Garden Booking With Niki Jabbour
Think About It; Do It. Two Books to Help You Rethink Your Outdoor Spaces
It’s no secret that gardening has had a big year. We’ve been spending more time at home and many homeowners and apartment dwellers have been rethinking their outdoor spaces.
Elements like raised beds, decks, container plantings, fire pits and flower gardens have made garden centres and building supply stores busier than ever. This interest has also translated into garden book sales and two new releases from Canadian publishers are ready to get you growing.
The Philosophy of Gardening, edited by Blanka Stolz, and Shrubs and Vines for Atlantic Canada by Todd Boland have arrived just in time for spring. The first is a collection of essays, originally published in Germany, that address a wide range of garden types, sizes and styles while answering the question, “Why do we garden?”
The second book is more of a how-to with Boland, who lives and gardens in St. John’s, Newfoundland exploring the plants that make up the foundation of a garden. Although these books fall into different categories, they complement each other. One inspires you to want to make a garden and the other shows you how to do just that.
Boland, the Research Horticulturist at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Botanical Gardens is an established authority and the author of Favourite Perennials for Atlantic Canada, Trees & Shrubs of the Maritimes and numerous books on wildflowers. His approach is that of a gardening friend; he’s encouraging, inspiring and ready to help you pick the plants that best match the growing conditions of your yard. He’s also a talented photographer with beautiful images on almost every page of the book.
In a landscape it’s often perennial and annual flowers that draw the eye, but look closer and you’ll notice that most of the year-round interest comes from woody plants: foliage, bark, form, berries or flowers. In Shrubs and Vines for Atlantic Canada, Boland focuses on these plants and offers plenty of detailed growing information and specific cultivar suggestions.
The first section is a comprehensive guide to deciduous shrubs like dogwood, witch hazel, hydrangea and roses. This is followed by a chapter on Ericaceous plants, which grow particularly well in the acidic soil conditions of Atlantic Canada. Common members of this family include rhododendrons, azaleas, heaths, heathers and blueberries, which all make excellent low-maintenance choices for the home landscape.
Good garden design doesn’t rely solely on deciduous plants for interest, but also includes conifers like false cypress, pine and spruce. They add form and colour during the long winter months with hues in shades of green, gold and bronze, and shapes that include narrow, spreading, rounded and pyramidal.
Conifers are beautiful in spring, summer and autumn, but it’s winter when these plants are truly appreciated. Even small space gardens benefit from conifers, which can range in size from just a few inches tall to shrubs several metres high. Some, like ‘Silver Spire’ Yew and ‘Pendula’ European larch have striking forms that create living sculpture in a garden.
In the last section of the book, Boland features vines—both common and unusual selections for Atlantic Canada. Clematis, honeysuckle and climbing hydrangea are among the best known garden vines, but don’t overlook lesser known choices like kiwi, porcelain vine and bittersweet. Each plant description includes information on plant size, foliage and flowers, as well as advice on supports, pruning and general care.
In The Philosophy of Gardening we discover gardens that serve a variety of purposes; they grow food, celebrate urban permaculture, introduce us to new friends and pay tribute to weeds. The essays are written by a diverse group that includes gardeners, designers, agricultural scientists and philosophers. Their insights into how and why we garden are universal and a delight to read.
In the essay “On the Metaphysics of a Garden,” Dieter Wandschneider notes that a garden exists somewhere between nature and design; it is structured nature, designed nature and living art. This is a book to read in the garden. I enjoyed the variety of philosophical musings on the place of gardens in urban spaces, gender in the garden and the basic drive to garden.
In “A Plea for Weeds,” Brunhilde Bross-Burkhardt makes the case for letting Creeping Charlie, well, creep. She questions the identity of a weed and how and why we make those judgments.
“I feel that my slightly weedy garden also reflects who I am as a person: I welcome anything new and unplanned, and have no taste for anything strictly regulated and angular,” she writes. “I like letting nature take its course.”
That style may not be for every gardener, but it does pose the question of whether we should be more relaxed about wild plants in our living spaces. They feed the bees and other wildlife, and many are also edible.
Finding space to garden is typically far easier for people in rural areas than for those who live in cities. I love walking around Halifax and spotting the many ways gardeners are creating green spaces for food or ornamental plants. It could be raised beds in a tiny front yard, a collection of buckets planted with tomatoes or a community garden where everyone comes together to grow and share food.
In The Philosophy of Gardening, there are several essays that focus on urban gardening and re-purposing spaces like a former freeway in San Francisco or planting roadside strips in London. These lessons are universal and can be applied to any city or town.
Another trend in gardening, especially during the pandemic, is the desire to grow heritage vegetables, varieties from the past. The benefits of these plants is featured in the essay “Planting, Saving and Propagating Heritage Vegetables” by Annette Hollander. Heirloom varieties are grown for their rich flavours, diversity and open-pollinated seeds that can be saved from year to year. I love growing them for their history, the stories that connect us to the past and for the generation of future gardeners who will enjoy them in the years to come.