Book Reviews

November 2021

The Winter Garden (ISBN 978-1-55870-789-4)
by Jane Sterndale-Bennett

This eye-catching book, The Winter Garden, takes a close look at the horticultural possibilities for the quietest season. The cover features deciduous dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) whose brightly coloured stems in winter are a prime garden attraction. Inside, many excellent photos illustrate the text beautifully. As Sterndale-Bennett shows, winter foliage can be surprisingly rich and varied, even if the palette has muted tones. Her foliage section has many entries, from large conifers to groundcovers, all displayed by colour. She includes a section on brown, tan and orange of course; but also ones on gold, silver and blue. This chapter is like window shopping!

We all know growing conditions vary widely. Sterndale-Bennett emphasizes that matching plant to place is key to a successful winter garden. Her section on growing conditions covers the usual situations (clay, woodland, container, etc), but from a winter garden perspective.

The Winter Garden also includes a discussion on enjoying our gardens in winter beyond colour, such as with scent, texture, light and movement.
This book inspired me to take a fresh look at my own garden. Besides having late fall and early spring interest, I’ve now got some ideas for adding plants for winter focus. You may find it inspiring also. It’s available to borrow from the HCP Library.

And for more inspiration, next time you’re here at the HCP take a stroll through the Doris Page Winter Garden. Key elements include coloured berries, bark and stems, flowers, fragrance and ornamental evergreens. Doris Page is credited with bringing Hellebores to Vancouver Island.

September 2021

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (ISBN 978-0-7352-3775-9)
By Suzanne Simard

Few books have been requested at the HCP Library more than this one. Finding the Mother Tree, the latest addition to our library shelves, is the 2021 environmental science memoir by a ‘pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence’, Suzanne Simard. Having spent 4 decades studying how trees communicate, this UBC ecology professor explains in her new book how the internet of the forest below ground is connected, with the biggest, oldest matriarch at the centre of the community. This ‘Mother Tree’ helps organize a powerful network where mycorrhizal (fungal) links are used to send chemical signals. She describes how trees are social, cooperative organisms that learn, adapt and remember. She interprets forest society. In the beginning her evidence was highly controversial. Now the science is known to be rigorous, peer-reviewed and widely published. It influences provincial forestry policy and inspires scientific conversations worldwide. Simard comes from a long line of foresters, and in this book her story is tightly interwoven with that of the forest.

August 2021

Smith & Hawken Garden Structures (ISBN 0-7611-1406-8)
by Linda Joan Smith

A garden structure can be simple, common, grand or rare. It most often comes to the garden to fill a specific need, but it also can do more: alter a garden’s mood, guide its uses, anchor it in time, and deepen its meaning.

Smith says the ultimate power of a garden structure is to make a powerful composition out of the chaos nature gives us.
Smith & Hawken Garden Structures covers all the different ways to create a framework on which a garden grows, including gates, fences, arbors, paths, decks, even potting sheds. And much more. Many projects are of wood, but other attractive materials are used such as brick, iron, stone, tile, concrete, and of course, plants (wattle, anyone?).

With a bounty of large colour photographs, this book is a visual feast. You may come away with motivation and a vision for a structure in your own garden after reading it.

July 2021

Year Round Containers, Baskets & Boxes (ISBN: 978-1552851036)
by Graham Strong and Claire Phoenix

A garden container can be all about instant colour, but more than that, it can be a wildflower creation, a child’s project, or even edible. As well as a basket or a window box, plants can be grown in unusual containers such as a colander, a kettle or even a log. This book is full of ideas about design, styles and colour for all sorts of containers, baskets and window boxes. The plant directory has the usual lists for shade and drought tolerant plants. As a bonus, there are lists for:

Star quality plants
Plants to perform a floral marathon
Rapid growers for quick effect
Scented flowers and leaves

It has over 60 plans to choose from or use as inspiration for your own creations. Each plan has step-by-step instructions on how to create and tend to your planting. A full-page photo shows the completed project at its peak display.

While this book looks at container plants for all seasons, its emphasis is on summer, with many projects performing their best from June to September. So if you’re looking for a dash of quick colour, something for a tricky spot, or have a container looking for a purpose, consider borrowing this book from the HCP Library to inspire a new planting.

June 2021

The Earth’s Blanket: Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living (ISBN 0-295-98739-1)
by Nancy J. Turner

According to the Nlaka’pmx (Thompson) Interior Salish people of BC, plants and grasses are the Blanket of the Earth. If too much vegetation is destroyed, the earth weeps. The stories, values and understandings in this book are focused mainly on BC landscapes and cultures. It ‘explores the wealth of ecological knowledge and the spiritual connection to the natural world that is fundamental to Indigenous cultures.’ In sharing this ethnobotanical knowledge, Nancy J. Turner hopes that this book will highlight the depth and richness of this wisdom, so that all people may live more gently on the earth.

Nancy J. Turner has been learning from Indigenous elders about the relationships between plants and people since 1967. Her first Indigenous teacher was Christopher Paul of the Saanich Nation. She has been adopted by a number of families and given Indigenous names. All of her work is published with permission of the storytellers.

Borrow this book from the HCP Library and gain a deeper appreciation of these teachings in time for Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, June 21.

April 2021

The Well-Planned Garden (ISBN 0-297-79362-4)
by Sue Phillips

For those of you inspired by our lovely spring weather to do something in the garden, but wondering where to start, this book may be of interest. The Well-Planned Garden can be used like a cookbook: choose a recipe, assemble the ingredients and follow the instructions. Whether you have sun or shade, wet or dry conditions, this comprehensive book provides designs and information that will help you build a beautiful garden from scratch.

Each chapter focuses on a garden style (eg. old-fashioned, cottage garden) and comes with four variations (eg. scented, traditional, shady, cut flowers). Colour illustrations of individual plants, plus each garden in bloom, aid in choosing a design. The ingredients lists cover plants, tools and other supplies such as compost and stakes. Scale plans are added for easy planting. The step-by-step instructions include how to plant and care for your new garden through the seasons and in subsequent years. With this kind of support, a lovely garden is possible this year even for novice gardeners.

March 2021

Pollination with Mason Bees: A Gardener’s Guide to Managing Mason Bees for Fruit Production (ISBN 978-0-9689357-3-6)
by Dr. Margriet Dogterom

For those of you whose interests have been piqued by mason bees, this hands-on guidebook is perfect for the novice mason beekeeper. It’s filled with practical information on how to house, feed and care for these native pollinators. Dr. Dogterom distills over 20 years of fieldwork and research experience with bees into this handy manual. She even worked for the BC Government as a bee inspector. In chapter 4, she considers nesting trays and their advantages compared with a host of other types of nests. To watch the mason bees develop and work right inside the nest, you can get a plexiglass observation tray. Preparing the nests for spring is covered in chapter 5, including where to best locate them in your yard (they like mud!). Placing them close to flowering fruit trees will increase pollination. Who knew that a mason bee’s favourite colours are yellow, mauve, pink and blue?

Available to borrow from the HCP Library or to purchase from the gift shop.

February 2021

In a Unicorn’s Garden – recreating the mystery and magic of medieval gardens (ISBN 978-1921208577)
by Judyth A. McLeod

A number of library visitors have recently been eager to find books about garden history. This new book, In a Unicorn’s Garden, adds a unique perspective to that subject. Its wide scope covers about a thousand years (up to 1500) and ranges across Great Britain, Continental Europe and the Near East. The jacket describes it well:

Each chapter is based on a theme of significance in the medieval world and begins with an engaging historical overview and discussion of society, culture, religion and mythology. In a Unicorn’s Garden includes extensive medieval plant lists, beautiful location photography, interviews with master gardeners, and visits to monastic and secular medieval-style gardens. The book also features individual medieval-inspired garden designs which can be recreated in the average suburban garden plot.

If your own garden in present-day Victoria is quiet, you might want to explore other times and places with In a Unicorn’s Garden from the HCP Library.