looking down from above) and will at times overlook the surroundings. Success in creating a garden that both welcomes the visitor and establishes sanctuary is achieved by developing all planes. “Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces” (by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet, Cool Springs Press 2011) aims to correct this common oversight by providing example and inspiration for both novice and designer, and does so with great success.

Living walls, although popular for some time in Europe, are an exciting new trend here in the states, and I wondered if an entire book on the subject would keep my interest. To my delight “Garden Up!” does present a very interesting chapter on living walls, but presents them as one aspect of a greater theme, the vertical plane. Morrison and Sweet have divided vertical gardening into six different design applications, with chapters covering Arbors and Trellises, Skinny Spaces, Garden Secrets, Edibles, and Living Walls. Each discussion presents the reader with an overview, specific challenges, and a designer’s insight into solutions. As one might imagine, plants are a major part of each discussion. An additional chapter entitled Plant Picks, is cleverly divided to provide suggestions for each of the applications covered in previous chapters. The authors even give the reader their choice of a “Superstar Performer” plant for each category; a very nice touch, enabling even readers with the least knowledge of flora to succeed with their do-it-yourself projects. In the last section of “Garden Up!” we find a series of before and after shots called Design Spotlight. Here Morrison and Sweet have highlighted the transformation of five different gardens using the some of the techniques found in their book. Each example is notated so as to highlight the design solutions that have been applied. Showing before and after photos is an immeasurable way to illustrate a process, and including it “Garden Up!” is a wonderful way to summarize the information gleaned from the previous chapters.

Morrison and Sweet have included many photos of their work, and also from the many friends and contacts they have around the country, which wonderfully illustrate their thoughts. Their writing is concise and creative, and enthusiastically conveys the passion they feel for this subject. “Garden Up!” will provide beginners a wealth of inspiration, and seasoned designers new ideas and fresh perspectives on techniques that will enable them to create beautiful welcoming spaces. “Garden Up!” has earned itself a spot on the garden bookshelf, and will most assuredly influence the ongoing discussion of the vertical plane!



A digital copy of this book was supplied to me by the publisher for the purpose of review. I, however, went out and bought my own copy, so although I need not state the following, I will; All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are mine and remain my intellectual property until such a time that my home and garden are overrun by the surrounding wood, at which time the wood nymphs and gnomes may do with them what they please.

A word about book reviews on the Blue Heron Landscapes Blog:

Reviews posted here are intended for the inspiration, education, and enjoyment of the reader, and as such will not include negative reviews of any material. Reviews are not intended as critique of all published material, but rather to expose the reader to noteworthy tools that will help in the process of becoming better gardeners and designers, and to provide enjoyment on their garden journey.

Book Review – Bringing Nature Home!

Book Review – Bringing Nature Home!

Several years ago, one of the larger insecticide companies, I believe Ortho, ran a commercial for one of its new products. In this commercial, a homeowner wields his spray bottle of lethal insecticide as if he were Wyatt Earp ridding Tombstone of its hooligans. In the background, a score reminiscent of an old spaghetti western sets the mood, as fewer and fewer bug noises emanate from the owners yard until all falls silent. The final scene: our now satisfied homeowner standing tall amidst the solitude, when suddenly a cricket chirps, he reaches for his “revolver”, the cricket goes silent, seemingly in fear for its life. The homeowner smiles.

I’m sure on some level we can all relate to this homeowner, after all no one likes mosquitoes, gnats, black flies, and other various and sundry pests, yet I felt a disconnect with the message.  I was confused (read: annoyed), that this “hero” would target a cricket, in his blanket approach to eradicating all insects from his property.  I knew nature provided many beneficial insects, as well as pests, but I could never really express my concerns to anyone in a way that made sense to them.

“Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Doug Tallamy, has provided me with the answers I have been searching for. Published in 2007 by Timber Press, and already in its third printing in 2009, Mr. Tallamy’s book explores native plant communities, and the insect populations that have evolved in relationship to them. We learn through Mr. Tallamy’s research that over time insects develop relationships with plants, based on the chemical makeup of the plant’s tissue. Some insects develop exclusive relationships, such as the Monarch Butterfly and Milkweed, while other insects have evolved to feed on and reproduce with various species of plants. An interesting point made in this book is that our native insect populations will gather nourishments from alien plant material, generally in the form of nectar, as adults, but do not reproduce on alien plant material. They have not developed the ability to process the secondary chemical compounds in alien species, therefore younger stages of native insects, cannot feed on aliens. As native plant populations disappear from our backyards, and as invasive species continue to overrun our natural areas, we are left with healthy adult populations of native insects, but fewer places for them to reproduce. All the wonderful plants brought back to our gardens from all over the world, prized by collectors, garden clubs and hybridizers, are unavailable as a source of nutrition, to the larval stages of our native insect populations.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Who wouldn’t want fewer bugs around? That is a question best answered by reading “Brining Nature Home”. Insects play an important role in the health of our ecosystems, and declining populations will have devastating effects on these fragile communities. Leaning about these complex relationships is something I highly recommend to any gardener who cares about our environment. “Bringing Home Nature” is an important tool to be used towards the reestablishment of out native ecosystems. No longer acceptable to simply turn our back on nature as we garden, we now have the power to affect positive change on a “grass roots” level, and Mr. Tallamy’s book is a great place to learn how.

Oh, as for our Earp-like hero referenced above; the natural answer to our bug problem, is to allow and even promote insect populations. That’s right, and as they grow, so will the predators of those populations grow, until balance is restored, and nature keeps everything in check.

See you out in the Garden,